It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the best thing about watching Iron Man 2 is looking at supporting player Scarlett Johansson’s incredibly hot body while she kicks the crap out of a team of security guards. Sure, Robert Downey, Jr. and all the rest are perfectly fine, but really just that: perfectly fine. Other than Scarlett’s ass-kicking, Iron Man 2 is just a perfectly fine superhero movie.
Second superhero movies have the ability to outdo their predecessor. Look at Superman II, Spider-Man 2, or The Dark Knight. They sometimes stand out as the best of their respective series, before the inevitable third-movie debacle (Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Superman III.) In the case of Iron Man 2, however, the series mostly treads water. Going for something big and not really hitting it, but doing everything well enough that everyone leaves feeling entertained.
Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Tony Stark, the professional rich genius/a-hole who is also superhero Iron Man. Since revealing his identity in the first movie and solving most of the world’s problems, he’s now trying to re-establish his father’s dream of the World’s Fair-like Stark Expo while figuring out how not to die from the Arc reactor in his chest that’s slowly poisoning him. Since it’s not enough to have him worrying about his mortality, he also has to deal with Russian poor genius/a-hole Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who is using the same type of reactor to turn himself into Whiplash, who, as is the case with most bad-ass movie villains, is a bad-ass villain. Vanko is aided and abetted by sleazy arms dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who wants to make Stark-type money but makes mostly crappy arms that nobody wants to use to kill their fellow man. Tony is also being pressured by the government to give up the Iron Man suit so that the government can screw it up somehow, which is what governments tend to do very well.
The dual issues of Stark being a narcissistic kind-of-jackass and his dying means that he not only doesn’t do much cool Iron Man stuff, but he alienates his friends such as Gal Friday Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), his best friend “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and driver Happy Hogan (director Jon Favreau). He also alienates Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) who are hoping to bring Stark/Iron Man into the fold of S.H.I.E.L.D, an organization of superheroes that Marvel is counting on taking money from your wallet for years to come.
All of this plot doesn’t leave much time for cool action sequences, and there aren’t many. Most of the Iron Man sequences are pretty blasé. Favreau stages them okay, but they have a very video-gamey feel, especially the last one that takes place at Stark Expo. Having a bunch of CGI characters blowing each other up with lasers and energy pulses isn’t particularly interesting. Especially when we’ve seen previous Iron Man fights that were a little cooler and more reality based. Of course, when Johannsson gets into her skin-tight suit and starts getting all Bruce Lee on some guys, the interest level increases for many reasons. It’s the best, most visually interesting scene in the movie, but it makes the Iron Man battles look uninspired by comparison.
In the first movie, even if the action scenes hadn’t been good (and they were good), the plot moved along with the propulsion of Downey’s performance. This time, screenwriter Justin Theroux makes Downey so unlikeable and tiresome at points that you just wish he’d put on the suit and shoot some bad guys. Iron Man, or at least the Stark part of him, becomes the thing in the Iron Man movie you least want to see. Set up Vanko and Hammer in an airplane hangar or let Cheadle run loose with an Iron Man suit and this movie has some legs, but then Downey shows up, all downcast and jerky, and you sigh and look at your watch.
Still, the movie entertains at times and it is no super letdown. It’s just sort of okay. You know, you pay your money, you feel entertained, but you can’t say that you have to watch it over and over again. Except the Johansson part. You’ll watch that many, many times.
Not unlike Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (The Rich Mahogany Edition), which was released a few weeks ago, Iron Man 2 is a satisfactory movie that has a good Blu-ray release that increases its desirability. The three-disc set will satisfy comic nerds (of which I am not), behind-the-scenes nerds (of which I am), and even casual fans, who will love the excellent HD picture and super sound.
