It's FlashBack Friday again guys! I know everyone is going crazy for the new Star Wars and Batman v. Superman trailers (admittedly, I had a hard time sitting down to watch this movie, I was so excited), but I hope you can spare a few moments to read my thoughts on Marvel's safe bet move after The Incredible Hulk disappointed at the box office... Iron Man 2! This one I not only saw in theaters, but my wife and I made an event of it, wearing Iron Man shirts and watching it in IMAX during its opening weekend. It was a tremendously fun experience, and at the time I thought it was even better than the first Iron Man. Well, time has offered me some perspective, and while I think there are some things this film does incredibly well, I have to say that I was much cooler on this sequel five years removed than I was after the much-hyped theatrical release.
It's been six months since Tony Stark proclaimed to the world, "I am Iron Man," and his subsequent work has apparently brought about a relative world peace. However, the senate isn't too thrilled with one man having so much power, and they move to bring the Iron Man suit under the control of the U.S. government. Tony doesn't have much time or energy to devote to their claims, as he has a much bigger problem to deal with - his imminent death. The mineral powering his suit is also poisoning his blood, raising his toxicity level every day. With his mortality very much on his mind, Stark makes a reckless decision to race in a Grand Prix event in Monaco, where an angry Russian ghost from the Stark family's past has come to seek justice on Tony in front of the entire world.
Let me just say, this first section of the movie is done to near perfection. Ivan Vanko's introduction mirror's Tony's from the first movie, constructing an arc reactor in a bare-bones facility and using it to make something extraordinary. The character of Whiplash doesn't have much to him, but Mickey Rourke's intimidating screen presence alone makes this villain appear more formidable than what the screenplay earns on its own. I'm not sure I ever really thought that Tony was in any real danger with his palladium core problem, but once Whiplash shows up on the race track I found myself seriously concerned for Stark's safety. That scene is probably one of the coolest in any comic book movie, and it's a shame that nothing else in this film can really stand up to it. Vanko whipping race cars in half and calmly striding away as the vehicles collide in fiery explosions is really exhilarating, and it's capped off by one of the coolest Iron Man suit-up scenes we're ever going to get! It's a pretty quick fight, but it's the pinnacle of what this movie has to offer.
But the villain of Iron Man 2 isn't just Whiplash, it's also Stark's main business rival, Justin Hammer. I absolutely love Sam Rockwell in pretty much everything (see my review of Moon) and he puts in a performance almost as good as Robert Downey, Jr. in this movie. His awkward attempts to top Tony Stark and his hilarious train of thought ad-libs crack me up every time, and I kind of wish he came back in Iron Man 3. Then again, the last thing that movie needed was another person telling jokes... but I digress.
Surprisingly, Tony's storyline is perhaps the most boring in this entire movie. Starting with his drunken shenanigans at his birthday party and lasting until he confronted Justin Hammer at the Stark Expo, I was hopelessly falling in and out of consciousness. I eventually lost this battle and actually slept through the entire scene of Stark discovering his new element and creating another arc reactor that wouldn't poison his blood. It was kind of a lame way to resolve his mortality sub-plot, particularly given the amount of screen time it was given up to that point. I cared more about his interplay with Pepper than I ever did about his blood toxicity level, and the scenes with Nick Fury and Agent Coulson are so forced I honestly think my selective watching (aka, sleeping through those parts) actually improved the film.
There are still a lot of other things to like here, such as the tragically under-used action scenes. The fight between Iron Man, War Machine and the Hammer drones inside that dome was probably the coolest battle we'd seen in an Iron Man film up to that point, but it only lasts about a minute before Tony's magic laser cuts the rest of them in half. I would have liked to have seen more gritty take-downs like War Machine cutting a drone apart with his wrist guns as oil sprays onto his scowling face like a blood splatter. Instead, they want to abbreviate the second-coolest action scene in the movie by bringing in a supposedly upgraded Whiplash to take on the two friends. This could have been such a cool fight, but instead the technologically advanced Iron Man tries to engage Whiplash in a boxing match, and after a few minutes he and Rhodey casually shoot their palm-repulsors at each other to dismantle Vanko's whips. It was just a lame way to end what should have been an epic throwdown.
All in all, it was a pretty good follow up to the 2008 blockbuster, but Iron Man 2 has a lot of untapped potential. It's obvious that Marvel was concerned by The Incredible Hulk's lackluster profits and wanted to reinvigorate everyone's enthusiasm for the team-up this entire franchise has been building towards. Though this wasn't the best in the series, it was a marked improvement over Hulk, and gave them enough financial returns to move forward with the other two stand-alone films before Avengers: namely Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. I still enjoy this film, even with all of its weaknesses, and I give it a pretty solid three stars.
Well, that's it for my FlashBack Friday series leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron! If you want to see the other films I've reviewed beyond this point, click here! I have to warn you, though, some of these reviews are pretty rough. By going through those reviews from Thor all the way to Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll see how my review format has evolved... and by that I mean lengthened. Hopefully you'll find something there to enjoy. Anyway, thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought of Iron Man 2 in the comments below!
IRON MAN 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language