In 2008 Iron Man was not a sure thing. It had the first week of May as its launching point and looked to be a sharp, polished super hero movie, but though Robert Downey Jr. was always a critical favorite there was no sense that he could open a movie. But one hundred million dollar opening weekend later and Downey was back in the good graces of Hollywood, and a bona-fide movie star. Iron Man was a franchise-starter.
Iron Man 2 was then fast tracked to come out two years later. One of the main cast was replaced (Terrence Howard out, Don Cheadle in), and Justin Theroux was tasked with screenplay duties. Having announced himself to the world as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Downey) now has to face Whiplash/Ivan Danko (Mickey Rourke), whose father worked with Tony’s dad, and whose father instilled in him bitterness and resentment for all things Stark. After confronting Tony – who is being poisoned by the power source that keeps him alive – Ivan is arrested, but then rescued, given shelter and a workshop by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony’s competition in the arms race. This is the drive of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, and my review follows after the jump.
Tony thinks he’s dying, so he’s been acting up and continues to be disrespectful of the powers that be. This leads Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Cheadle) to take one of Tony’s prototype suits and become “war machine.” Tony also hires Natasha Romanaoff (Scarlett Johansson) to be his assistant when he appoints Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to run Stark industries. But Natasha works for S.H.I.E.L.D. along with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and so she’s there mostly to keep an eye on him. Tony’s also got Happy Hogan (Favreau) at his side.
So all that’s going on, and there’s the threat of Whiplash, who spends an hour or so building robots to kill Stark and ruin his life, though his first threat is to show the world that Tony is only human, which puts blood in the water for Senator Stern (Gary Shandling). And then also, Tony has to deal with his lingering issues with his father (John Slattery) who may have some hidden secrets that could help Tony.
Crap, that’s a lot of movie and characters for two hours, and the film seems made up of set pieces that are poorly established though reasonably well executed. For example, when Rhodey decides to steal a suit, the filmmakers can’t really even make it feel character-motivated. Favreau talks about the idea that Whiplash wounding Tony will lead to people not trusting him, but all the machinations of what’s working against him are already in progress. In fact, the structure is terrible throughout: at one point Agent Coulson tells Tony he can’t leave his house or he’ll be tased (bro), and then a couple scenes later Tony leaves without incident. And then Coulson shows up to say he’s leaving. Part of this is Marvel establishing the set up for the Avengers initiative, with the seeds planted in the first film, in The Incredible Hulk, and with more coming in Thor and Captain America, we’re going to see a lot of this in these films. But here, it’s just sort of shoved in. But it results in Nick Fury showing up to give exposition, and then disappears. Jackson’s performance seems to be more in Pulp Fiction mode, as there doesn’t seem to be a character so much as “hey, it’s Sam Jackson!”
There’s enough here for those looking for spectacle to be entertained, and the set pieces are expensive, but it feels like they never had a working script. They have a bunch of good ideas, and things, but it’s very stop-start. I have no idea – especially since he’s supposed to be the lesser Tony Stark, and serves no greater purpose – why Ivan doesn’t kill Justin Hammer in the film. But because all Whiplash does is show up, lose a fight (partly to Happy Hogan), kill characters we don’t know, and then show up for the end battle (you’ll never guess who wins) there’s no real menace to the character. Like Jackson, it just seems to be Mickey Rourke with a Russian accent. The first film did have banter, and everything here is delivered in a sassy-quipy tone that’s fun enough, but you can also see the film trying to find things for people to do to justify being in the movie. Pepper gets a couple of scenes that don’t really go anywhere, and seems stuck in the movie. And for that there’s way too much Happy Hogan material. He’s involved in Natasha/Black Widow’s big fight scene, and though the jokes on him, it’s still silly. The end fight also starts fairly promisingly, and then gets flattened by bits throughout. There’s some good chase material, but when Tony’s up against the wall, the film cheats to get him out of it. The cast is still charming, but this was a rushed production and too much of a victory lap. It was likely also a troubled production as Iron Man 3 is not coming at the same speed.
Paramount’s Blu-ray is excellent. The film comes in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround. This is an aggressively loud and bass-driven soundtrack, demo material for sure. The transfer is immaculate, as to be expected. There’s also a DVD and digital copy included. Extras on the first disc include a commentary by Jon Favreau that covers a lot of what’s on screen, but Favs peppers the track with good tidbits. Also on disc one is the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Data Vault” which offers a still gallery with information on the characters, but then there’s also a PIP view mode which shows the blueprints for things, and other ephemera. The film can also be viewed with a storyboard and Pre-visualization PIP on screen.
Disc two offers a making of (87 min.) that doesn’t have the narrative drive of the last one, but goes through all the stages of production. Much like the film it’s a bit labored and doesn’t have the energy of the first film’s behind the scenes stuff, but it does have an Easter egg ending like the film itself. This is complemented by six featurettes (31 min.) on the effects, the characters, and the cameo by the DJ AM, who has since passed away. There’s eight deleted and extended scenes (17 min.) with optional Favreau commentary, and includes the sequences that were featured in the trailer but not the movie. There’s a concept art gallery, three trailers, a music video, and promos for video games, and the Animated Avengers show.