This review by Ben Mortimer
Two years ago, as the first Iron Man film was being showered in almost universal praise, there was one criticism levelled at it in review after review – that it lacked action set pieces. It’s safe to say this won’t be a sticking point for viewers of the sequel, as it is packed to the gills with fight sequences.
The problem with this new action-packed take on Iron Man, however, is that much of the action feels like it’s been crow bared in. At each crash of a super-suited fist the film trips over itself, as story and characters are temporarily sidelined to satisfy Another Pointless Super Scrap. This is particularly true early on in the film, with the introduction of Whiplash.
Taking place about twenty minutes in, we know too much about the character for him to feel mysterious, but not enough to particularly care about why he’s fighting Stark. This is unfortunate, because, with the exception of a couple of fairly slapstick moments, this is one of the better executed action sequences in the film (more on that later).
In the midst of all of this unnecessary action, are some very strong elements. The characters are generally well rounded, even if the story itself lacks any real thrust, and as with the first film, the performances are almost universally excellent. The main exception to this is Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. With a loosely-sketched back story, and a very linear arc, he simply isn’t interesting enough to be the film’s key villain, and Rourke struggles to imbue the character with any real personality.
In addition to the well rounded characters, there were several references back to small but memorable elements of the first film that pay-off some of the support players, although these references are small potatoes compared with the wealth of references to films to come, from Black Widow’s blue SHIELD catsuit to Agent Coulson being sent to deal with Thor. There is also a reference to Tony Stark’s future alcoholism, although it seems unlikely that an audience could really sit through a third ‘wayward Tony Stark makes good’-story.
In spite of these positive elements, the film has some serious down sides. The plot is functional but empty, and Tony’s quest to find a hidden message from his father is logic defying. If the subject of the message were so important why is it hidden, and more to the point, why was it not mentioned in the first film?
The biggest issue the film has, however, is that watching two men fight with masks on is ultimately unsatisfying. No matter how much damage we see the suit take, and how little energy/control the occupant has, it’s nearly impossible to connect with them when we can’t see their face. Iron Man solved this by having Stark and Stane remove their helmets for the final battle. The sequel ignores this technique, but fails to come up with an alternative, resulting in several dull fights, including what should have been the climactic battle.
Ultimately, and despite its flaws, Iron Man 2 is still a fun and enjoyable film, filled with a great deal to like. It might not be a patch on its predecessor, but it is considerably better than many of the other films within its genre.