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US multi-billionaire Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) superhero ‘alter ego’ was revealed to the world at the end of Iron Man (2008), and John Favreau’s follow up Iron Man 2 picks up where we left off, with Stark attempting to market his new Iron Man ‘brand’. However (as all superhero’s must learn) with power – be it physical or financial – comes ‘great responsibility’.
The United States military now view Stark’s ‘suit’ as an invaluable weapon against America’s enemies, which attracts the envious eye of fellow weapon’s developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). In addition, Stark’s Iron Man has a new supervillain to contend with in the shape of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian physicist with a personal vendetta against the Stark dynasty.
Downey Jr’s turn as charismatic, outrageously flirtatious and deeply narcissistic Tony Stark steals the show, though he is supported by commendable performances from both Rockwell and Rourke, adding a greater dimension to the Iron Man universe without purely revolving around the ‘man in the suit’.
Iron Man 2’s action sequences (storyboarded by renowned animator Genndy Tartakovsky) are at times truly spectacular, with new characters and villains introducing innovative weapons/machines for Stark/Iron Man to contest with. The penultimate showdown is fuelled by an ongoing chain reaction of explosions and CGI special effects, perfectly complemented by the film’s electrifying soundtrack from Australian rock legends AC/DC.
In preparation for Marvel’s upcoming superhero ‘magnum opus’ The Avengers (2012) currently in production, Iron Man 2 introduces new characters from S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate), including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow( Scarlett Johansson), who both attempt to recruit Stark into their ranks. There are other references made to fellow Avengers throughout the film, from Captain America’s shield residing in Stark’s office while a Nordic hammer (a clear link to the titular hero of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor ) is revealed in a post credit teaser.
Films based upon comic books and graphic novels almost always have a certain licence to move beyond the boundaries of reality. Yet in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), which blends comic book action with a degree of hard-edged realism, Favreau’s Iron Man 2 lacks a sense of both weight and plausibility. The film is unfortunately unable to emulate moments of true drama, where life and death decisions are shown to have very real consequences.
Despite its minor flaws, Iron Man 2 is certainly an impressive spectacle that will surely please both unacquainted viewer and the die-hard Marvel fan alike. The ever-growing self-referentiality between the cinematic outings of Marvel’s best loved superhero’s in anticipation for The Avengers film series should ensure that the global audience’s hunger for superheroes will remain as cast-iron as Tony Stark’s suit.