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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Review by Jack Foley

MINUTES into Iron Man 2, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark announces to an army of fans that it’s “good to be back”. Well, it’s good to have him back too… but only just!

Where the original Iron Man was a lean blast of fun and bravado, powered by a career-reviving performance from Downey Jr, the follow-up is much more cumbersome, a lot more serious and only intermittently as fun.

It works because of a terrific ensemble cast and some solid set pieces, but it also keeps you waiting for a little too long and seems distracted by Marvel’s need to set-up other franchises.

The plot finds billionaire superhero Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) facing his own mortality as his life force begins to take a corrosive hold while simultaneously fending off attempts by the government and the military to assume control of his Iron Man technology.

To complicate matters still further, deranged Russian Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) is plotting to annihilate him with the help of rival arms dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

Once again directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man 2 attempts – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to juggle the more serious plot elements with the original’s sense of fun. But while there is still plenty to kick back and enjoy, there’s also a nagging sense of disappointment that things aren’t as slick as they once were.

Downey Jr remains the heartbeat of the movie and displays just the right amount of cocky bravado and inner turmoil to make his Tony Stark a great lead character.

But the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle’s Jim Rhodes (Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard) aren’t afforded enough screen-time to really progress their characters… and suffer from a lack of sparky banter with Stark.

Indeed, it’s left to Favreau’s chauffeur (upgraded from cameo to supporting player) to deliver the biggest Stark-based laughs, which he does with aplomb (especially when beating up burly henchmen).

Of the newcomers, Rockwell oozes charisma as Stark nemesis Justin Hammer… frequently coming up short in his efforts to surpass Tony’s achievements and delivering some brilliantly pained expressions to show his distaste, while Rourke is suitably weird and imposing as Vanko (though reduced to the sidelines for too long).

Scarlett Johansson’s newcomer offers plenty of sultry eye candy and a nice line in ass-kicking late on, but has clearly been inserted to promote the forthcoming Avengers movie and – like Samuel L Jackson’s engaging but limited Nick Fury – leaves you wanting more.

The set pieces, meanwhile, are as impressive as we’ve come to expect from a superhero blockbuster of this type… but few and far between.

Indeed, two of the biggest problems with the film are the aforementioned need to protect existing franchise characters while setting up future prospects, and the over-emphasis on the science behind Stark’s life-saving, world-threatening technology.

Extended scenes in which Downey Jr’s central character discusses and attempts to create a new element tend to drift over your head and come at the expense of some of the more worthwhile emotional connections.

There is fun still to be had, but it’s in smaller doses, while the climactic face-off between various iron men resorts back to the bog-standard Marvel formula for having arch-rivals bash ten bells out of each other to see who is the last man standing.

Hence, if Iron Man 1 was an unqualified success by virtue of its underdog status and risk factor (by placing RDJ in the lead), Iron Man 2 actually suffers by having too much expectation and playing things a little too safe.

Solid rather than spectacular, this sequel still does enough to suggest that future Stark outings can still be as keenly anticipated.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 124mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: October 25, 2010