by HELEN GEIB and NIR SHALEV
Robert Downey Jr returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Iron Man 2, the sequel to 2008’s surprise blockbuster Iron Man and a linchpin of a new movie franchise starring a bevy of heroes from the pages of Marvel Comics comic books. New villains enter the picture in this installment: rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a mad genius with an inherited grudge against Stark. In Stark’s corner are his trusty girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his Alfred Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and his oft-exasperated yet always loyal friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, stepping in for Terrence Howard). Samuel L. Jackson follows up on his appearance in the first film’s post-credits teaser with a small but pivotal role as Nick Fury, leader of the superhero team the Avengers, while Scarlett Johansson joins the series as a woman of mystery. Garry Shandling rounds out the principal cast as a slimy senator intent on acquiring the Iron Man technology for a government weapons program. Favreau also reprises his role as director, and the screenplay is the sophomore effort of Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder).
In Iron Man, Tony Stark discovered his conscience. In Iron Man 2, he realizes his own mortality. The storyline is a natural progression for the character and a strong dramatic spine for the film. It’s also a good tactic for making Iron Man 2 exactly what Hollywood hopes for in a sequel: the same but different.
Iron Man 2 follows what is now officially- now that there is a second iteration- the “Iron Man” formula. One element of that formula is an “it was worth seeing the movie for the performance alone” caliber performance by Robert Downey Jr. Is there anyone who doesn’t think Downey’s performance made the first film? It makes this one too; the performance makes the rest of the film into its showcase. Who else could play Tony Stark so well, with his indefatigable arrogance, irrepressible wit, undeniable charm, and reluctant goodness?
The “Iron Man” formula is a variation on the comic book superhero movie formula and the people who revolve around Stark are familiar stock characters. They are made memorable to varying degree by the combination of writing, performance/performer’s personality, and our varying liking for the type. Mickey Rourke’s supervillain is most definitely memorable. Sam Rockwell’s industrialist, forever and in every way an also-ran against Stark, is a weasel par excellence. Vanko and Hammer could take their comedy show on the road if they weren’t so busy bringing their evil plans to fruition. In Stark’s defense, you’re not being self-centered if they really are obsessed with you.
While the film takes Stark’s predicament seriously (he is being rapidly poisoned by the element that’s keeping him alive, see the first film), the overall tone is lighthearted, even playful. The film aims to show the paying public a good time. To that end it offers a charismatic hero, colorful villains, a goodly amount of action, a dash of romance, and lots of laughs. The script and performances play up the essential non-seriousness of a summer movie about a man in a metal suit facing off against other metal suits. Favreau as director keeps the actors in the same movie, keeps things moving, and consistently leavens the action with humor.
3 1/2 stars
Iron Man 2 is too similar to the first film. It contains the exact beginning and end as the first film but lacks the Stark character arc (from being the world’s leading weapons and technology manufacturer to ceasing all weapons productions and fighting crime on his own). The main difference, but a slight one, in this story is it comes after Tony Stark’s announcement to the world that he is indeed the Iron Man. Trouble soon follows when two new bad guys appear over the horizon. Well, that part makes sense.
It’s also my favorite part of the film, split into two: the first part I like is that we have Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a tattooed, gold tooth-capped, built-like-a-brick Russian who’s holding a grudge against Tony because Stark senior had worked with Ivan’s father decades back and had stolen the Arc Reactor technology from him. We can see where the lack of love came from. Vanko is also featured in the film’s introduction, and that aspect showcases that he’s an important part of the film. My other favorite part is Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, a weapons and technology manufacturing industrialist who hates Tony Stark, and vice versa, and who employs Vanko when he sees the new suit he’d built and the damage he’d caused to Stark in their first confrontation. Together they make an excellent team, even though from the get-go they keep their true intentions a secret from one another. Their performances are my favorite part of the film, Rourke underplaying it to a creepy but humanized effect and Rockwell being a snaky and annoying rich man.
As much as I like Robert Downey’s version of Tony Stark, the further inclusion of his drinking problem, and his fantastic sense of humor, he actually got on my nerves. He gained a type of A.D.D. and is somehow uncomfortable with people giving him things, and those little quirks, alongside his love for constantly interrupting others and speaking way too fast bugged me; and I don’t like disliking the protagonist. In a sense, Stark had become a type of bad guy, or bad person but I don’t think that that was supposed to happen.
The biggest problem I have with the film is that too much happens within the two hour running time. The resurfacing of Nick Fury is entirely unnecessary because all he does is talk about The Avengers initiative and we all know that The Avengers are going to have their own movie, so why does an Iron Man movie have to focus on that? Shouldn’t The Avengers movie have its own “origin story” within its first act? Also, Scarlet Johansson plays Tony’s new secretary. She has bit parts here and there that also ultimately refer to The Avengers so again, she doesn’t entirely belong here. She is the sexiest and most beautiful character in the film and also carries the best fight scene in it, but feels almost superfluous compared to the big picture.
This film is a pretty mess, but a mess nevertheless.
2 1/2 stars
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