The summer movie season has officially begun now that the much anticipated sequel Iron Man 2 is out. I wasn't expecting a lot from the movie because I wasn't expecting a lot from the first film…so why go in with any other kind of expectations? I've never read a single panel of the Iron Man franchise, but two years ago when I watched the original Iron Man I was stunned at how witty and fun the film was with its classic action film aesthetic. I was shocked at how much I liked Iron Man, and even though I rarely see these big summer movies in the theater anymore, last night I decided to check out the sequel without any pre-conceived notions or expectations…and perhaps that's why I thought that the sequel was more successful than most:
- Jon Favreau returns to direct the sequel and his improvisational tendencies are all over the film. The screenplay, by Tropic Thunder writer Justin Thoreaux, has enough humor sprinkled throughout that it made me forgive the film's horribly soggy middle where characters essentially just sit around and wait for plot points to gain momentum so they can pay them off at the end.
- The film follows the traditional story arc for comic book sequel (the tone of the film felt like it was a beat-for-beat remake of Spider-Man 2) which only becomes mildly annoying in its predictability.
- Robert Downey Jr. doesn't get the same material to play with, but as the narcissistic Tony Stark he still hits a homerun as this is so obviously the character he was born to play (can you imagine if the years-ago-rumor of Tom Crusie playing Stark came to fruition?) employing the same wit and snarky attitude that made the original so entertaining to watch despite the fact that things aren't blowing up all the time.
- Oh, about the action: Iron Man 2 may be the tamest summer sequel ever made. There may be about 20-30 minutes of action in a two hour film. Now, that's both a good thing and a bad thing. The good: the filmmakers understand that people didn't love Iron Man because of the Rock-em-Sock-em Robot-type action (they Transformers for that kind of action film) which is pretty cheesy and boring to watch…they loved the first film because of the attitude of its characters, specifically Downey's performance, and the way the film felt like more than just another draining, dour 150 minute summer blockbuster (pay attention Michael Bay and Christopher Nolan) – it was a witty, crisp and breezy action film that felt classic in its execution compared to the modern output of summer action films – and because of this attitude and understanding the sequel doesn't try to amp up the action in any way. It's essentially the same film. The bad, however, exists because of this understanding from the filmmakers that the fans liked the original Iron Man so much because of Tony Stark and his snarky attitude. So, in the sequel we get an overdose of the kind of His Girl Friday whiplash dialogue between Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow who steals every scene she's in) and it becomes just as tiresome as the constant pounding of one's senses in a film like Transformers. It becomes grating only because it is so obvious that in the majority of the dialogue nothing sprang organically (except for the initial introduction of Potts), and it all felt like a screenwriter who was so pleased with how clever he was, instead of letting the actors embody their characters like they did so well in the first film.
- About the characters: Everything is an upgrade – acting wise – in the sequel. I wish there would have been more of Mickey Rourke's character Ivan Vanko (one of the more interesting villains in recently memory who gets absolutely nothing to do during the duration of the film) and his dealing with Stark-wannabe Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell who does all of his usually great Rockwell-isms…playing smarmy in a way that only he can); and I wish there would have been more story between Tony (and just why does he sit around a lot in the middle of the movie? It's as if the filmmakers just expected us to except that plot thread) and Pepper (it would have made those final moments between the two better). I also loved the addition of Gary Shandling as a senator who hates Stark as much as any of his arch enemies do. Whew. There's more…and they're not good: Samuel L. Jackson was good, but unnecessary, and I'll do this as succinctly as possible because it's not worth thinking to much about…but boy Scarlet Johansson seems to be another movie altogether. Her, um, "action" scene at the end is one of the most laughable things I've seen in a while. It's not enough that she can't act, but now we have to watch her try and kick people's ass…yeesh.
- The film was breezy and fun, despite its problems, much in the way the first installment was. Despite the film's need to feel like they needed to set things up for subsequent films – ignoring what was important in this film – I really enjoyed what I saw. Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, and of course, Robert Downey Jr. are worth the price of admission. The action is satisfying as it happens – if altogether forgettable by the end of the night – and the interactions between the characters is exactly what I expected to get going into the film.
- Sure Iron Man 2 isn't as satisfying as the original – it's more of an appetizer it seems for a bigger third entry – and I've already forgotten a lot about the film, but as a Friday night entertainment I think the film delivers in spades. It's exactly what I expected it to be, because like my attitude going into the original, I had no expectations at all, and just let the charm of the actors wash over me and usher me through the problematic script that does its best to disinterest its viewers after the film's extremely entertaining opening 40 minutes.