This being the first time I’d ever watched Iron Man and Iron Man 2 back to back, I found the experience to be a little jarring. Not for the reasons you’d think, though – I, like many others, remember Iron Man 2 to be a jumbled mess, as well as a considerable departure from the quality of its predecessor.
Upon re-watching, I was pleasantly surprised by this sequel. It’s not a masterpiece, sure, but it gently reinforces the growth of Tony Stark as a character, while following up on the themes that Iron Man began to explore (the ethics of manufacturing weapons, the shrapnel still threatening Tony’s life, the theft of Stark’s suit design, etc.).
There’s a lot going on in Iron Man 2, and because it’s all packed into one relatively short film, it does, at times, feel a little much. This isn’t helped by Mickey Rourke’s wonky performance (and borderline offensive accent) as Ivan Vanko, who honestly seemed as if he’d rather have been anywhere but in Iron Man 2.
Much like its predecessor, Iron Man 2 boasts some exceptional visuals, but what really struck me was how well the film both follows previous entries and sets up future instalments. It also goes a long way towards correcting some of Iron Man‘s less desirable qualities – it fleshes out Pepper Potts as a character, and introduces the fan-favourite Black Widow (who also gives the film its most memorable fight scene).
Iron Man 2 digs a little deeper into who Tony Stark really is, and it goes a long way toward humanising the character from the first film. It touches on his turbulent relationship with his father, forces him to face his mortality as he grapples with a slow and painful impending death, all while he does his best to keep his designs from the US government, who are desperately trying to apply them for military use.
One particular aspect that damaged the film’s impact was the confusion it had over its villain. Sam Rockwell delivers a delightfully energetic turn as Justin Hammer, Stark’s biggest industrial rival, but his uneasy alliance with Rourke’s Vanko demotes him to a secondary villain. This was a mistake, for two reasons: 1) Rourke plays an unconvincing, cartoonish and otherwise uninteresting villain, and 2) Hammer was the power behind Vanko’s power, and deserved to play a much larger role.
This bungling of the film’s antagonists is the ultimate reason that Iron Man 2 suffered so much. It affects the whole tone of the film, and had the narrative focused just a fraction more on Hammer and on the ethical dilemma inherent in the question of how Stark’s technology should be utilised, it could have made a much more coherent film. As it is, though, we got Mickey Rourke doing a bad accent whipping people with electricity and talking about birds.
Summary: It was so close, but a slight misstep in casting and a slight tonal jumble threaten to derail the whole film. Generally speaking, it’s a good stepping stone to The Avengers (and gently foreshadows future storylines re: Civil War), and a pretty enjoyable film.
Highlight: Black Widow’s inaugural fight scene, taking down a staggering amount of Hammer’s goons in an incredibly choreographed action sequence.