Iron Man 2 screens this Sunday, August 1st, at 9:00pm at Toronto Underground Cinema. It screens again on Monday, August 2nd, at 9pm and Tuesday, August 3rd, at 7:00pm.
I can't quite remember thinking back on it all now, but I am pretty certain a lot of eyebrows were raised when Jon Favreau, a noted comedic actor best known for playing opposite Vince Vaughn in Swingers, was hired to direct the first Iron Man film. Despite having previously directed the blockbuster Elf and the not-such-a-blockbuster but megabudgeted Zathura, Favreau was still relatively untested amongst the core group of people who cared how Tony Stark's initial saga turned out. Comic book fans would be watching with baited breath. Could a comedian deliver a great film about an alcoholic superhero with famous burnout Robert Downey Jr. wearing the suit?
The answer was a resounding yes. The first Iron Man rebooted Downey's career into the stratosphere and the man has only had one stumble since (which was the long delayed and absolutely terrible The Soloist). If it weren't for the film's success, not only would there be no sequel, but The Avengers film (currently in development under the watchful eye of fanboy favorite Joss Whedon) would be dead in the water as well. But how was it that a comedian was able to take such a hot property and turn it into gold? The sequel holds a great answer to this question. Quite simply, because when you have a character with a lot of backstory and a studio that wants a film with a lot going on, you need someone to inject just the right kind of humor to make the film work. Comedians have a great sense of pacing, and with the amount of story that Iron Man 2 manages to cram into just a shade over 2 hours, it might just be the best pacing of any film this year.
Downey is of course back as billionare industrialist Tony Stark, who is not too far removed from the end of the previous installment when he does what most super heroes would never dream of. Stark outted himself as Iron Man simply because he loves the limelight. Stark is the kind of character that would make Bruce Wayne cringe, but probably also envy. Naturally everyone and their mother wants a piece of the Iron Man technology to call their own and they are all willing to go to great lengths to get it. That is really the only plot the film has or needs. A bunch of people want what Tony Stark has. When you boil it down to that, it isn't as complex as some detractors make it out to be.
The U.S. Government is of two minds. Some, like senator Gary Shandling, wish to destroy it, while the more military minded (led by Don Cheadle's Rhodes, replacing Terrance Howard as Stark's best friend) want to simply use it in a responsible manner. A new villain named Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke, despite the villain being a female in the comics) surfaces from Russia claiming that Stark's father stole the designs for Iron Man's power source decades earlier. A rival weapons dealer, played by the always wonderful Sam Rockwell, wants to get into the robotics game and is willing to trust the batshit crazy Whiplash to do so. Oh, and to top it all off, Stark Enterprises is losing money, Tony is having daddy issues, and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is on his ass about the Avengers. Oh, and Tony is dying because the very power source that keeps him alive is poisoning him.
Yes, that does seem like a lot going on at one time, but to look at it in a slightly realistic vein it all kind of makes sense. Tony Stark is the American model of success. Anyone who reaches that point is bound to have a thousand different brands in the fire, no matter what their profession. However, the difference between Iron Man 2 and a superhero film that tries to do too much (like Batman and Robin or Spiderman 3) is that Favreau knows how to time everything so that things don't appear silly or cloying, and yet allows the humor of Justin Thoreaux's (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander) script to come to life. The characters and actors are not made to look like jokes. They are made to be taken perfectly seriously. The humor instead comes from situations and misguided emotions.
The cast is just as good this time around and Downey seems to really fit into the Tony Stark persona better than anyone else short of Michael Douglas in his prime probably could. Stark isn't an anti-hero because he never truly does anything truly awful. Instead, Downey makes him seem quite human underneath his embarrassment of riches. Stark and Downey are both men full of bravado that have lived hard and paid the price for it. Rourke is a delight to watch in a super villain role. Rockwell, however, pretty much walks off with the movie, especially in his scenes with Rourke.
Long story short, if you liked the original Iron Man, you will probably get a lot out of this one as well.