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Millionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dying, by his own hand. The Iron Man suit he uses to effectively globalise world peace is actually killing him, poisoning his blood. But he also has to deal with Russian scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) seeking revenge for his father who was disgraced and discharged from Stark Industries and the Soviet government in the 70s. Vanko has developed supercharged electric whips that almost destroy Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix which sparks the attention of rival arms deals Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who will do anything to bring Stark Industries down.
Like most sequels this is focused on revenge and it promises so much yet fails to really deliver. Starks blood poisoning is barely dealt with and nor is his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Mickey Rourke is excellent as super villain Whiplash but is surprisingly underused, confined to a laboratory for most of middle part of the film. Instead the film tends to serve as a vehicle for the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers movie.
Starting so brightly the film seems to fall away as it progresses and the action packed ending is very much a mirror of the firsts climax but suffering perhaps a touch too much Revenge of the Fallen featured robo-bashing. It’s not as if Iron Man 2 doesn’t contain the elements to make it great. Performances from Downey Jr., Rourke and Sam Rockwell’s weasel-like arms dealer are all top drawer, which director Jon Favreau could obviously tell as he keeps Stark out of the suit as much as he can to focus on RDJ.
Making his appearance in the bonus scene at the end of the first Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson returns with “furious vengeance” as Nick Fury, director of SHIELD with far more lines than before. With the help of Natalia Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) they manage to push The Avenger Initiative and practically save Tony from his blood poisoning in minutes, something that I felt was a strong disappointment. The whole handling of Stark’s slow death wasn’t handled well enough, much like his alcoholism there was potential here for a deep and dark storyline however we gloss over it.
One of the biggest bugbears was the recasting of Jim Rhodes, originally Terence Howard in Iron Man and replaced by Don Cheadle in 2. There is still no definitive answer as to why the recast, Howard claims he had terms in place but that “the contracts that we write and sign arent worth the paper that they’re printed on sometimes”.
War Machine, with Don Cheadle, appears in Iron Man 2 but again it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. In the original we get Rhodes look at the earlier mark Iron Man costume and say “next time”, yet War Machine is very much a bit part and Cheadle’s performance is very below the radar, bland almost. Certainly it wasn’t something you’d expect of an Academy Award nominated actor.
The film contains a number of good elements, a couple great when they’re considered individually but put them together and something just doesn’t click. This becomes less of a sequel and feels more like a prequel, perhaps something Marvel were plotting all along? With Spider-Man reboots in place they can now change the iconic history there to bring Spidey into the Avenger Initiative as well. Iron Man 2 is certainly worth a watch and it is enjoyable but you leave with the feeling that it could’ve been something more.