Why trust one opinion, when you can have two? Join John Gholson and Peter Hall as they discuss Iron Man 2, in Sci-Fi Squad's first Double-Take!
John Gholson: Expectations are at an all-time high for Jon Favreau's follow-up to Iron Man, cleverly titled Iron Man 2. It's a pride-comes-before-a-fall story about gazillionaire Tony Stark's unwavering confidence in his own bad-assitude. Right from the start, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is such an arrogant rock star superhero, you know someone's going to come along and take him down a few pegs.
That someone is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who comic book fans know as Whiplash, a brilliant Russian thug with a personal vendetta against the Stark family. Vanko teams with unscrupulous industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to continue work on Hammer's own line of Iron Man-inspired military armor. Also there to humble Stark is his own best friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who nabs his own set of armor, should Tony act irresponsibly.
All that and I didn't even mention Samuel L. Jackson as SHIELD agent Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson as Stark's new secretary. Nor did I mention Stark's heart problems, which provide a lot of the film's conflict. And I didn't even talk about the rich subplot involving Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) takeover of Stark Industries. Obviously, this is a stuffed film. Over-stuffed? Not in the way that Spider-Man 3 felt over-stuffed, but it's certainly more bloated than the first one.
Peter Hall: It's definitely got more bloat but I think one thing Iron Man 2 has going for it that the first film didn't are action scenes that are actually memorable. While I wouldn't call Iron Man a bad film by any means, I'm in the minority that found it to be a surprisingly dry superhero movie, mainly because the action scenes were as equally flat as all the characters surrounding Tony Stark. However, with part 2 we not only have a larger circle of characters that are all given more to do (I'd chalk this up to Justin Theroux having written the screenplay), but we're also given action scenes that have a bit more pop to them as well. Sure, their arrival times are distended a bit, but when they do come, each action sequence is crafted with enough bombast to make sure that their presence is felt.
So while I do find the action to be a huge improvement this time around, I also found that this is the one Marvel franchise that still fails to do villains well. The first go around we had a default villain who was essentially motivated by common share stock price. Real threatening. Well this time we've got two industrious villains who lack sufficient motivation to be considered villains. Hammer is fueled by a drive to simply be as successful in business and in life as Tony Stark is, while Vanko is angry over what boils down to a patent dispute. If people thought Lex Luthor's plan in Superman Returns of creating more land was boring, then I can't see how patent disputes and professional envy are any more interesting.
Gholson: I think that's keeping in the spirit of the comics, strangely enough. Iron Man's rogues gallery has always taken a backseat to Stark's troubled navigation of the waters of the military industrial complex. We get that here, in a big way with Justin Hammer, and while I think both villains get a decent build-up, both of them get incredibly weak send-offs. It's not very satisfying to watch these villains get sidelined in favor of a massive climax involving an army of generic Iron Man drones.
As far as levels of action, I found this one to deliver just about the same exact thrills as the first one. Now that the film has screened in some cities and overseas, a vocal minority seem to be really down on the movie, even if they liked the first one. I think that's a case of expectations. Iron Man, the first film, just didn't have the same level of expectation that this sequel does. More audiences were caught off guard by just how entertaining a perceived "C-level" superhero could be. Now that they know (and love) the character, I think expectations may be too high on this one. For some, it will only be able to disappoint. Not because it's a bad movie, but because it really is just more of the same.
I think your neutral reaction to the first film is exactly why you may have responded to this one a little bit more. Your expectations were just not at the same level going in to Iron Man 2 as most people's will be this opening weekend. It's certainly a stronger opening salvo from Marvel than last Summer's X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Right now, I'm perfectly happy with Iron Man sort of picking up the gauntlet from Raimi's Spider-Man films, in terms of escapist Summer thrill-rides. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 are both very much comic book movies -- not dramas that happen to have superheroes or crime stories where the protagonists wear costumes. They're both snappy, disposable, and appealing larger-than-life good-versus-evil sci-fi fantasies, and that's what superhero comics are all about.
Hall: You're dead on about my own (lack of) expectations for the film. Going off the trailers, the only thing I was expecting was a Tony Stark that had become obnoxiously full of himself. Obviously that's the character, but judging from what little I had seen of the film, it looked as though they had taken the billionaire playboy schtick and dialed it to 11. I don't think that's how it comes off in the final film, however. I actually found his arrogance this time around to be appropriately endearing.
I think that may actually be my favorite thing about Iron Man 2. You kind of want to see Stark knocked down a peg or two. Not enough to get anyone killed, but just enough to beat some responsibility into the character. And I think all involved did a great job of doing just that while still maintaining the overall spirit of the first film. Really, that's all I'd like to see from an Iron Man sequel. I'm not concerned with re-inventing the character or the world in which he exists, I'd just like some refinement of what was started in the first film, a handful of purty 'splosions and, given knowledge of what's on the horizon, notable connective tissue to the other Marvel films.
To that end, Iron Man 2 is a solid sequel. It doesn't reinvent, but it does improve in a few spots. All of Downey Jr.'s supporting characters get a little more meat on their bones. The 'splosions, they sure are purty. And it's a wonderful lay-up for the Avengers. Bravo, I says.