Except for a few years at the end of high school and college I’ve been a case closed comic book nerd since I was eight years old (During those years I was still a nerd but not buying comics). Back in 1988 I would have given my whole collection of West Coast Avengers to see a movie adaptation like Iron Man 2, but over the past decade we’ve been spoiled with not just great comic book movies but even better sequels.
Traditionally when the first movie based on a comic book character is good, the sequel is even better. Superman, Batman, X-men, Spiderman, and Fantastic Four all followed that template. The first one retells the origin. With all the formalities out of the way the second one can concentrate on a good adventure and what makes the characters so great in the first place.
The third movie though is usually a mess. They try to throw in the whole kitchen sink which includes too many characters, nipples on the costume and Richard Pryor.
Iron Man was never my favorite character, but the movie featuring him made his case. It highlighted everything that made the character unique. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created hundreds of characters they followed the same formula. Guy with a problem accidentally gets fantastic powers but still must overcome his problem. Iron Man was a slight variation. There was no accident toward him receiving his powers. He built them. The movie and Robert Downey’s portrayal of Iron Man had a lot of fun with this in that he carried the hubris of a man who can give himself Godlike powers. This made the movie more fun then the brooding Batman or holy Superman.
Iron Man 2 continues the theme of showcasing a hero who drinks and whores his way through life. But instead of taking its time and focusing on Tony Stark, Iron Man 2 tries to go directly into Part 3 territory. You’ve got two villains, two potential love interests, and even two Iron Mans (or perhaps the plural is Iron Men). There’s so much going on that we don’t have the time to get to know anybody. Fortunately it’s cast with some pretty charming actors who keep it interesting. Robert Downey Jr. wisecracks, Sam Rockwell is the living embodiment of a Stan Lee one-liner, Mickey Rourke snarls, and Scarlett Johansson wiggles. They all do their best to steal every scene. It’s as if they know there will be an entirely random different setting cutting into them in any second.
Many moviegoers might be disappointed with the rushed pace of Iron Man 2 after the simple greatness of the first Iron Man. These nitpickers need to go back into their DVD collection and remember that if this movie came out in 1999 it would be considered the greatest comic book movie of all time.