Where in we saw Tony Stark as a modern day Howard Hughes in the first “Iron Man,” a reclusive eccentric bachelor billionaire whose vision produced the iron man suit allowing him to achieve his brilliance and somehow benefit the whole of mankind, we’re now given a different view in to Stark by screenwriter Justin Theroux as Stark is presented as a modern day Oppenheimer whose creation and mind-blowing new discovery is about to become the property of the US government whether he likes it or not and will probably be used as a war weapon.
Meanwhile setting the stages for “The Avengers” in 2012, “Iron Man 2” is not so much just a sequel but also serves as a part in the bigger spectrum of “The Avengers” continuing the story of mastermind turned superhero Tony Stark while also building the foundation for the eventual ensemble blockbuster bonanza featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (Captain America’s shield makes a funny cameo). There’s even a supporting performance by a rather entertaining and sexy Scarlett Johannson who plays SHIELD agent Black Widow, another plot device to set the stages for the Avengers film. Johannson was not my ideal choice for the character, but she proves me wrong by taking this character and making it come to life like Downey has for Stark. Much like in the comic books there is a smooth continuity that will connect these movies as a potential festival for the fan boys. “Iron Man 2” sets down after the revelation of Tony Stark’s alter-ego in “Iron Man” and the attempts by other wizards to steal his property and mimic it to bring down his empire and seize power. This comes in the form of two brilliant engineers who decide they have to bring Tony to his knees. Both with ulterior motives but equal ambitions.
What Theroux explores in the sequel is the effect the entire empire of Stark has had on the people in rival countries and terrorists and this comes back to bite Tony who is faced with his own mortality after discovering his chest plate is giving him blood poisoning and he can do nothing but wait to die. He thus decides to live as much as he can for himself, but ultimately has to fight for others and protect America when Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian prisoner with a score to settle, and Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) decide to pool their resources and bring Tony down from the inside. What’s focused on for a majority of the movie is the legacy Tony may leave in the way of technological advancements but very little admiration while the goings on in Stark Industries during his father’s reign is held in to question and given a second look by Tony who refuses to admit that perhaps his father engaged in some dealings that were less than beneficial to the well being of the country and the world. Howard Stark may very well be a Justin Hammer, which is why he displays such sheer disgust in Hammer’s presence.
Hammer of course is a man latching on to Tony to garner equal respect for his genius, but finds no other recourse but to ruin Stark Enterprises to take over from the back door. Villains Rockwell and Rourke are appealingly slimy presences in the story, two understated menaces who want what Stark has and will do everything to get it. And they just might if Stark doesn’t get a grip of his empire before he dies. Downey Jr.’s performance is very sublime here as his cockiness and ego is put in to check when he learns that he’s losing the battle for his health and for his armor that the US Government wants to claim for themselves for the sake of “the public’s safety.” There’s an undercurrent of sadness and grief in Stark’s character and this makes him much more sympathetic than he was in the first film. The bond with Hammer and Vanko eventually boils down to an uneasy union one that ends in massive gunfire and an all out war between Stark, his friend Rhodey (in War Machine regalia) and Vanko’s twisted creations that he sicks on the duo which forces them to exhaust their armor beyond all consideration for their personal safety.
The show is rather magnificent with top notch CGI and great chemistry between Cheadle (who replaces Terrence Howard) and Downey Jr., both of whom never miss a beat that many feared would be after Howard dropped out of the series. All in all it’s a very stellar sequel and one with a spectacular scene in the end of the credits you just have to see to believe. It’s a bonafide fan service that made me jump out of my seat cheering for. Obviously insisted upon by Marvel and the studio, Theroux has to sidetrack so often to introduce elements from the Avengers that sometimes the story doesn’t even feel like it’s actually centered on Stark. Theroux and Favreau spend so much time trying to set up different narratives with SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative and setting up recruits, Fury dealing with Stark and having to combat backlash from the government, and Black Widow with her attempts to conceal her identity and keep her eyes on Stark at all times, that it loses sight of its actual story quite often and completely loses all sense of direction.
This is Stark’s film, it’s about Iron Man, let’s keep this about the character and stop making this feel like it’s merely a preface for the “Avengers” movie. That is one of the biggest flaws of the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It felt just like a form of bonding two stories together that it just didn’t feel like a solid narrative and that’s what brings down “Iron Man 2” very often. I want to see a movie about Iron Man, set up the Avengers movie if you have to, but keep the eye on bucket head first and foremost. Favreau pleases with yet another solid exploration in to Iron Man’s universe with “Iron Man 2” an engrossing action film that is not better than the first, but is on par in terms of characterization, action and raw talent. I hope we can see more of Downey as Iron Man in the future. He was born for this role.