Iron Man 2 is a sequel that is what it is. It gets the job done competently, with great visual effects and lots of explosions. It’s got the villain and the hero, the sidekick and the poor screaming civilians. It’s got the gadgets and the emasculated techno-billionaire. It has the cars, the chicks, the guns. But that’s pretty much where it stops. It doesn’t go further into greatness like Iron Man (2008) did before it. If Iron Man was the setup, Iron Man 2 is the copy-and-paste followup without much pasting.
The plot glides along at a steady, uninteresting pace, the kind you’d find in Saturday morning cartoons designed to teach three-year olds the alphabet. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is back, more egotistical than ever. He has embraced his Iron Man alter ego and enters this film free-falling out of a plane and landing in the middle of his Stark Expo to the music of AC/DC. His throng of supporting fans, made mostly of pre-teen groupie girls and middle-aged techno-geeks, cheers on maniacally.
This Stark Expo is a real treat. It runs the entire year and gives up-and-coming developers the chance to showcase their latest inventions. It catches the eye of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony’s bitter rival who storms around in suits looking important but doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on. He just wants to outplay Tony. What he needs is someone with brains to help him.
Meanwhile, in Russia, Mickey Rourke loses his father, Anton Vanko, and decides to fly to America to seek revenge on Tony, who he believes stole Anton’s legacy, or something like that. He finds old Stark blueprints and manufactures his own arc reactor (the prop Tony has in his chest) which he uses to power a set of electric whips.
These whips he employs to devastating effect in Monaco, where he strolls in the middle of a racing track and slices oncoming cars in half like strips of paper. One of the cars is driven by Tony, which is kind of ridiculous since driving a Formula car requires months and months of conditioning. From the looks of it Tony’s conditioning is limited to nocturnal bed exercises where cars are not essential.
All this is backdropped by the portentous ticking clock that is Tony’s mortality. The reactor in his chest acts like a double-edged sword; on the one hand it prevents shrapnel from piercing his heart, on the other, it’s poisoning him, and his blood toxicity device keeps displaying percentages that go up as the movie goes long. This urges him to discover a new element that can upstage the one in his chest. Sounds tough, but it’s nothing a little 3D interactive interfacing can’t handle.
So the son Vanko wants revenge. Justin Hammer recruits him to design better Iron Man costumes, but Vanko has other ideas that he plans to execute at a grand unveiling at Stark Expo. Sparks fly, cars go up in flames, people run screaming, the cops hunt Vanko down while his machines run rampant through New York City. A showdown is staged in a giant greenhouse pavilion and Iron Man realises he’s given birth to a new metal-clad soldier, operated by his good friend Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard).
You see, Iron Man 2 is that kind of movie — glistening production values with little going on inside. It doesn’t rank high in the pantheon of great comic book adaptations, but it’s certainly not as far down as Superman IV (1987), Batman & Robin (1997), or Green Lantern (2011). I enjoyed the effects and Downey Jr’s high octane performance, but Pepper Potts ground my nerves. Something vital broke in her relationship with Tony that really set her on a path to self-destruction. She whines an awful lot, and doesn’t seem to be very important. Something vital breaks in Iron Man 2 as well. It’s not as easy to pinpoint, but it’s there, and it prevents the movie from taking off.
Best Moment | The very last scene is springing to mind. Garry Shandling’s line to Tony as he pins on his medal is priceless. Nothing much else is as good.
Worst Moment | Tony’s gratuitous brawl with Rhodes.