The first disc contains the movie…well, duh…along with a commentary by director Jon Favreau. He has a real everyman quality that makes his acting fun to watch, and it’s part of his commentary as well. He notes in one scene that, after showing War Machine in front of a hanger with a bunch of Air Force guys, in the final overhead shot they didn’t have War Machine included because it would save a few dollars and “I didn’t think you’d notice.” He was right. But admitting something like that is pretty funny, and sort of honesty sadly unusual in these commentaries. The only real problem with Favreau is that he often starts new scenes with “and now we see” or “here’s so and so.” It gets a little repetitive, and it’s not like we don’t recognize Mickey Rourke or whomever.
The first disc also has a “Previsualization and Animatics” function that will run along with the movie. If you select it, specified scenes will include a picture-in-picture box in the lower-right corner that shows the animatics and previz work done for the scene. So, in addition to Iron Man jumping out of a plane or whatever, you see animated Iron Man jumping out of an animated plane in the corner. It’s a more interesting way to do it than having a separate function, because you see the finished scene at the same time, but I do find it hard to watch the animatic and the actual scene simultaneously, so it’s hard to do a comparison. Oddly, you can’t just watch the animatics separately. If you wanted to, that is.
The biggest Marvel-nerds feature is the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Data Vault,” which gives some inside info about various characters and items shown in the movie that might be of interest to someone who knows a LOT more than me about the Marvel Universe. You can run the extra along with the movie and it will pop things up on the screen while you watch, or you can do it as a standalone function and just search the “Vault.” Both options resulted in a “meh” experience for me, but maybe if I were more into Thor or Captain America or the Hulk...your mileage will vary. I couldn’t find anything on stuff that hasn’t already been released (i.e. upcoming Marvel films such as Thor, Captain America, or The Avengers), but maybe it’s hidden in there somewhere.
The second disc is full of extras that most people can enjoy, but which will appeal primarily to those behind-the-scenes freaks. First there is something dubbed the “Ultimate Iron Man: The Making of Iron Man 2.” It’s actually four features that run from 17 to 30 minutes long, but you might as well view them together. It lasts 87 minutes total and covers almost everything about the making of the movie. You see the big action scenes being filmed, discussion of the previz work, editing and scoring, interviews with everyone from Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau to the co-producers. It’s quite lengthy and can be viewed either separately or with the play-all function. After the credits of this extra, you do get a few minutes of Thor stuff. They show some filming of the Thor after-credits scene in Iron Man 2 and talk to director Kenneth Branagh as well as everyone saying, “Oh man, Thor is so great, we all love it so much.” They don’t really show anything you haven’t already seen or any big scenes from the actual movie. But if you want something…it’s something.
It’s funny that after almost an hour and a half of behind-the-scenes crap, they throw in another 30 minutes in separate featurettes. The six segments run from three to eight minutes and cover some of the specific supporting characters, the Stark Expo, the difference between practical and digital effects, and a background DJ who died after filming. They are cool little bits, but why not just weave them into your big extras extravaganza? At the end of the day, though, this means two full hours of featurettes that really give you everything you could want on the “how to.” Also, it allows you to see how they fuzz out all the t-shirt logos, which is ironic considering the money-grubbing product placement in the movie. Couldn’t they just have asked that shoe company to pay a few grand for Favreau’s shirt and not half-blurred it?
The remainder of the extras include an AC/DC music video, the trailers, a concept art gallery, and about 16 minutes of deleted scenes. Favreau does commentary on the deleted scenes and points out that many of them were cut because they made Stark seem even more unlikable than he already is. The best of the deleted scenes is a funny alternate opening where Stark is shown vomiting in the plane and talking to Pepper before plunging into Stark Expo. It includes the moment of Pepper kissing the mask and throwing it out the plane, which was a big part of the trailer and then confused people when it wasn’t in the actual movie.
This is an impressive set, and all of the cool Blu-ray stuff is augmented by a DVD copy of the film and an electronic copy for your favorite media player. Obviously, fans will be very pleased, but even those who thought the movie was just okay will appreciate the effort to get so many things into the extras. A nice effort all around.