Before I delve into the review proper, know that the film is a good action film, with some great set-pieces, and some "f***-yeah!" moments. It also has some great fan service, and I urge you to stay beyond the end credits for a coda that sets things up very nicely. I had problems with the film, and the review may look a little more negative, but if you wanted an affirmation for your action blockbuster hopes, rest assured this one will do just fine. For the others, read on.
The first thing they set up is the Ivan Vanko version of Whiplash - and maybe it's Mickey Rourke, or maybe it's the setting, but this is the most fascinating
dichotomy I saw in a mainstream superhero film. There they are - Tony Stark and Ivan Vanko - sons of brilliant scientists, both born with a legacy of genius. One in corporate America, IS America by way of Stephen Colbert - loud, brash and right-wing.
And the other is a dutiful son, staying by his dying, rotting father (and fatherland). How he chooses to create a technology that rivals Stark's was a great commentary on Russian ingenuity and ability, and the look on Stark's face when he sees it in action is... priceless. He is such a great villain, and lends himself to such delicious study. Too bad Jon Favreau doesn't know what to do with him.
After a crackerjack action sequence in Monaco (seriously, this one will blow your minds like no other), Favreau and scribe Justin Theroux decide to keep Whiplash in a room for the entirety of the film. Literally. Instead we get SHIELD; lots and lots of SHIELD. Samuel L Jackson returns with an extended cameo and a whole lot of exposition, and brings with him various agents, fan favourite Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and moments referencing the Marvel universe. None
of which, by the way, has any impact on the story of the film.
Now, having Scarlett Johansson in a film is a good thing, something I fully endorse. But they're content with having her around, and not have her have any impact on the story at all. Her biggest contribution is that she helps Happy kick a few guys about. Happy, the driver of Iron Man! The main, staple characters don't fare as well either.
Gwyneth Paltrow's amused, concerned and lost for words Pepper Potts was amazing, and something we wanted to see more of. Instead, we get an incessantly angry and bossy Pepper Potts, whose actions, though justified, are no more useful to her to the plot's development than SHIELD.
Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Rhodey, and comparisons are not flattering. Howard's Rhodey seemed like a genuine friend to Tony, while Cheadle doesn't have the same chemistry. He seems like a class monitor more than a best friend, which puts the whole balance off.
It was probably inevitable, as they did need a stronger Rhodey to don up the suit and become War Machine. Now War Machine has a great reveal, and also, the final action sequence is a pleasure to behold. It feels cathartic when we finally get to see Iron Man and War Machine face off against Vanko. No spoilers, but the moment is a complete washout.
It's not like the film tries to keep us engaged between Monaco and the climax. Absolutely nothing of major import happens, and whatever does is boring. There, I said it. For a good hour or so in the middle act, not only is Sam Rockwell's blubbering Justin Hammer left to hold court, Tony's most pressing problems - his arrogance leading him to flip off senators and being a jackass - are not addressed.
Then, there is a sub-plot involving his heart - the machine that makes him tick is also slowly poisoning him, and he must find a new way to solve that. This is quite interesting, as it brings forth a personal side to Stark's story, and also gives RDJ to do something beyond charm us helpless. The way the solution is handed to him may seem off-putting to some, but I thought it had strong resonance with where the character was at that moment.
Really, I couldn't get myself to say anything bad about RDJ. He is playful, flippant, layered and all charm and charisma. When he says he has solved every major peace problem in the world, you want to
believe him. There is more humanity to this Stark, and more for RDJ to do outside of the suit, and that is ultimately why you should still watch it.
The film is plodding, boring and has more fan service than actual film film, but Downey Jr. and his Tony Stark are interesting to unravel, and the first act with Mickey Rourke is well worth the admission price. Not to mention that the total of two action sequences are well choreographed and shot - Favreau has exorcised the action shooting demons from the first film