The Curse of the Sequel: Iron Man 2

Every year, just around the summer, a huge blockbuster movie is released that tops the charts for a couple of weeks and grosses huge numbers at the box office. Not long after that, a sequel is green-lit and production on the sequel begins. A few sequels are able to beat the colloquial “curse of the sequel”, where the first installment overshadows the next. Such movies include “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Spiderman 2.”

Unfortunately, Marvel Studios’ most recent release “Iron Man 2” is a victim of the pattern. A good movie in its own right, it is falls short of the bar set by the first movie in character and plot development.

Robert Downey Jr. of “Tropic Thunder” and “Sherlock Holmes” fame, reprises his role as Tony Stark, millionaire playboy and head of Stark Industries, a military weapon facility and dealership. The character bears striking similarities to Howard Hughes, one of the wealthiest men in world, in his eccentric behavior and daredevil tendencies.

Like his DC Comics counterpart, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Stark has no superhero powers but has access to resources that enable him to create his superhero identity, Iron Man.

Unlike Bruce Wayne, Stark’s identity as Iron Man was revealed to the public at the end of the first movie. Stark faces the challenges of living his outrageously lavish lifestyle while upholding the heroic image of Iron Man. This conflict is shown in a scene where he attends a party drunk and in his Iron Man suit.

Stark faces new villains like Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rouke), a Russian rogue scientist who emulates the Iron Man arc reactor technology and produces his own fighting machine. Vanko is the son of Howard Stark’s (Tony’s father) partner who was accused of being a spy and exiled to Russia. Vanko holds a personal vendetta against Stark and is out to destroy “not the man but his legacy.”

In addition to Vanko, Stark also has to deal with Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival weapons developer who enlists the help of Vanko to create “Hammer Drones”, mass produced weaponized versions of the Iron Man suit.

On the flip side, Stark also gains new allies. Scarlett Johannson steals the scene as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, an femme fatale who is deployed to Stark Industry to keep an eye on Stark and attempt to groom him for the Avenger’s program, a coalition of superheroes.

Along with Romanoff is Lt. James Rhodes, Stark’s best friend. Terrence Howard originally played Rhodes in the first movie but due to “irreconcilable differences” with Marvel Studios, Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle and the chemistry between Cheadle and Downey Jr. is reflected in the love/hate relationship between Stark and Rhodes.

As an avid comic book aficionado, it was the little references to other comic book characters that really worked for me. In one scene, Stark uses Captain America’s shield to prop up a pipe and all throughout the film, references are made to the Avengers franchise. This movie also paid homage to the cartoon series in a scene where Stark has a suitcase contraption that transforms into the Iron Man suit just like in the cartoon series.

Like all the recent superhero movies, Iron Man 2 includes a scene after the credits that hints at the next Marvel movie. In the scene, one of the characters from the movie discovers the Hammer of Thor, a nod to the “Thor” movie that is in the works.

At 2 hours long, Iron Man 2 packs a lot of punches. From the ad-lib dialogue of Downey Jr., to the advanced special effects, Iron Man 2 has the potential to be a box office hit but it still doesn’t fill the void left behind by the first movie.

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