When Iron Man burst onto cinema screens in 2008, it represented a something of a gamble. Lacking the cultural popularity of Spider-Man or Batman, ‘ol’ shellhead’ was a B-List character and casting Robert Downey Jr. in the role seemed like just as much of a gamble. Fortunately for Marvel and director Jon Favreau it paid off and Iron Man became a huge hit. Cue sequel. Reuniting the original cast, with the exception of Lt. Colonel Rhodes who this time is played by Don Cheadle, Iron Man 2 was one half revenge action film and one half build-up to the superhero medley, The Avengers.
Billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is for all intents and purposes living the high-life. Outed as superhero Iron Man by himself, he attends parties and seems to be having the time of his life. Behind closed doors however he is suffering from a secret illness that causes him to have to redesign his suit. Despondent and depressed he promotes his PA Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to CEO of his company and replaces her with Stark Industries employee, and highly trained assassin Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson). After refusing to share his technology with the Government, he is attacked by a Russian technical expert, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) on the command of rival billionaire Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
The synopsis makes Iron Man 2 seem like a far darker film than the original, but with Favreau at the helm, it somehow manages to maintain the same level of silly fun. Sadly any real threat is dispelled almost immediately and other than the attack scene at the Monaco Grand Prix, Tony Stark never seems to be in trouble. The worst thing that really happens to him is the falling out with best friend Lt. Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle), although inevitably they make up and Rhodes even manages to ‘suit up’ and let The War Machine out of his cage. Unfortunately the worst thing to say about Iron Man 2 is how wasteful it is of its cast.
Rourke, Johannson and Rockwell are all wasted and the bubbling relationship between Potts and Stark is criminally cut short. Even the action scenes seem tired and reused, luckily Downey Jr. remains fresh and charismatic and is almost enough of a force to drag Iron Man 2 into the realms of positive film-making. Still with no threat, and a meandering story combined with the exact same ending to the first makes Iron Man 2 a very dull and thoroughly disappointing sequel.
In reality, Iron Man 2 is nothing but one giant advert for Marvel’s ensemble piece The Avengers. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) make extended appearances to really hammer home the SHIELD storyline and setup Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, leaving those in the know bored and those not, utterly bemused. It was a risky move, but the box office receipts of over $600m suggest that the film-makers got away with it… just.