This is all I ever demand from superhero films – (1) a decent script that isn’t afraid of the odd cheap laugh with plenty of (2) non-embarrassing and hopefully clever, snappy, non-expository dialogue, (3) three decent set-pieces with suitably impressive carnage, (4) a romantic sub-plot that doesn’t detract from the main narrative, (5) a likeable hero and (6) a likeable villain.
Iron Man 2 easily negotiates such requirements and would, were the criteria even harsher, no doubt sail beyond such further nitpicking. It’s great fun, doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, has a flamboyantly arrogant, flawed, raucously provocative hero with no superpowers in a perilous state of health, and has a cast that’s a cut above the usual line-up. Don Cheadle is Don Cheadle – putting him in your film is like putting a diamond-enrusted Cartier on a tramp – you’re halfway to slick credibility already . Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson (Samuel Jackson, whose appearance at any point in any film is surely enough to prompt a benevolent grin, is hardly a surprise – more an expected bonus) take on a pair of 2D roles with the kind of gusto that suggests either a serious sense of humour or friendship with Jon Favreau, who not only directs but appears as Tony Stark’s driver/security/hiply officious-looking acolyte and sweats a lot and looks gamely uncomfortable in an optimistically-fitted suit.
Then there’s Mickey Rourke, making good on his post-Wrestler stock and almost getting away with a Russian accent straight out of a Smirnoff advert. He’s good here but hardly has to stay awake, even when he’s flipping F1 cars into the mesh perimeter at Monaco. He has two electrically-charged whip extension things that he trial runs during the Grand Prix, which, as set-pieces in smash-up actioners goes, is pretty bizarre. Obviously, he and Downey Jr collide for a strangely pedestrian face-off (it must’ve sounded a bit more fraught on the page) that, admittedly, is so mad you just shrug and go along with it.
Downey Jr is superb throughout. He really is Tony Stark and has more charisma that ten Christian Bales, which must help, but then he must be one of only a handful of actors that could, through eagerly abundant goodwill on our part and through a scuffed, unassuming magnetism on his, pull off such a multi-dimensional and potentially repudiative characterisation. And he has great rom-com chops – the scenes in this type of film that make all the difference are the human ones – the relationship stuff etc. Anyone can choreograph a helicopter getting felled by a car, surely. Both he and Paltrow have enough of a substantial chemical clash burbling along that it all plays out nicely and you’re not just waiting for the White House to blow up and so on.
The geek-stuff is great though, no question. When Stark flips all the neat neon-veined blur of virtual projection around like some IBM sorcerer – the nerd in you will get extremely giddy. So, everything works. We’ll forget the hokey father-son sub-plot. That aside, it’s much more than you could dare to hope for from a franchise effort or from the director of Elf. And, despite an allergy to sequels in general, I’ll look forward to a third one of these.