Iron Man 2 is a not-disappointing sequel, however it’s also not as entertaining as the original. But, there have been only a very few sequels that equaled or surpassed their predescessors, so that’s not surprising.
What was surprising, for me, was the understated performance by Mickey Roarke as Ivan Vanko (right), Iron Man’s nemesis with a family grudge in this installment. Calling his performance “understated” is an…well…understatement, because Vanko is of course a larger-than-life comic book villain. However, within that context, Roarke’s performance is carefully restrained and excellently realized.
Also well cast and well characterized are Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, head of a competing defense contracting firm, and Garry Shandling (Garry Shandling?!??!?) as Senator Stern, Iron Man’s foe in the Senate who is looking to have the government own (and exploit) the underlying Stark technology. Scarlett Johansson also does a good job as Natalie Rushman, Tony Stark’s new assistant who is “from legal”.
The story…well…the story gets us from Point A to Point B very effectively, but it felt like a transition piece instead of a complete story. That may be the way it has to be for movies based on comic books, since the comics have been around for decades and have much more story material than can be compressed into a movie (or two, or three). However, it seems like a movie of this caliber should at least strive to end at a more momentous and climactic juncture.
The film-making is also sloppier than in the first one. As an example, there is a sequence where Tony Stark appears as Iron Man at his own Expo (about the size of a World’s Fair) and is attacked by an army of drone robots. These drone robots are similar to Iron Man, can fly, and are packed with advanced weaponry. Iron Man takes off with the fleet of drones in hot pursuit, launching a continuous stream of weapon fire at him. Does Iron Man fly as far away from the gathered expo-attendees? No, he spends five minutes swooping and diving around the Expo, causing the drone-fire to strafe the crowds of innocent bystanders below, over and over and over and over again.
He has no reason to hang around the Expo, there’s nobody he needs to rescue, nothing he needs to disarm or defeat, and if he had simply headed as far and as fast away from the Expo as he could he would have saved many, many lives. In fact, after his 5 minutes of induced-strafing-of-the-innocents, he finally wises up and says something like, “Holy crap, I better get away from the Expo!”, and then zooms off. Narcissistic personality disorder, indeed.
But, overall, it doesn’t disappoint, which is a bit of faint praise, but also a bit of a relief. I really liked the first film, and was very worried that the sequel would go off the rails. It didn’t. It also didn’t blaze any new trails, but that’s okay. This is one of the few sequels that left me wanting to see the third installment, and was definitely worth the price of a non-matinee, first-run movie theater ticket price.