There is a strange idea with superhero sequels that bigger and better translates to more villains. Now you’ve used half of the first film to complete the origin of your superhero, you must now give him multiple villains to fight to prove his worth. Two of the best superhero sequels decided to go against this trend and were much better for it – Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight.
Spiderman 2 only had Doctor Octopus in the second and used any “spare” time to flesh out Peter Parker struggling to be Spiderman and adapting to his new life as a superhero. There was no issue with raising the stakes because Doctor Octopus was a much better villain with much better weapons and you never felt like the film lacked depth or development.
Dark Knight technically has two villains but he is never fighting or facing them at the same time. Joker doesn’t need to be properly established, his origin is a mystery, and Two-Face gets all the development and a straight-forward story and then climax. It’s not about throwing as many villains at Batman as possible, just about telling the story that makes the most sense.
Unfortunately, Iron Man doesn’t go the same way as Spiderman 2 and Dark Knight. Instead we get the same, tired old device, more enemies means more peril. Instead of increasing the tension and problems that Tony Stark has to face, it instead leads to a movie that actually treads very similar footsteps to the first.
At the heart of the movie is a journey of discovery of Tony Stark. It’s a different journey of discovery, this time being about accepting help from others and reflecting on his past, rather than a look at his attitude to the wider world, but it’s still a personal journey. It means we get the rise, fall and rise again of Tony Stark, very much like the first movie.
This would be fine if we had different types of villains for the superhero to face but even these are very similar. Take away the idea that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is using huge whips, he is still an Iron Man powered foe, one that becomes even more so in the final part of the film. As for the secondary villain, rather than having one huge Iron Man to face, like the original, instead we get lots of Iron Men to face off against. It’s just not different enough and isn’t offering anything new.
Something that hasn’t changed, but this time for the positive, is the excellent casting. Robert Downey Jr is still great as Tony Stark and the more he plays the character, the more natural and obvious his part becomes. This time he has a rival for the best billionaire though as Sam Rockwell does a fantastic job of out-sleazing Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, as Justin Hammer. It’s not just the comic book villain confidence, Rockwell manages to demonstrate the worst part of Tony Stark’s personality but amplified by ten. He is what Stark could have become had he not found that cave.
Mickey Rourke just about manages to steal the villain thunder but only as a tangible, physical threat. He is the perfect example of a villain that, given more screen-time and opportunity to develop, could very easily have been a decent, sole threat for Tony Stark. The film tries too hard to put so much more in, that elements that are interesting and fantastic, like Rourke’s Whiplash and the idea of Stark’s suit killing him, are given less development than they deserve.
There is a lot to like about Iron Man 2 and you can see its ambitions. Don Cheadle does a great job of stepping into Terrence Howard’s shoes and seems to play the character of Rhodey better than the man who established it. The action is fantastic and the setting-up of The Avengers, by introducing key characters like Nick Fury and Black Widow, is done well enough to keep interest and excitement high. I just feel like it’s trying to do too much for a sequel, particularly when it has so many raw ingredients that would have created a fantastic film if they’d just had more time.
Overall, Iron Man 2 falls into the same old superhero sequel traps; too many villains, too many stories and not enough time to develop them all. One villain, one struggle for Tony Stark with a sprinkle of The Avengers and we may have had a film that could have equalled the fantastic first movie. Instead we get great characters, casted brilliantly, who never feel like they have enough time to shine. I just hope Shane Black learns enough from this movie, and The Avengers film itself, to give us a third movie worthy of the Iron Man name.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)