- Released Internationally on 28/04/10
- Released in Malta by KRS on 05/05/10
Preview (Published 01/04/10 in VIDA magazine)
In a nutshell
Although The Dark Knight rightly received most of 2008's attention, that summer provided another smart, slick superhero film, with Robert Downey Jr. bringing zest and charisma to the lesser-known character of Iron Man and his alter-ego Tony Stark. So, before the ironing starts piling up, he's back.
Why we’re hyped
Not only was the original an entertaining and well-written action film, but it also succeeded where many superhero films fail - it gave us interesting characters and a good story. The ending was particularly ingenious, and left us with a cliff-hanger as the world's media finally found out who Iron Man really is. So this sequel was never in doubt.
Who’s in it?
For the sake of continuity, it's good to see that director Jon Favreau has kept his chair, and of course so has Downey Jr., whose renaissance continues to land him great roles which he pulls off in style. His assistant and intermittent romantic interest, Pepper Potts, remains in the hands of Gwyneth Paltrow. The role of his partner James Rhodes has been given to Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Ocean's Eleven), and Paul Bettany (Creation, Wimbledon) returns as the voice of JARVIS. Two exciting new faces have been added to the arena - Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Sin City) looks menacing as 'Whiplash', and Scarlett Johannsen (Match Point, Lost in Translation) might cause a few chest pains as 'Black Widow'. The script was a collaborative effort, but the main contributor seems to have been Justin Theroux, who co-wrote Tropic Thunder, and has also acted in Mulholland Drive and American Psycho. Veteran rock band AC/DC joined A-list composer John Debney to provide the music for the film. Let's hope this sequel is at least as good as its predecessor, rather than sinking under the weight of so many big names.
Iron Man 2 succeeds in feeling like a continuation, rather than a sequel. With the prologue picking up during the final scenes of the 2008 hit, the story arc and characters continue unabated, and the vibrant freshness that was so enjoyable first time around is thankfully evident once again. Downey Jr. is clearly enjoying himself developing this superhero, and he perfectly balances the style and showmanship of Tony Stark's public persona, with the recklessness and inner demons which threaten to derail his success and health. Similarities with the actor's own history are probably more than co-incidental, and they are milked for all they're worth.
Weapons of mass destruction
With Iron Man keeping America's foes at bay, he cheekily claims to have successfully privatised world peace. But the government is wary of him getting out of hand, and wants his armour handed over to the state for controlled use and possible replication. Stark isn't having any of it, and he reassures everyone that the technology of America's rivals is lagging years behind his. But that all changes when a certain Ivan Vanko ('Whiplash') appears on the scene during the Monaco grand prix, with a fancy costume clearly as powerful as Iron Man's, and less noble ideas about how to use it. The son of a former Soviet scientist who used to work with Stark's father, Vanko has inherited the secret to Iron Man's technology, and suddenly Stark's rivals want the unsightly Russian on their team. Rourke is suitably menacing and mysterious as the film's most obvious villain, shuffling through his scenes like he's had too much vodka but showing his skills when necessary.
All together now
I say 'most obvious villain' because most characters aren't so easy to pigeonhole. With even Iron Man himself getting a bit rusty at points, one of the film's plusses is that hardly any of the characters are all good or all bad, and those who, like me, aren't familiar with the comics might take some time to decide who is to be trusted and who needs to be ironed out. All the smaller roles are well-cast and interesting, with the actors managing to establish their presence despite having only sporadic minutes of screen-time to do so. Scarlett Johannsen doesn't need to do much apart from standing around looking, well, perfect, although she does get one scene where she can show off her choreographed moves, and in a catsuit, please note. Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Unbreakable) returns as the spectral head of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation, which will apparently be a unifying thread throughout various upcoming Marvel comic adaptations. Sam Rockwell (Matchstick Men, Moon) also manages to make his role as Stark's competitor a memorable one, showing us what a slightly darker version of Tony Stark would look like.
Billed as one of this summer's main blockbusters, the film manages to meet expectations and will probably draw in the crowds over the next month or so. The effects are largely faultless, although the daytime flying sequences I enjoyed so much in the first film have been scaled back. The writing is engaging and interesting without getting too technical, and there are enough one-liners to make you grin without getting too cheesy. The encounters between our hard-headed hero and Whiplash are fun and spectacular, although oddly brief. The film sticks to everything that made the original so great, yet manages to flex its muscles as the bigger (and probably more expensive) sequel – with everything from lavish set pieces in Monaco to appearances by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
In the end
It’s big, it’s shiny and it’s fun. Yet, unlike other big sequels such as the Transformers one, the filmmakers haven’t gone overboard at the expense of story and soul. It’s not as great as the first film, but probably only because we’ve seen the fancy armour before. Summer is here.