"I am Iron Man." With these words, billionaire industrialist and smooth operator Tony Stark--played by equally smooth Robert Downey Jr.--revealed himself as the man beneath the high-tech suit of armor in 2008's comic book romp "Iron Man." The film grossed $318 million in the U.S. and nearly $570 million worldwide, establishing it as one of the most successful comic book adaptations to date and stirring immediate speculation as to whether its sequel could replicate its stylistic and financial success.
This weekend, critics, fanboys, and
regular moviegoers were treated to Jon Favreau's sequel, replete with a
star-studded cast that includes Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth
Paltrow, and Mickey Rourke as the tech-enhanced Whiplash. With
expectations running high for this much-anticipated follow-up, critics enjoyed the spectacle while acknowledging the truth about Iron Man 2: beneath its enjoyably slick armor
of special effects and star casting, the film is a typical sequel, with all the flaws that accompany a box-office hit's second
- 'You Want A Sequel, You Got A Sequel' writes Roger Ebert, praising Robert Downey Jr's performance as Tony Stark as a stand-out in the "polished, high-ozone" comic book romp. Iron Man 2 is "not as good as the original but building once again on a quirky performance by Robert Downey Jr," notes Ebert. "The superhero genre doesn't necessarily require good acting, but when it's there (as in "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight"), that takes it up a level." The action-packed sequences of the film make Ebert's suspension of disbelief difficult to maintain. "Sure, the suits are armored, but their bodies aren't. How many dizzying falls and brutal blows and sneaky explosions can you survive without breaking every bone in your body? Just asking'. At the end of a long day, those suits should be filled with bloody pulp."
- Just a Sequel, But Like No Other The New York Times' A.O. Scott praises director Jon Favreau for taking Iron Man 2 down a different path from past comic-book movie sequels. Usually, filmmakers and actors "use the reasonable certainty of financial success to take chances and explore odd corners of their archetypal, juvenile stories," writes Scott, and while Iron Man 2 fails to compare to "the emotional complexity of 'Spider-Man 2' or the operatic grandeur of 'The Dark Knight,'... it does try something a little bit new and perhaps, given the solemnity that has overtaken so much comic-book-based filmed entertainment, a little bit risky. It's funny." This self-aware, tongue-in-cheek approach to the comic book sequel gives Iron Man 2 an attractive appeal. "There are, I suppose, viewers who will regard the comic filigree of 'Iron Man 2'...as diverting or distracting filler deposited between action sequences and plot revelations," concedes Scott. "I take the opposite view. A bunch of guys in metal suits slugging it out in a park in Queens? I can probably find that on pay-per-view or even YouTube."
- Stark Better Without the Suit The Atlantic's Christopher Orr says that Iron Man 2 is a "perfectly diverting action film, but it's a reminder that Downey is at his best when given, as he was to a substantial degree last time out, a one-man show." While Orr finds himself initially enraptured by the film's early stages, he eventually becomes overwhelmed by "the excesses that typically adhere to the genre: too many characters, too many storylines, too much CGI." "For the most part, director Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux keep the story moving forward, and they have the common decency (far too uncommon these days) to have the credits rolling by the two-hour mark. (This is not, praise God, another Transformers.)," says Orr. He hopes that in the sequel, the director will give more of what makes the franchise special: "billionaire daredevil Tony Stark, armed with nothing more than his wicked goatee, dagger-sharp irony, and impenetrable aura of self-love."
- 'Acceptable, Nothing More' writes Kenneth Turan at the L.A. Times. "With star Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau back in the fold, this is a haphazard film thrown together by talented people, with all the pluses and minuses that implies," Scoffs Turan. "Given the non-organic way 'Iron Man 2's' plot came into the world -- hatched by the producers in a series of meetings before a screenwriter was brought on -- it's surprising that the film has any pluses at all." While Turan thinks Iron Man 2 is "at its best when it surrounds him with practiced farceurs who are adept at keeping things funny" -- namely Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and the "appropriately icky" Sam Rockwell as "rival weapons tycoon and smirking slimeball" Justin Hammer -- Turan sees too much subtext in the milieu of suddenly-important throw-away characters, ending his review on a cautionary note: "it would be too bad if Marvel became so intent on creating an on-screen empire by uniting all its superhero films (the apparent purpose of Fury's character) that it forgot about the people outside the sacred circle.
- Levity the Best Part The New Yorker's Anthony Lane concludes that Favreaux would have benefited from keeping Iron Man 2's light-hearted elements and abandoning the the seemingly extraneous plot points and the need of hero flicks to go heavy on the fight sequences:
All these folk are so plainly enjoying the ride that to watch it slow and stall, under the weight of dead plot, is a cause for regret. Theroux, Favreau, and the cast have a mind to attempt what no other team has done: to take the built-in hyperbole of the genre and treat it as food for laughs. Iron Man's aspirations are as puffed up as those of Batman, Spider-Man, Watchmen, Fantastic Four, and the rest of the gang, but the telling of his tale feels more leavened and less savage than theirs, and it's a pity that Favreau didn't go the whole way and toss out the creaky narrative junk. Why have Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a growler with an eye patch, show up halfway through, like a refugee from another comic? Why have Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Stark's best friend, put on a rival metal suit and battle him, almost to the death, for no discernible reason? The answer is that the audience craves its fix of fighting, which means that "Iron Man 2" has to keep the clashes coming.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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