When it comes to movies, there is a rule that seems to be easily followed: the sequel will more than likely be better than the original. Case in point: Spider-Man 2 was miles better than Spider-Man, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was light years better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and (in my opinion) Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back improves on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. There are exceptions to the rule, but I can’t think of them right now. Another movie to add to the success list is Iron Man 2. Iron Man 2 brings back Robert Downey, Jr. as the megalomaniacally narcissistic Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man and Gwyneth Paltrow as the erstwhile Pepper Potts. It also brings back Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes with more of a tan – he’s played by Don Cheadle instead of Terrence Howard. Newcomers include Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, Sam Rockwell as competitive industrialist Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman – a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff. Jon Favreau returns to direct, and it is a thrill ride from the word “go.”
Iron Man 2 takes place almost immediately after the first Iron Man (with some clever editing to take out the aforementioned Howard) and includes extra dialogue not heard in the original release. It is here where we’re introduced to Ivan Vanko and his motive for revenge after watching his father die. The film then catapults six months into the future, where Tony Stark is introducing the start of something his father created years ago called “Stark Expo.” The show appears to be a roaring success, but it also appears that donning the suit is taking a toll on Tony. Meanwhile, a weapons manufacturer named Justin Hammer is jealous of Tony Stark’s success and wants to reign in some of that success and fame for himself. He concocts a scheme to out Tony Stark Tony Stark, and the movie really takes off from there.
Robert Downey, Jr. returns to the role he was evidently born to play. His Tony Stark is as narcissistic as ever, and when he’s faced with the sensitive details, he does his best to downplay it – with no success. His witty retorts liven up every scene he’s in, and he looks as comfortable as an old pair of shoes when he dons the armor.
Gwyneth Paltrow returns with an even larger role as Pepper Potts. She looks worn down from dealing with her eccentric boss, and he drops a surprise on her that makes her even that more stressed out. She carries herself with an air of frustration that could only come from dealing with someone with such outlandish idiosyncrasies.
Speaking of eccentric, Mickey Rourke steps into the shoes of Ivan Vanko, the primary antagonist of the film. Rourke’s character is an amalgam of two members of Iron Man’s Rouges Gallery: Backlash and Crimson Dynamo. What’s interesting about that is, Ivan’s father is Anton Vanko, the original Crimson Dynamo in the comics. I’ve always felt that Mickey Rourke was a bit off-kilter, y’know a bit snog off the noggin, but he’s a helluva good actor. He proves that here, even speaking in fluent Russian for some of his scenes. His character’s sole purpose is to get revenge on Tony for what his father did to Anton.
Don Cheadle, the chameleon of Hollywood, takes the role of Rhodey Rhodes from Terrence Howard, and he performs admirably. He plays the part as a man who is fiercely loyal to his friend, but tired of cleaning up after him. Cheadle looks as if he is having a good time in the role, chewing up scenery like doughnuts. It’s almost as if he was a natural fit for the role, and Terrence Howard was just a placeholder. His War Machine reveal was fantastic, and it makes me long for what’s going to happen in the future.
Sam Rockwell takes the role of Justin Hammer, another antagonist in the film. Rockwell was actually considered for the role of Tony Stark, and he leapt at the opportunity to be in this one. According to Rockwell himself, his character is, “plucky comic relief, but he’s got a little bit of an edge.” He basically does a Robert Downey, Jr. impression with his own touches, and it works. Also, it should be said that the character of Justin Hammer is an old man in the comics. Sam Rockwell is a lot of things, but an old man ain’t one of ‘em.
Scarlett Johansson steps into the role of the sexy undercover agent Natalie Rushman – a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff. She proves to be more than a healthy match for Tony and Pepper, and – as you can see in the picture to the right – she can hold her own in the action scenes. What you saw of her in the trailer pales in comparison to what really happened when she cut loose onscreen. She’s another one I’m looking forward to seeing in the future, and it’s not just because she looks hot in her catsuit. Really, it’s not.
When I heard that John Debney was replacing Ramin Djawadi for the score, I was disappointed. Djawadi’s score was full of heavy metal influence, and it fit the bill for what Iron Man was about. I shouldn’t have been disappointed, though; Debney’s score is bombastic and heroic at the same time. His themes for Iron Man are rollicking good themes, and I will most certainly be buying the score when it comes out.
Jon Favreau returns to do double duty, as he directs the film and has a bit of a bigger role as Tony’s chauffer/bodyguard Happy Hogan. His role as Hogan isn’t really that crucial, although he does have some good lines and a pretty good scene. His direction, on the other hand, is simply amazing. He handles the twists and turns very well, and the action scenes are done flawlessly.
As the big kickoff to the Summer Blockbuster Season, this works out very well. It has just enough action to keep you on the edge of your seats, and the plot moves along quite nicely. It definitely succeeds as being better than the original, and I have no problems in giving this movie five dragon heads out of five. It’s witty, it’s action packed, and it’s just suspenseful enough to not be too overdrawn and melodramatic.
Oh, and stay for the post-credits scene featuring our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson; you won’t be disappointed.