Every pop culture aficionado knows that comic book adaptations rarely make good sequels. Both Spider-Man 2 and Superman II dealt with heroes examining their costumed roles and giving up crime fighting and the genre seems filled with blander efforts when a “2″ is stamped on the title. Really, sequels should be far superior; with the origin out of the way there’s more possibilities for greater action and drama. The Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Now, that’s how you make a sequel.
Okay then, so where does Iron Man 2 go wrong? Needless to say, SPOILERS AHOY!
Firstly, the film starts with Tony Stark’s voice-over from the last few minutes of 2008′s predecessor and then immediately stumbles with a lengthy scene in which Tony is being questioned by a parliamentary committee who see his Iron Man armour as a weapon dangerous to national security. This is fine, and Downey Jr. as always is charm in a sharp suit, but to begin the year’s most anticipated film like an episode of any dull courtroom TV show is a huge mistake. It goes on far too long, there’s no introduction of the character and his world for those who missed the first film and it’s followed by an even more boring scene. Yep, Mickey Rourke in tattoos and shadows building his own dirty suit. We saw Tony do the very same thing in a cave in the first film, but the low-tech vs hi-tech approach is never realised. One could assume that this seen-it-before intro of the villain would be expanded on later, but I’m afraid not. It could’ve been an awesome chance to show the differences between golden boy Stark and his privileged upbringing with Rourke, playing Ivan Vanko (a combo of comics’ baddies Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) but again such heights are not only never reached, but also avoided. All we know is that Vanko’s Dad helped Stark’s Dad decades ago and never got the credit, so now Vanko goes on a Stark-centred rampage. Again, Rourke play him well and looks like a combination of an Oz character who fell into the wardrobe from Pirates of the Caribbean, but as is the problem with superhero films sometimes – another villain gets in the way. Justin Hammer is a jealous Stark rival and equips Vanko with what he needs (including a parrot) to pull Stark down a peg or two. Sam Rockwell layers Hammer with the same bravado that Stark has, but with less self-confidence and greedier motivations.
Any scene between Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is sparkling and director Jon Favreau fulfills his beefier role as driver happy Hogan with gusto. There aren’t constant references to next year’s Captain America film, and 2012′s The Avengers, but fanboys and girls know them when they see them. There’s a handy list of easter eggs in the film here. I knew references to events in New Mexico were related to Thor’s hammer landing there (wait for that scene after the end credits, like the Nick Fury cameo in film one). I know many would’ve been like me and expecting Cap’s shield to be in the box Tony receives from S.H.I.E.L.D director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and we do see a possible prototype of it.
It’s great to see War Machine and Black Widow, but strangely those characters aren’t even referred to by those names. The action is fine, the SFX are great but what’s really annoying is the missed opportunities. If they dropped Hammer and focused on Vanko and Stark’s relationships with their respective fathers, and did more with Tony’s drunkeness and poisoning from the arc reactor in his chest the drama would’ve been more intriguing. Tony’s slow death, until a rescue by Fury, should’ve been at the heart of the film, but it was bypassed to show more drone designs.
It’s not a bad film, but sadly not as good as 2008′s surprise hit. Half the people in my cinema stayed until after the closing credits and there were many excited whispers as to Mjolnir’s owner, so that’s a good thing. Creating the first movie universe will at least hint at what’s going on in today’s comics. On that note, if you want a good Iron Man fix this week, grab Invincible Iron Man #25 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca. It’s a double sized issue and features movie-friendly concepts such as Pepper Potts as C.E.O of Stark’s company, Hammer’s relatives, military drama and a hulking suit variant known as Detroit Steel.