Rating: 3 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Everybody wants a piece of Tony Stark. Justin Hammer wants his persona, the U.S. Government wants his Iron Man technology, and Ivan Vanko wants his legacy. All Tony Stark wants is to find a cure for the palladium-poisoning that is slowly killing him.
Frankly the plot of this movie is all over the place. It’s kind of about Tony’s relationship with his late father, and Vanko’s relationship with his father, but there’s not really any comparison between them, or their approaches, or how those approaches created the men they became. And it’s sort of about how Tony opened the floodgates with Iron Man, and now everyone is in a mech suit arms race trying to figure out how to do what he did, and Vanko is apparently the only person who can make a miniaturized arc reactor to power a suit like Tony did, but that doesn’t go anywhere either.
In the end Iron Man 2 is a movie with several ideas that could be movies, none of which are really developed. But it gets away with a lot because it’s still got Robert Downey Jr. doing his thing, and Gwyneth Paltrow has some good moments, and Sam Rockwell’s great, and Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have a ton to do but she’s compelling in any role, and so it’s still kind of fun to watch despite itself.
Whiplash attacking Tony on the race track. You’ve got these big crazy whips cracking about, cars exploding and flipping over, and Tony scrambling for cover. The Iron Man armor finally coming out of the briefcase was awesome.
Black Widow and Happy Hogan storming Justin Hammer’s facility. Johansson stalking the halls beating the hell out of every security guard is, frankly, pretty badass, and the comic juxtaposition with Happy struggling to defeat the first guard he came to, and then his triumphant “I got him!” before he turns to see every other guard already disabled, really worked for me.
Sam Rockwell is perfect as the wannabe Tony Stark. His interactions with Vanko are terrific. “You wanted a bird, and we got you a bird. It’s a nice bird!” And his scene describing all his weapons to Rhodey is probably the most charming scene of the movie, and it’s crazy that the most charming scene of an Iron Man movie doesn’t have Robert Downey Jr. in it. If only he was the main antagonist instead of just a supporting villain. You could have a really great Iron Man 2 simply about Tony Stark and Justin Hammer, focusing on how Stark seems to effortlessly just have what no amount of effort from Hammer can ever get. But instead we have Mickey Rourke building drones. “Drones better.” I strongly disagree, Vanko.
The fight between Tony and Rhodey at Tony’s birthday party isn’t as great at the other action scenes I’ve already mentioned, but it’s still pretty entertaining, even as I’m not sure why they’re fighting.
I’ve seen the movie twice, and I’ve read plot synopses of what happened, and I think I’m now beginning to understand the chain of events leading to the magical new element that saves Tony’s life. So Howard Stark and Anton Vanko developed the arc reactor technology but it never worked right, and Howard realized that if he invented a new element it would fix everything, but the technology to do so didn’t exist. Meanwhile he has Vanko deported because Vanko is a jerk or something. Then instead of writing his ideas for the new element down on some notebook paper, he encodes it in the design of the EPCOT Cen – sorry, the Stark Expo – in a way that can only be seen if you have a super computer and a hologram board and you can eliminate all the trees and stuff.
Somehow Nick Fury knows this magical element is hidden in the Stark Expo plans, but instead of telling Tony about it and saving everyone a lot of time, he just gives him a bunch of Howard’s old movie outtakes and junk and suggests Tony figure it out before he, like, dies. Tony, improbably because no one would ever really hide their idea for a new element in an Expo design and this is so dumb and what does “I have an idea for an element that could fix the arc reactor” even mean anyway I don’t think that’s how elements work, does figure it out, and he synthesizes this new element using technology his father could never dream of: pointing a laser at a triangle. It’s definitely the stupidest plot development in any Marvel Studios film.
And why even have a plot about Tony dying in the first place if the solution doesn’t emanate from his character in any way? Why do I care that Tony’s dead dad solved Tony’s problem decades ago and hid it in a theme park? What does that tell me about Tony?
The final battle in this movie is boring. Iron Man and War Machine fight for a while, and it’s not cathartic because they already fought once earlier, in a much better scene, and War Machine isn’t in control of his armor anyway, and it’s not like their problems with each other ever came off as all that serious to begin with. Then you have the drones, which are about as exciting as they sound. It all feels like a bunch of cartoon robots shooting guns at other cartoon robots, and it’s impossible to care about because there’s no human connection and there’s no theme or character motivation to make it matter. Finally Vanko shows up, in another suit of armor, and he’s boring for a while, and then he kills himself.