“Iron Man 2” is the sequel to the successful 2008 kickstarter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Iron Man”, and it’s once again directed by Jon Favreau and it has Robert Downey Jr. returning to the role of Tony Stark as he has to now face off against new adversaries in Justin Hammer, a technological rival, and Ivan Vanko, someone with his own personal grudge against the Stark legacy. Not only that, but Stark also has to deal with his own mortality as his arc reactor slowly starts to poison him, and he tries to find a cure while also learning some new things about his father, Howard, and the Stark name itself.
The MCU has started out strong at this point. “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” were both financially and critically well-received and they did their job in introducing two of the key players in this universe. Now we have “Iron Man 2”, an installment in this shared universe that pretty much shows all of the downsides of a shared universe in the first place. Remember how we all criticized last year’s “The Mummy” for choosing to focus too much on setting up a universe rather than tell its own story? Well, that’s what we have in “Iron Man 2”.
The returning cast is great as usual. Downey continues to excel in playing the Tony Stark we all know, Gwyneth Paltrow is still likable as Pepper Potts, and they still share a good camaraderie. Replacing Terrence Howard in the role of James Rhodes, though, is Don Cheadle. Me personally, I think Cheadle makes for a better Rhodey. That’s easy to say seeing as how we’ve seen more of him at this point, but he does a better job in displaying the concern for Stark while still trying to be his friend, just cautiously. The characters that have been established before are all fine, but it’s the new characters and their performances that bother me.
The new villains in this movie are quite painful to watch. First off is Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. We all know he’s a good actor, especially seeing as how he just got nominated for an Oscar last week. We’ve seen that he’s talented, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if this movie is his only performance that you’ve seen from him. I personally find Hammer to be very cartoony, over-the-top, and downright annoying. His motivation is the basic “I want better tech than Stark”, but he goes about such a simple plan in the most annoying way possible. He’s a fast-talking spaz who doesn’t know when to shut up and it’s almost as if he’s on cocaine 24/7. Not to mention that he’s just a generic business rival to Stark.
The other villain is Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, AKA Whiplash. Again, there’s a good actor playing a character with a straightforward motivation (revenge on Stark) but the performance and writing really hurts the character. The first sign that Rourke is going to be bad in this role is in the opening scene of the film when his father dies and he does this stupid yell at the sky. After that, we get a pretty cool, albeit short fight scene between him and Iron Man, but that’s the most of what he does in this movie. The rest of his screen time is dedicated to him hanging around Justin Hammer’s lab and whining about his pet bird. There was admittedly potential with his grudge against Howard Stark as it plays into Tony questioning his father and everything that he built, but it’s not as fleshed out as it could be.
This movie starts to go full commercial when it introduces Black Widow into the movie. At first, she just appears to be some pretty face for Stark to hit on, but then she’s revealed to be a special agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. and as soon as Nick Fury shows up to reveal this, the movie turns into one giant commercial for “The Avengers”. This movie spends most of its time just waving a bunch of Avenger-related things in our faces and screaming “THE AVENGERS IS A MOVIE THAT’S COMING OUT! GO SEE IT!” Black Widow and Fury add nothing to the main story at hand and the only thing that comes out of it is Agent Phil Coulson having a slightly larger role and Stark curing himself of his arc reactor’s poison, but we didn’t need the blatant advertising for “The Avengers” to get to that point.
This movie feels like it’s just trying to make everything into a joke. A good example of this is the scene with Tony getting drunk at his birthday party and Rhodey having to fight him. It’s the first time that Rhodey dons the War Machine suit, which is cool to see, but the entire sequence is turned into a goofy comedic moment rather than the serious scene that it could’ve been. Tony getting drunk, ruining his own party, and having to fight his best friend could’ve made for an emotionally powerful scene, but it’s all treated like a joke, goofy quips and slapstick fighting substituting grit and realism.
There are some positives to this movie. The subplot of the government trying to confiscate the Iron Man suit is an interesting discussion in it’s short-lived screen time, and the action is perfectly serviceable. Like I already said, the first fight between Iron Man and Whiplash is enjoyable and the climax is fun in the sense that you get to see Iron Man and War Machine team up to fight a bunch of drones. Does that save this mess of a movie enough to make it good? No, I don’t think so, but it at least saves the movie from being completely terrible.
Also, there’s one emotionally touching scene in this movie that I like and it’s one that involves Tony seeing old footage of his father. It plays into Tony learning more about his legacy and it also adds some layer to his relationship with his father, something that’s a major component to the Universe. I just wish that there had been more of an effort to display scenes like these instead of Stark nonchalantly eating doughnuts while he’s dying and after having just fought his best friend.
In my opinion, “Iron Man 2” is the worst MCU movie so far. It’s convoluted, the villains are weak, and it’s nothing more than a giant commercial for “The Avengers”. What little actual story is functional enough for Tony’s character, but I honestly feel that this is an installment in the MCU that isn’t a required viewing. If you want Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D. beat over your head, then I guess you could check this one out, but in terms of a cohesive story that stands on its own instead of cynically pushing “The Avengers” on us, this isn’t worth your time.