Iron Man 2 (2010)

Pedal to the metal

Iron Man 2 was always going to be one of 2010’s biggest films, but the fact that comeback king Mickey Rourke is playing uber-nemesis Whiplash has made it a must see. And director Jon Favreau clearly knows he’s got a casting coup on his hands, as the film opens straight into a sequence which introduces Whiplash’s alter-ego, Russian physicist Ivan Vanko. All sweaty bulk with greasy hair, gold teeth and thick accent, first impressions of the character are, admittedly, more pantomime villain that criminal mastermind. And, as Rourke delightedly chews the scenery during that first scene, hopes are in danger of being dashed. But, as the story progresses, and Ivan morphs into Whiplash, Rourke’s physicality and laid back humour attune him to the role until he becomes hugely entertaining and highly watchable. Indeed, the same could be said for the film itself; although it starts off rather slow, it picks up speed from mid-point and runs full tilt into a high-adrenaline finale that provides a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion and sets up future films – and franchises.

Now that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has been revealed as Iron Man, everyone wants a piece of him; not least the US government, who are determined to get their hands on his technology. Also interested in Iron Man are weapons expert Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a weasle of a man prepared to go to any lengths to satisfy his ambitions, and Stark’s military pal Lt James Rhodey (Don Cheadle, taking over the role from Terrence Howard) who finds himself torn between his loyalty to his friend and his duty to his county. To make matters worse, palladium poisoning from his suit’s core is taking its toll on Stark, whose erratic behaviour is straining his relationship with ever-dependable Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And when new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) arrives on the scene, Stark finds himself distracted even further; but it’s when he encounters Whiplash that Iron Man realises he may finally have met his match.

Whereas in the first film Favreau could afford to take a more simple narrative approach – as a genesis story, he could focus his attention purely on the birth of Iron Man – here he and screenwriter Justin Theroux have crammed much more into the script. That’s not to say it’s not a solid story, but there’s a great deal of dialogue to get through in between the action, including several conversations with Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), who plays a much bigger role in this sequel.  But, although some parts run much slower than others, the performances still shine through. Downey Jr is at his sardonic best as the playboy superhero, embracing the freedom the role gives him to misbehave as well as expertly handling the psychological vulnerability of a superhero cracking under immense pressure. Johnasson sizzles in her role as the enigmatic Natalie, while Paltrow, Rockwell and Cheadle lend solid support.

But, of course, the stars of the show are the action sequences, and there are some exhilarating moments; Whiplash’s electrical display of power in Monaco ia a highlight, there’s a face off between Iron Man and War Machine that quite literally brings the house down. And, although there’s a sense that much of the story is being used as a launch pad for future Marvel franchises like Captain America and The Avengers – there’s enough Iron Man identity to keep focus on the story at hand.

In the end, Iron Man 2 is what it is; the first of a summer blockbuster season that will favour big-budget bangs over nuanced narratives, a sequel that, although not quite living up to the original, manages to hold its own and, above all, a fun popcorn movie that will put a smile on your face.

3.5 stars

Stars Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle
Director Jon Favreau
Screenplay Justin Theroux
Certificate 12A
Distributor Paramount Pictures
Running Time 2hrs 6mins
Opens April 30