As far as comic book heroes making that contemporary leap to the silver screen goes, at DC's end, The Dark Knight did it over Batman Begins. At Marvel's, Iron Man joins the ranks of its other A-listed heroes Spiderman and X-Men in having its second film trounce the first. Actor-Director Jon Favreau lived up to the hype and expectations of the Iron Man sequel and delivered everything in double doses, being double the villains, the fun, and even the drama.
Yes, some may complain and scratch their heads about the action being too sparse apart, but I thought it was a nice strategy to allow the characters greater opportunities to shine in dramatic moments in a superhero film. After all, there's a wealth of talent on display - Downey Jr, Paltrow, Cheadle, Johannson, Rockwell, Rourke, L. Jackson, Shandling, Bettany even and the list goes on...
Downey Jr continues his smirky role as the playboy and laissez-faire persona of Tony Stark (no Downey Jr, no Tony Stark I'd say!), now facing a life-threatening intoxication situation, and constantly having to deflect the US military's interest in and compelling him to turn over the Iron Man suit. Then of course there's the romantic angle with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts who gets expanded screen time here, to whom he hands over Stark Industries to by appointing her CEO. I had enjoyed all the scenes between Paltrow and Downey Jr as they shared great chemistry, and didn't mind that the film took the pause from the action to throw the spotlight on this. In fact, Stark is pretty much the Santa Claus in giving away things, having to face his mortality and to put some business continuity plans into motion. A little too bad that the scene in the teaser trailer highlighting the banter in the plane didn't make it to the final cut.
But all work and no play makes him a grumpy soul, so enter Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, his new sexy private secretary from the legal department who is more than meets the eye. Johansson has now proved that she's got it in her to be in an action film, and her limited action scenes here will surprise and leave you breathless. Mickey Rourke seem to have picked off from his Wrestler role in playing the Russian villain Ivan Vanko, riding on the parallel and theme of Fathers and Sons, whose father was seemingly played out by Howard Stark, and is finding it apt to finally take it out on Stark Industries using similar technology the earlier generation developed, and now backed by sugar daddy industrialist Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell plays the classic business rival bitterly humiliated by Tony, and from observing Ivan's potential, decided to bankroll the Russian's capability for the US military. Hating a man in common make for strange bedfellows indeed.
Cameo wise, there's Stan Lee if you can spot him in a brief moment, probably his easiest and non event-filled one to date given he's just standing around, Samuel L. Jackson continuing his role as Nick Fury of SHIELD, now assessing Tony Stark to determine if he's indeed the man they need for his top secret boy band, Gary Shandling as the senator pursuing the weaponization of the Iron Man suit for the military, and of course, director Jon Favreau himself who continues his role as Stark's chauffeur Happy Hogan, and you can tell his acting itch from his expanded role in getting in on the fun rather than just standing solely behind the camera.
But of course the tongues will wag whether Don Cheadle can pick up from where Terrence Howard left off. Whatever the reason may be for the latter's departure, he will likely be kicking his behind now for leaving the project. That anticipatory look Rhodes had in the first film at the metal suit worn would bring a smile to any fanboy in the know of what would be the next logical step, and frankly speaking I would have enjoyed some continuity here. But having a different actor in a role done by someone else in a preceding film isn't something new, and Cheadle stepped in confidently from the start, helped by the script which puts it in point blank terms that he's there now, and they should move on. Well said, and great job on being War Machine, in a best-friends-temporal-fallout subplot which accounted for the action at the midway mark.
Justin Theroux, who wrote the screenplay for Tropic Thunder, took over the scriptwriting for this film, doing the narrative justice with plenty of fan-moments, and oh-not-so subtle merchandising opportunities that Tony Stark would be proud of. The excellent casting has the brilliance of Theroux's story to thank for in keeping the many subplots in check, making Marvel fans happy through the plenty of easter eggs peppered around, coming up with an intoxication of a different sort for Tony Stark to deal with and a chance for him to go back to the drawing board, getting his hands dirty with the building of something.
Action-wise, yes there is only a handful of them, but each of them brought something to the table in terms of excitement, thrills and spills. The special effects and graphics here were one up against the previous film, and it was a definite visual feast especially when suits got up against suits, warranting a second look at the film just to catch everything that's happening at the same time. Watch this in a theatre with a proper sound system set up, and you'll be richly rewarded. The finale was a full 30 minutes worth of action end to end and features the Iron Man-War Machine tag team up, which served up a lot more than what we've all glimpsed from clips here and there. Singapore, this is yet another opportunity to be proud of with our compatriots also involved in the visual effects department, ala Kick-Ass.
Iron Man 2 is set to convert the non-fan, and is crafted so that newcomers to the hero could jump right into the fun without needing to watch the first one (why haven't you!). For Marvel fans though, you have Jon Favreau to thank for whetting all our appetites in making this film the teaser to the other upcoming Marvel films such as Captain America, Thor, and I will be right there to holler Avengers Assemble! when the time comes. Stay until the end of the credits for a scene which will make you salivate. A-One!