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Should I Watch..? Iron Man 2
What's the big deal?
Iron Man 2 is a 2010 superhero film released by Marvel Studios and is a direct sequel to 2008's Iron Man (1). Like its predecessor, it is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and forms part of the first chapter known as Phase One along with The Incredible Hulk (2), Captain America: The First Avenger (3), Thor (4) and Avengers Assemble (5). Directed once again by Jon Favreau, the film sees the introduction of further elements that support the MCU - the organisation known as SHIELD, Nick Fury's expanded role and the introduction of Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow. Like the first film, it was a critical and financial success and helped fuel anticipation for further movies from fans of Marvel.
What's it about?
Six months after the events of the first film, billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark is saving the world as Iron Man and resisting pressure from the US Government to hand the technology over. But he has a problem - the arc reactor in his chest keeping him alive is slowly beginning to poison him and he cannot find a replacement. Becoming despondent and depressed, he makes Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries and hires Natalie Rushman as his personal assistant whilst keeping his health problems a secret.
But little does Stark know that he has another problem - a Russian engineer named Ivan Vanko has developed an arc reactor of his own and uses it to power his own electrified exoskeleton. Calling himself Whiplash, Vanko attacks Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix and nearly kills him. Realising that he needs help, Vanko joins forces with Stark's business rival Justin Hammer to begin producing an army of drones in order to take Stark down for good...
Robert Downey Jr.
Tony Stark / Iron Man *
Ivan Vanko / Whiplash
Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff
Lt. Col. James Rhodes / War Machine *
Samuel L Jackson
Justin Theroux *
Release Date (UK)
30th April, 2010
Action, Adventure, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
The high quality visuals of the first film are still present and correct - the movie has an array of tricks and gimmicks to make this look as real as you might expect. The suit is especially impressive - the moment when Stark suits up via a briefcase is inspired. There's more imagination and ideas in this movie too - Stark's lab has seriously upgraded hardware while Whiplash's electrified whips look like the tools of a real villain. For Marvel fans, this is as good as it gets. Downey Jr's remarkable performance as Stark is also a real plus, firing off one-liners and quips at machine-gun pace. But the story also lets us have a glimpse of the man behind the mask, when the bravado has run out and he is faced with his own mortality. As amusing as a drunk Iron Man looks, there is something intrinsically tragic about it as well.
On the opposite side of the coin, Rourke puts in a fine measured performance as Vanko although he is given far too little screen time. Cheadle, replacing Terrance Howard from the first film, also delivers as Rhodes who has considerably more to do this time. Jackson and Johansson also do well as the movie strains to include more details on the MCU alongside its own story. Johansson's introduction as seductive super-spy Black Widow is certainly memorable, especially for martial arts fans, and demonstrates that the character is crying out for a movie of her own.
- Sam Rockwell's dance when introducing the drones was improvised, apparently helping him get into character. It may also be a nod to one-time Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who also had an energetic stage presence.
- The character of Ivan Vanko is a combination of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. He is also the son of Anton Vanko - the original Crimson Dynamo in the comics.
- The DJ at Tony Stark's party is Adam Goldstein (DJ-AM) who sadly died before the movie's release. The film is dedicated to him during the closing credits.
What's not to like?
Where it lets itself down is the script. It's muddled and torn between pitting Stark against a worthy opponent (with, it has to be said, somewhat obscure motivations) and building up more hype for Avengers Assemble. Is such hype necessary after two films already teasing us? The now-traditional post-credits scene also leads into the next film so we're kept hungry for more but with so much going on, only the dedicated comics fan will be able to keep up with it all. Assuming that they aren't spitting blood at all the character changes, anyway.
Of course, it's natural these days for sequels to get 'darker' but Iron Man 2 is largely devoid of the fun the first film had in abundance. It doesn't surprise like the first one did and substitutes comic-book charm for gritty realism. Frankly, they've missed the point. What I like about Marvel films is the fact that it's all about suspension of disbelief. There are plenty of superhero films that take an introspective look at the psychology of the character but I don't want that in a Marvel film. I want lightness, humour, thrilling action sequences and above all else, the sense that I'm eight years old reading a comic full of explosions and written sound-effects. Iron Man 2 doesn't have any of this - it feels oddly predictable and joyless.
Should I watch it?
Iron Man 2 is not a bad film, by any stretch of the imagination, and it's much better than superhero films of yore. It's loaded with decent visuals, has a great central performance from Downey Jr, it has scenes that make you laugh, cry and cheer and it feels like a proper superhero movie should. But it is just not as good or interesting as either the first or third film and it feels like the unloved middle child. But it did teach Marvel not to rush things - this sequel was announced, shot and released within two years of the original and such a limited time frame put everyone under pressure, especially director Favreau. It's a good watch but not quite up to Marvel's high standard.
Great For: building up the rest of the MCU, die-hard fan-boys, action fans
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, Russians, Marvel's reputation
What else should I watch?
The first Iron Man is much more entertaining although this film matches it in terms of action and visuals. Naturally, you'll want to watch Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor and Avengers Assemble as well and indeed, you won't be too disappointed. But if you've already seen those films then Iron Man 3 (6) completes the trilogy nicely, offering an more grown-up comic movie but still with Stark's trademark humour and effortless cool. It also kicks off Phase Two in grand fashion, introducing more characters and elements in the MCU.
Part of the problem with the MCU is that one does lead into the other. It isn't so much of an issue with the first chapter which is mainly about introducing characters and explaining back stories. But as time goes on, I can see issues arriving if you happen to have missed any of the earlier ones and indeed, this is the case. As more films are released, you are going to be less enthusiastic about Marvel's B-list characters getting their own movie. I'm not particularly bothered about Doctor Strange (7), for example, but I know that in order for other films I will want to see to make sense, I'll need to see it at some point. Maybe Marvel could slow down their release schedule just a bit?
© 2015 Benjamin Cox