out of Five
Running time: 124
Despite strong performances, impressive effects and a handful of decent action scenes, Jon Favreau's eagerly-awaited Iron Man sequel is, unfortunately, not as good as the first film, thanks to a painfully slow, relatively action-free middle section and the occasional mis-step.
What's it all about?
Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man 2 is the eagerly-awaited sequel to 2008's Marvel superhero smash hit. Having revealed his secret identity to the world, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) comes under increasing pressure from the US government to turn over the “Iron Man weapon”. However, Stark faces a far more immediate threat when he discovers that the Iron Man suit is slowly killing him by poisoning his blood.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Stark finds himself the target of vengeful, electric whip-wielding Russian supervillain Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and his problems only get worse when rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps Whiplash in order to get him to design weaponised Iron Man-style suits of his own. Meanwhile, Stark's increasingly erratic behaviour causes fall-outs with both loyal secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and there's also something mysterious about his slinky new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johansson).
As with the first film, the performances are excellent. Downey Jr is perfect as Stark, generating appealing chemistry with both Paltrow and Cheadle, while Rourke underplays it beautifully as Whiplash (aka Ivan Vanko), creating an intriguing and engaging character rather than the heavily-accented, over-the-top supervillain he so easily could have been.
In addition, the effects are superb and the action sequences are entertaining but there's no moment that delivers the rush of, say, Iron Man catching a missile and throwing it back in the first film.
The problem is that the film slows to a painful crawl in the middle section with very little action apart from a punch-up with War Machine (Rhodes in an Iron Man suit) in Stark's living room. Similarly, Johansson is badly under-used (though you do get to see her in a smoking hot catsuit), there's never any real sense of jeopardy for Stark (the poisoning issue is resolved too quickly and in confusing fashion) and the film is also guilty of throwing away one of the most emotional and powerful story arcs of the comics (i.e. Stark's alcoholism) in one excruciating drunken party scene.
As sequels go, Iron Man 2 is disappointing in places and fails to deliver the thrills of the first film but it's still worth seeing thanks to its strong performances, decent effects and a frequently witty script.