To paraphrase Princess Leia, “If action is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.”
Iron Man 2 features multiple extended action sequences, which look and sound shiny and spectacular. If what you loved from Iron Man two years ago was the action, you should be pleased with the upgrade on that front. The sequel includes a wealth of wisecracks; it feels as though every character has either a punch line or a wicked punch, and sometimes both. Even as Iron Man 2 delivers more, more, more, however, it feels like less than the original.
Part of that is due to raised expectations. I was pleasantly shocked that Robert Downey Jr. captured the spirit of a superhero and merged it with the soul of an ordinary — if exceedingly handsome, rich, intelligent, creative, and arrogant — human being. I was surprised that Jon Favreau kept the film humming along at a good clip while still allowing room for Downey to be Downey. I left the theater on a high, feeling triumphant.
In view of those circumstances, there is no possibility that a sequel could equal the original. Or is there? Christopher Nolan and company exceeded expectations with The Dark Knight, so there’s a reasonable example to cite. Tony Stark has more than 40 years of character exploration, through hundreds of comic book issues, that could have been tapped.
Yet the filmmakers focused on the action instead of the characters. Rather than digging deeper into the psychology of Tony Stark, a billionaire arms maker and inventor par excellence, or Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), a personal assistant transformed into a CEO, more characters are introduced. What’s frustrating is that hints are dropped, suggesting that Tony’s personality flaws — extreme arrogance, self-involvement, compulsive behavior bordering on addiction — are obstacles that must be overcome. Instead they are minimized and ultimately swept under the carpet, minimizing the extent of the damage, both present and future.
The film’s failure to explore deeper issues would, perhaps, not be so obvious if the pace didn’t slow so often. Those spaces appear tailor-made for revealing talk. Words are spoken, but nothing meaningful is ever said. This is especially apparent during a key scene between Stark and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), in which Fury reels off exposition in a fury, and a later exchange between Stark and Potts, which is curt for no good reason.
The action, when it kicks in, is very impressive indeed, and the production is handsomely mounted. The idea of “conspicuous consumption” kept popping into my head; however many millions of dollars were spent, it feels like most of those dollars ended up on screen. It’s the kind of film you’ll want to see on the biggest screen possible. I saw it locally at AMC Northpark, on their biggest screen with newly-fitted sound system, and it looked and sounded tremendous.
Beyond that, the performances were good. Downey does his best with sometimes inadequate material, and Paltrow is, well, plucky. Jackson creates a strong impression of the leader of the Avengers.
Scarlett Johansson is a very beautiful woman; she strikes numerous dynamic poses, rather than really convince as an action figure, even as she remains an enigma as Stark’s new personal assistant. Sam Rockwell is very funny as evil rival industrialist Justin Hammer. Garry Shandling contributes a humorous turn as a U.S. senator. Jon Favreau makes good use of his limited screen time.
Mickey Rourke is properly menacing — and gives good mumble — as the villainous Ivan Vanko, who wields a mean whip. Fully earning the title of War Machine, Don Cheadle is just fine in his role as replacement for Terence Howard.
Iron Man 2 is fine and dandy as summer entertainment. It doesn’t soar as high as the first installment, but it flies pretty true and straight in delivering what’s expected of modern blockbusters.