Written by Justin Theroux
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Dona Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke
Ivan Vanko: If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him.
When the lights went down at the sold out opening night screening of IRON MAN 2 that I attended, there was a particular energy in the air. It was that moment when you realize that what you’ve been waiting for for so long is really about to take place. The hushed anticipation was infectious and, as exciting as it was to feel it build, it was just as disappointing to feel that energy die off as the film unfolded. Iron Man may have a brand new suit but his heavier armour ultimately just weighed this new adventure down.
I had no knowledge of Iron Man before the first film, other than the fact that he existed anyway. When director Jon Favreau introduced him as an irresponsible billionaire who learns that his legacy would be essentially ensuring continuous and unnecessary destruction until there was nothing left to blow up, I instantly loved the guy. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), as privileged as he was, was still human and still had a soul that he didn’t want to see damned. Super ego still intact but changed nonetheless at the end of the first film, Stark re-emerges now as narcissistic and oblivious again, almost as if to satisfy what test audiences liked most about him after the first film. It gives the film itself an air of arrogance that it is difficult to recover from. The Iron Man people know they did good last time out and like Tony Stark, it seems to have gone to their heads a bit too much.
Justin Theroux, the writer of TROPIC THUNDER, is a new addition to the Iron Man team and, despite his clear ability to be laugh out loud funny, he takes Iron Man and Tony Stark to some pretty dark places. There is nothing wrong with going to these places in a superhero movie but with Stark coming off more smug and callous from the beginning, there isn’t as much sympathy to go around when Theroux finally reveals why Stark is acting this way. Downey Jr. still nails Stark but despite having some serious mortality issues to deal with this time, he never seems to get to the core of where Stark is coming from. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but Iron Man is nothing without his core.
Other newcomers to the Iron Man world include Mickey Rourke as a sinister Russian physicist bent on revenge, Sam Rockwell as a less successful version of Stark himself, Scarlett Johansson as a sultry new member of Stark’s team and Don Cheadle as a replacement for Terrence Howard in the Rhodey role, Stark’s best buddy. Rourke is certainly scary but he seems to be trying too hard to redefine evil, much like Heath Ledger did as The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. Rockwell is hilarious and stylin’ in the three-piece suits he wears to cover up his inferiority issues. Meanwhile, Cheadle does nothing with the opportunity that fell in his lap and I would really like to see Johansson do something other than just look sultry for a change.
IRON MAN 2 does get better as it goes on. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a bad time. It’s just easier to focus on what isn’t working when everything worked so well in the past. Favreau does his best to keep things smooth and fresh; Downey Jr. delivers as expected but ultimately, IRON MAN 2 just isn’t as much fun as the first. You might say it has an iron deficiency. You might.