Rarely are sequels as good as their predecessors. It’s easy to understand why. Trying to capture the magic of the original tends to make writers, producers, directors, and actors go too far, attempt too much, fail to surprise the audience on any level. Sometimes, however, those of us who fell in love with the original get lucky and get a sequel that, while perhaps not on the same level as the original, enables us to return to the world we enjoyed so much the first time and re-live those aspects of the original that so enchanted us. Iron Man 2 made me feel very lucky.
Is it as good as the original? No. Like so many that have come before, this is a sequel that is just too much. Too many plots, too many new characters, too many villains, too many stunts, and too big an army at the end.
So, why did I like it so much? Robert Downey, Jr. This film proves that Tony Stark is the character he was born to play and he does so with panache. In the first film, we watched this man become re-born as a superhero. In this one, we watched as this same man faced his own mortality. He doesn’t face it with the grace or style of a hero; he goes off the rails like the human being he is.
There is, finally, a lot to dislike about Tony Stark. He is narcissistic; he is rude; he is a womanizer; he has severe daddy issues. All the redemption that occurred during the previous film seems to have disappeared and been replaced by someone who believes he is almost godlike. Or, at least a rock star.
But, once again it is in the quiet moments that we see the truth. Here is a man terrified of what he is facing. He hides his insecurities and his fears beneath a public persona that becomes more outrageous the more insecure and afraid he becomes. He’s good at it. Even the two people closest to him begin to draw away.
What makes Stark such a compelling character is that, try as they might, Rhodes and Pepper cannot stay away. They may not understand why he is acting the way he is, but they cannot allow it to happen either. Rhodes may steal the suit and Pepper may quit her job, but in the end both are fighting by his side.
Where this movie acted more like a sequel than it needed to was in the sheer number of villains that Stark has to face, each of whom is a reflection of Stark. There is Ivan Vanko, another man with daddy issues who is hellbent on revenge against Tony for the sins of his father. Like Stark, Vanko’s father is dead and, again like Stark, the father passed along his knowledge for his son to take to the next level.
Mickey Rourke shares a striking similarity to Downey; both are much more compelling and fun to watch out of their superhero suits. While the two main action sequences are fun and exciting, the best scene between the two is the one in the prison cell where these two men just stare at each other and dare each other. I found it much more chilling than Vanko’s electric whips, cool as they are.
Vanko would have been villain enough, but no. Justin Hammer is here to remind us that, as badly as Stark is behaving now, he is not the man he once was. Hammer is the Stark at the beginning of Iron Man, but without the brains or the charm. Even his dialogue is similar; staccato and quippy, but without the humor that Stark is known for.
But wait, there’s more. Senator Stern of Pennsylvania is also out to get Stark, or at least get his suit. With Vanko and the military out to derail Stark, we didn’t need the US government as part of the problem. This was the one plot line that truly failed, that felt shoehorned in unnecessarily.
The additions to this world were also there to be reflections of Stark. Natalie is much more than she appears to be on the surface. Her reveal as an agent for Fury surprised me, then delighted me. I believed she was only there to be the one who stood between Pepper and Stark coming together, so I was excited when she walked into that doughnut shop in that black suit. One of the highlights of the entire two hours was watching Johansson (all right, her double) kick some serious ass. I love it when girls do that, especially when it is juxtaposed against a man trying to do the same thing.
In his own way, Fury is a reflection of Stark as well. He doesn’t take no for an answer; he is snarky; he is invested in the greater good. While I liked the fact that Fury is the one who sets Stark on the road to recovery, the way it was handled was a bit much. I’m sure the film of Harold Stark was meant to be moving; it just made me roll my eyes.
In a film filled with so many characters, it is astonishing how well each was cast. All but one. I was completely taken aback when Don Cheadle entered as Rhodes. Because I have come to the Marvel franchise so late, I had missed all the gossip and online speculation about the character switch.
I loved Terrence Howard in the original. I thought his portrayal of Stark’s best friend was inspired and that Howard did a great job of creating a character that was the straight man with a heart. As a result, no one else was going to make me particularly happy in the role, but I thought Don Cheadle was a misstep. He is not badass enough to be a military hero and I didn’t get the same sense of history between Tony and him nor did I get the same sense that Rhodes was Stark’s friend first and foremost. I missed the strong male friendship from the original.
Finally, however, I can forgive all the flaws because what I loved so much about the original was back. The action sequences were fun, if a bit free of dramatic tension. The relationships between the characters were beautifully written and the dialogue was as snappy as the original. It lacked the surprises and emotional weight of the original, but it was still an entertaining two hours.
Three out of four terrible looking omelets.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.