Iron Man may be the only movie superhero franchise based on the fact that the hero is a lovably obnoxious twerp. Other superheroes battle mutants, bald supergeniuses or guys in makeup, but Iron Man, also known as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) seems to be battling himself and his own past almost as often as he faces down bad guys.
In Iron Man 2, Tony’s problems pile up remarkably quickly, starting with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a scary Russian physicist out to avenge his family for what Tony’s family did to them decades ago. Meanwhile, the device Tony made to power his suit and keep him alive is also killing him, and on top of everything else, the government doesn’t trust Tony with the Iron Man suit, and wants to take it away.
As a superhero action movie, Iron Man 2 holds up well, offering plenty of explosions and action, a great villain and, more unusually, an equally interesting hero, whose dark side does not involve angst or a tragic backstory, but instead manifests itself as arrogance and disregard for other people, even, sometimes, the ones he cares most about.
Downey plays the fast-talking, self-involved billionaire playboy genius perfectly, and even though the character saw the error of his warmongering ways in the first movie, he still has a long way to go before his road to redemption is over.
And Downey’s portrayal of Tony Stark would dominate the movie if it weren’t for Rourke, whose focused, vicious Vanko provides a counterpoint to Tony, who sometimes doesn’t seem to be able to focus on a single idea long enough to complete a sentence.
At more than 2 hours long, the movie does drag at times, especially during the parts involving James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Tony’s friend and military contact, who tries to mediate between Tony and the people who want to take his Iron Man suit away.
It’s not Cheadle’s fault. Rhodes just isn’t as interesting as Tony or Vanko, or even the other villain, sleazy weapons dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Even the other supporting characters, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) have more personality. When Rhodes inevitably gets his hands on an Iron Man suit and dukes it out with Tony, it’s hard to care.
Overall, though, Iron Man 2 was an entertaining movie. Someone in Hollywood seems to have learned that good characters are the key to great movies, even if they’re just fun, fluffy action films.