Plot: In the wake of his announcement that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has been in the spotlight more than ever, with attention from every corner of the world. While most of that attention comes from fans and admirers, Stark’s creation has also captured the attention of the military complex, as well as some people who don’t hold Stark in a positive light. The military is nervous about the Iron Man suit, as it gives Stark immense power and he refuses to share his secrets, which shuts out the potential of military use of the tech. A rival military contractor aims to crack those secrets and brings in Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian genius who figured out Stark’s tech to an extent, but was captured and imprisoned in the process. But he has been freed to unlock the Iron Man formula, which his liberators think he will then hand over, though Vanko has other ideas. Meanwhile, Stark faces pressure from all fronts and tries to solve a health issue, as the tech he needs to live continues to poison him. Can Stark fend off this multi-front assault or is this too much even for him?
Entertainment Value: I have never been much of a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I did appreciate the first Iron Man movie. This sequel manages to continue that narrative quite well and deliver a solid experience, but it is hampered by the need to weave in threads for the MCU. The result feels like a total compromise and stories from the production confirm that, with director Jon Favreau leaving the franchise over constant interference. The story is still a fun one, but I think the focus is so scattered and with so many bases to cover, the movie feels rushed and almost incomplete. While the first movie took the time to develop characters and atmosphere, here those are pushed aside in favor of more action and attention to characters that are minor here, but crucial to the larger MCU narrative. If this could have been a proper sequel without demands from the MCU, there’s a good narrative here and I think Ivan Vanko’s thread in specific could have been much better. Sadly, Marvel would begin to use the half movie/half promo tool approach for most of their movies, obsessed with the crossovers instead of characters and comic book magic. But Iron Man 2 at least has some depth at times, so it still stands above most of the Marvel assembly line output. But I do wish we could have seen Iron Man 2 as it was supposed to be, as the potential is here for a movie that could have rivaled the original.
Of course, Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Tony Stark and as I said in the review of the original, he is pretty much the ideal choice. In this sequel he is given a chance to explore some of the darker aspects of Stark, though thanks to the Avengers encroachment, that thread isn’t given a proper chance to breathe. But he makes the most of the limited chance to add depth and development, so it is a shame that more time wasn’t devoted to really flesh out Stark’s demons. While Downey, Jr. was still allowed some time to shine, Mickey Rourke is all but wasted in Iron Man 2. He has said in interviews that a lot of his scenes were removed in favor of Avengers promo build, so we are left with a bare bones take on his character. This is terrible news, as Rourke seems like he was game to run with the role and performs well when he is around, but while the movie starts strong on his thread, it cools rather quickly in favor of inferior elements. I would love to see how Rourke developed Vanko, as I think that is more interesting than generic scenes with Samuel L. Jackson or Scarlett Johansson, which serve no purpose other than to shill for the crossover. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard here as well, which is kind of a disappointment. In the end, Iron Man 2 is still better than most of Marvel’s movies, but it is a case of missed potential, to be sure.