Too often, sequels don’t match up to the promise of the original. However, every so often a movie comes along that defies this convention – “The Dark Knight” being a prime example. And I am happy to report that “Iron Man 2” is just as good as – and even better than – the original.
The film centers on Tony Stark (played superbly by Robert Downey Jr.), a multibillionaire weapons/technology tycoon. In the first “Iron Man” film, he developed a powerful exoskeleton that allowed him to take on a whole host of thugs and terrorists – before finally revealing his identity in the movie’s final minutes. “Iron Man 2” picks up immediately thereafter, as Stark confronts his newfound celebrity-superhero status.
But as always, things are never quite as simple as that. Not only does the U.S. government want to get its hands on the suit, but rival weapons contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and supervillain physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) are forming a dastardly alliance to take down Stark and his company. When a Grand Prix race at Monaco degenerates into a battle between Iron Man and Vanko (better known to comic aficionados as “Whiplash”), Stark is forced to confront threats both external and internal.
It sounds really complicated on paper, but the film itself doesn’t feel choppy or incoherent. (It doesn’t suffer from multiple-villain fatigue like “Spider-Man 3” did.) Director Jon Favreau seamlessly integrates classic Marvel Comics characters (even referencing the upcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies) with fantastic acting and vivid set pieces.
Downey is in top form as Tony Stark. Whereas his character in “Sherlock Holmes” suffered from a lack of warmth and emotional depth, Stark is a much deeper and more complex figure. He manages to toss off humorous one-liners and still manage to display legitimate emotion when it’s needed – a true rarity. Rounding out the stellar cast are Gwyneth Paltrow (as Stark’s assistant/quasi-romantic interest), Don Cheadle ( as Stark’s friend James Rhodes), and Scarlett Johansson (as a beautiful secretary/spy with wicked martial-arts skills). It’s an ensemble that brilliantly evokes the Iron Man universe, and lends an air of legitimacy to an otherwise fantastical concept.
Besides the acting, there’s quite a lot here to keep viewers entertained. The action sequences are appropriately bombastic for a summer blockbuster, providing a fresh crop of “gotta-top-that” scenarios. As expected, there are many, many explosions and armored combat scenes – but never so many that they become dull or mundane. But anyone who’s seen the trailer already knows about how incredible the action is.
As in most superhero films, there are a lot of interesting subtexts present in this movie. Perhaps chief among them is the sharp critique of the U.S. bureaucracy, and our government’s naivete in assuming that everyone shares a peaceful, utopian worldview. (Notable here is the destruction of a gigantic “one world” globe during the final battle.) The U.S. Senate is frequently portrayed as a group of bumbling politicians interested only in personal power and comfort. Stark himself even takes a few swipes at the liberal establishment (although, to be fair, Fox News also ends up getting lampooned.)
The film’s political philosophy is markedly libertarian. While the social aspects of conservatism are almost entirely absent, there is a strong focus on the importance of private business and the weaknesses of governmental intervention. Characters prevail through self-reliance and independent innovation, without help from external actors. It’s a welcome change from the frequent onslaught of “socially sensitive” politically-correct storytelling present in much of our culture today.
From a worldview or faith standpoint, there are a few interesting things to note. While “Iron Man 2” is far less “philosophical” than “The Dark Knight”, it still conveys some clear messages: that restraint is superior to hedonism, and that individuals have a responsibility to use their talents for more than just personal gain. Stark’s occasional excesses are painfully shown to be undesirable and fraught with negative consequences.
On a deeper level, the story of “Iron Man” is ultimately one of redemption. Stark’s total life-reversal in the first “Iron Man” is shown to be more than just a one-time experience. Having chosen a lifestyle of morality and self-sacrifice, he must constantly struggle against the impulse to revert back to his former self. It’s certainly a worthy and thought-provoking message.
So is it worth watching?
In a word: yes. It’s better than the first in both character and plot development, and lacking many of the racy innuendos present in the original. There’s a lot of smash-’em-up violence and a few swearwords, but overall it’s pretty standard superhero fare – the PG-13 rating is never called into question. Not only is it a great summer action movie, but it challenges the viewer to evaluate his or her lifestyle, providing plenty of food for thought.
Action movie fans, movie philosophy analysts, and superhero buffs alike: don’t miss this one.
One of the best superhero films out there, in a class with “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 2.”
Normalized Score: 6.9