The main difference between Iron Man and Iron Man 2 is the audience’s expectation. Iron Man had the luxury of having none. Tony Stark’s suit played second fiddle to non-nerds, whereas someone of similar heroic qualities, such as Batman, is all but too familiar to the layperson, each permutation having the onus (or bonus) of having to exceed the standard set by the last. And when Jon Favreau and company gave many their first taste of Stark’s robotic avenger, opting for intense storytelling and intriguing character development for 45 minutes before revealing only a prototype of the eponymous hero, the bar was set mighty high.
In Iron Man 2, Favreau sticks with the style of less equals more when it comes to spectacle, however, since the novelty of Iron Man has diminished in the two years since the “Summer of Iron Man,” so, slightly, have the returns.
The film begins in Russia, as Ivan Vanko (Rourke) watches his disgraced inventor father die while Stark’s press conference from the end of Iron Man plays in the background. When Rourke’s stoically menacing Vanko interrupts a publicity stunt with dual electro-whips, showing the world that Iron Man isn’t invincible, he attracts the attention of Stark’s smarmy detractor Justin Hammer, weapons expert and private arms dealer. Throw Don Cheadle in the mix, ably filling in for Terence Howard, as Stark’s close friend/government puppet Lt. Col. Rhodes, and the robotics arms race that is Iron Man 2 begins.
The good thing about Iron Man 2 is that director Favreau and writer Justin Theroux are good at action scenes but better at storytelling. The bad thing about Iron Man 2 is that sometimes the multiple subplots need as much editing as the action sequences in a Michael Bay film. At about the mid-way mark, the daddy-issues back story, though integral, lacks incisiveness, and Pepper Potts’ and Tony Stark’s relationship, despite heavy focus, seems too platonic throughout to warrant the inevitable culminating kiss. What this amounts to is a slight case of middle-movie syndrome, where the filmmakers try to get a lot of the boring stuff out of the way to make room for an explosive third chapter, you know, like The Empire Strikes Back.
But, like Empire, Iron Man 2 makes for some solidly entertaining filler.