First, the answers that the Iron Man mainstream audience wants to know:
1. Are the effects better in 2 than in 1? Yes, sort of.
2. Do we get to see new Iron Man suits? Yes.
3. Do they tease us with any new members of the Avengers? Well, sort of.
4. Is the sequel as good as the first one? For you, probably. For me…
I like Robert Downey Jr. sometimes. When he played Sherlock Holmes he had to stretch a bit and fit into a new character. When he portrays characters who are humble or off beat, I really enjoy him. But when he essentially is allowed to wallow in being a self-centered version of his dark side, I’m left cold.
I warn you now, there are spoilers in what is written below.
The thing about an alter-ego in these fantasy (superhero) characters is that they should be interesting. That is where the most recent Iron Man animated series succeeds, and where the film franchise seems to be failing. In the animated series the young Tony Stark is a genius but he has some humility and not yet the callous global playboy he was in the comic books. In the film franchise they seem to have embraced the playboy image, and at the same time reduced all his sexist attitude to leering spoiled rich boy. And when he dons the Iron Man suit he is the hero of popular opinion, the public’s darling – and the government’s scorned outsider whom they lustfully want to control.
The whole thing is rather a mess and gets in the way of the fun. The fun is in seeing the comic book side of the characters, including the introduction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen), who is presented here as little more than a skintight nomex-wearing advertisement right from the pages of Magnum Men’s Mag for kick ass babes. There is a clearly defined line between the actress in the film, Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow, and the babe, Ms. Johanssen. And while the bulk of the viewing public will eat that up, I guess I’m a little surprised that someone who otherwise gives the appearance of desiring recognition as a serious actress would allow herself to be considered thus in a role much more suited for the likes of one of the Jessicas (Alba or Biel).
Mickey Rourke is perfectly slimey and just plain mean as the Russian scientist bent on revenge who takes on the persona of Whiplash. And Sam Rockwell plays a Sam Rockwell character very well, and he’s silly and goofy and villainous in a sort of laughable way.
And it’s all big fun and full of explosions but… it’s too much like one of the weaker storylines in a series, the kind you wish you had not read and which makes you want even more the better subsets, such as Extremis. The story sort of wanders and gives Tony Stark lots of time to learn about his own past, thanks to the wizard/mentor character played by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), whom we learn was a friend of Tony’s father.
The worst part of it is that the whole “who is my father” storyline all seems a bit contrived. It’s part Luke Skywalker and part Bruce Wayne, and we’ve seen that enough times to know it all too well. The best Stark/Iron Man storylines come in the form of paranoia, whether it be Tony’s or from his villains or the government. And anything having to do with paranoia and the government would seem to play much more strongly to today’s audience.
Another aspect of this film which I realized while viewing is that Mr. Favreau is not as talented a director as either Christopher Nolan or Guy Ritchie and therefore the story and the character do not come off as strongly as characters guided by those particular directors. Which is why the current Batman films are so much better, and why Downey’s performance is so much stronger in the Holmes franchise.
I’ve no doubt the masses will turn out in record numbers to see this sequel, and it’s fun and definitely worth seeing. But it is very flawed and definitely a disappointment. And that’s too bad, because between the choices made in this one, and the casting choice for the other leader of The Avengers (Chris Evans as Captain America), it appears Marvel is foregoing quality for expedience in favor of cashing in at the box office while they can.