Iron Man stood out from other superhero movies by being one of the funniest and more realistic. This hero had no superpowers, just a super metal suit, and he often fumbled his way to victory. And he didn't hide his identity, instead revelling in the fact he was a rich, eligible bachelor. And in Iron Man 2, director Jon Favreau lays on the star power, comedy and action to avoid the sequel syndrome. And it just about works.
The movie opens with an elderly Russian physicist on his death bed and the revenge wail of his son, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke). It cuts to a wise cracking Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who has singlehandedly brought peace to the world, opening his year-long Stark Technology Expo to the blare of AC/DC.
It's an indulgent act and he is soon palming his way through celebrity friends (watch for the cameos) and is subpoenaed to appear at a Senate hearing where Senator Stern (a funny Garry Shandling) demands Stark hand over his technology to the US Government. He is supported by arms dealer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) … Don't you love the character names?
There was apparently a lot of ad libbing in this scene, with Downey Jr quipping his way out of the hearing and into a race car at the Monaco Grand Prix, where he first encounters Vanko, aka Whiplash, who leaves some serious flesh wounds on Iron Man, suddenly exposing his vulnerability. Meanwhile, Stark's blood toxicity is rising due to the radioactive palladium in the reactor that powers him. Exhausted? This is just the opening.
Tropic Thunder writer Justin Theroux's witty script delves into different places to other superhero movies. Stark is not just battling Whiplash, but also crooked politicians, the army, and a ruthless corporate competitor. But the real demon Stark faces is his hubris, which is ironic (pardon the pun). At his birthday party he announces how he goes to the bathroom in his iron suit. You can guess the answer.
The problem with Jon Favreau directing his buddies is his reluctance to pull them back. Downey Jr pushes the limits looking for laughs and some of his scenes with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are lively, but Rockwell goes so far over the top they'll need a search party to find him.
They should have taken more notice of Don Cheadle who plays Lt Colonel James Rhodes straight and believable. Scarlett Johansson also takes a more sincere acting road and is great in her action scenes as the Black Widow (no wonder Gwyneth reportedly resented her casting) with Samuel L Jackson appearing to establish the Avenger's franchise. Favreau himself plays assistant Happy Hogan.
It's a pity this franchise goes from self-effacing to self-indulgent, as it tries to outdo the first movie and almost undoes itself. It still features a giddy mix of humour, characters and action to keep it interesting, amusing and entertaining. Maybe Iron Man 2 is not as memorable as the first, but there are more on the way to keep reminding you.
Iron Man 2 is in cinemas now.