An ironclad cast augments “Iron Man 2”
If “Dark Knight” had never existed, the first “Iron Man” film would not only have been the best superhero film of 2008, but arguably the best of the decade. But “Knight’s” box office explosion, propelled by Heath Ledger’s final unforgettable performance, dwarfed (in terms of box office and hysteria) the terrific “Iron Man.” (Though a domestic gross of $318 million hardly qualifies as it as any type of also-ran.)
In retrospect, “Iron Man’s” brilliant, compact storyline and Robert Downey’s sharp, panache-to-the-hilt performance make it in many ways every bit as enjoyable and worthy of repeated viewings as “The Dark Knight.”
Which gives its sequel, “Iron Man 2” an almost impossible standard to live up to. This second installment makes an extraordinary effort to duplicate the compelling narrative of its predecessor, but without an unfolding back-story and the freshness of completely new characterizations, “Iron Man 2” suffers from a bit of sequel-itis.
Director Jon Favreau (who also stars as Tony Stark’s driver) is still on solid footing here, having learned how to craft films that make the most of his exceptional casting skills (“Swingers,” “Zathura,” “Elf”), and in “Iron Man 2” his cast is an ensemble of Oscar-nominated all-stars.
Downey Jr. returns as bon-vivant weapons mogul Tony Stark, Gwynth Paltrow as assistant and soon to be CEO Pepper Potts, while veteran actor Don Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard as Lt. Colonel James Rhodes. Samuel Jackson’s role as a leader of the underground force S.H.I.E.L.D. is expanded from his post-credits appearance of the first film.
Every superhero film has to have a villain, and Mickey Rourke is mysterious and menacing as Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist and ex-con who seeks to destroy Stark and his titanium suit-wearing alter-ego. Scarlett Johansson seduces as a curvaceous, newly hired executive assistant who doubles as a kick-butt, special-ops-type code named “Black Widow,” donning (when necessary) a very tight catsuit.
Of the new additions, a scene-stealing Sam Rockwell shines hilariously as a sleazy defense contractor who funds Vanko’s designs and gives Stark a run for his money, literally, in both ego and wit.
The action scenes are few and don’t feel unnecessarily elongated-a good thing for those who prefer good stories enhanced by CGI-based effects and not the other way around-though younger viewers may not appreciate many of the script’s plentiful quips and asides.
But a superhero film that can reach some palpable emotional depth, as when Stark comes to grips with his own mortality-his palladium-poisoned heart may kill him-has a lot going for it.
Don’t look for what “Iron Man 2” isn’t; enjoy it for what it is: solid filmmaking and actors who take their comic book-created roles very seriously.
Rated PG-13 for scenes of intense sci-fi action and violence and some language.