Page to Screen: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2
based on characters by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

Somehow, I completely missed Iron Man 2 when it came out in 2010. It’s not that I didn’t want to see it—the trailer looked fantastic—but I just never got around to seeing it. Or renting it. But when Netflix made the ridiculous decision to split its streaming and DVD services, I had to move fast; on top of that, it was time to get caught up for The Avengers.

Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first film. Despite single-handedly maintaining world peace with the Iron Man armor, industrialist Tony Stark isn’t on top of the world—the US government is demanding his armor, and the palladium core in the arc reactor that keeps Tony alive and the suit running is slowly poisoning him with no viable alternative in sight. As Tony gets increasingly desperate, a new threat emerges—Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist out for revenge on the Starks.

The original Iron Man is one of the best superhero movies ever made, which puts a lot of pressure on Iron Man 2… which it has trouble living up to. The famously improvised script of Iron Man worked so well because it wasn’t self-conscious at all; here, you can occasionally feel the cast straining for their old ease. The time and effort that went into making you believe that an Iron Man could fly in the first film is absent here, which makes the CGI feel a bit weightless and cheap. Thor had much the same problem; without the establishment, it’s hard to invest in the special effects extravaganza. You can absolutely tell the difference between CGI armor shots and actual armor shots, whereas the line was a bit blurrier in the first film. (Also, while I’m sure it has basis in actual science and fact, the way the Iron Man suits hover makes me giggle. They look like penguins. Armored penguins.)

However, despite this, the cast remains lovely. Downey Jr. gets a chance for more dramatic material as Tony faces his own mortality (…in the only way Tony can, of course) and deals with his father’s legacy, which was absolutely touching. I really loved the industrialist Walt Disney vibe they gave Howard, and I hope they expand on that in Captain America. Paltrow’s Pepper remains calm and only flappable by superheroics and actual danger. Unfortunately, Terrence Howard is replaced by Don Cheadle—a fine actor in his own right, of course, but Howard and Downey had a similar energy that went a long way to explaining why Rhodey and Tony were friends without going into too much detail. Cheadle begins the film dignified and stand-offish—understandable, given Tony’s antics—but it makes Rhodey too much like Pepper, and there’s no reason to have two characters who have the same reaction to Tony. It improves towards the end, but it does make you miss Howard, which is a shame for Cheadle, who is clearly trying and having a ball. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is calm, quiet, and ridiculously competent. For the five seconds that she and Pepper are working together, I wanted to see more—Pepper deserves to work with someone who doesn’t drive her absolutely crazy. Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is eccentric but enormously dangerous, while Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is a poor man’s Tony. It’s nice for Tony to have someone like him to bounce off of, but, while I love Rockwell, he’s really just a device so that Vanko can get to Tony.

Previously, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aren’t we fancy! I dig it) kept its crossovers to after credits scenes, but Iron Man 2 steps this up by having S.H.I.E.L.D. have more of a presence in the film—obviously, what with Romanoff replacing Pepper for a spell. And it’s fantastic; Nick Fury cannot believe what he has to put up with when it comes to Tony, while Agent Coulson, played brilliantly by Clark Gregg, slips away so he can go deal with Thor. There are few things more entertaining than watching Nick Fury berate Tony for being a drunken party boy in a donut shop. I was also pleased that it wasn’t obtrusive—in fact, when Coulson discovers Cap’s shield in Tony’s workshop, the film plays a joke on fans by having Tony only use it to prop something up. S.H.I.E.L.D. only steps in when Tony needs their help, whether he wants it or not. All of this makes me want to break out all of the films released so far and play connect the dots, which means that they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. (Have I mentioned I’m sad about Norton being replaced by Ruffalo? I’ll suppose we’ll get to that bridge once we cross it…)

Bottom line: Iron Man 2, faced with the pressure to live up to Iron Man, buckles a little—the CGI feels a little weightless and cheap while the cast strains a little to achieve the ease of the first film. But the returning and new cast are still fantastic, and the heart still remains, along with a generous heaping of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the crossover nuts. Worth a watch.

I watched this film on Netflix Instant.

2 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Iron Man 2 (2010)

  1. I actually really like Don Cheadle. I was delighted they made the switch, because I don’t care for Terence Howard at all, and I thought Don Cheadle’s delivery was a better fit with Robert Downey Jr. Terence Howard as Rhodey always gave me the impression that he really, really, really wanted to get in Robert Downey Jr’s pants.

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