Solid entertainment, but keep your expectations in check.
Halfway through Iron Man 2 I was considering if this truly was a sequel to the film that wowed audiences two years ago, or if it was a two-hour prelude to The Avengers movie due in 2012. Marvel Comics has been ambitious in its productions in recent years, introducing characters with the inevitable goal that they will converge in a superhero movie of epic proportions. Next year, the trend will continue with live-action superhero tales about Captain America and the Norse god Thor. But those are reviews for another time.
Iron Man 2 is entertaining, perfectly suitable for the summer blockbuster season, but falls just short of being on the level of Iron Man. That release had so many variables when it opened in 2008. Robert Downey Jr. as a superhero just didn’t sound right. With the help of actor-turned-director Jon Favreau, who was a proponent of Downey from the beginning of the casting process, they surprised the world, producing a movie that was untouchable for most of the summer. Downey was red hot again, and not just because his Iron Man suit was fire-engine red.
Iron Man did a great job of taking a character that didn’t have the history of a Batman or a Superman and making us give a damn. Tony Stark as the brazenly cocky millionaire was a choice role for Downey, as it played up the actor’s strengths and shortcomings. Favreau and Downey fleshed out the character so well – fulfilling the obligation of the origin tale – that it would be easy for them to just focus on more special effects and action for the sequel.
Leave it to them to play up Tony Stark’s morality in the sequel. Picking up shortly after revealing himself to be Iron Man, Stark has privatized world peace thanks to his powerful suit. But he’s hiding a secret. The element that is fueling the device in his chest, palladium, is also killing him; poisonous toxins are infiltrating his bloodstream. The writing may be on the wall, but he only shares the fear of his demise with himself. He does, however, make plans on how life will continue without him. He relinquishes his CEO status of Stark Industries and gives it to his spunky assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a drunken episode at his birthday party, he lets best friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) fly away in one of his spare models. And being the megalomaniac he is, he refuses to bend to bureaucratic pressure – to a government that sees the Iron Man suit as prime DoD real estate.
At the film’s onset, Mickey Rourke and his gold-plated teeth are seething. His character, Ivan Vanko, is a Russian physicist that has served a time or two behind bars. His cramped lean-to has press clippings showing Tony Stark’s rise from teenage wunderkind to narcissistic entrepreneur. Vanko is plotting revenge on Stark, seeking to avenge his father’s legacy while destroying another. Pretty sound reasoning to have a sequel that is supported by personal vengeance rather than introduce a rogue’s gallery that holds no animosity against Tony Stark from the start. The problem is that the technology Vanko invents is similar to Stark’s. So just like its predecessor, Iron Man is fighting a different version of himself.
Ivan Vanko is but one foil for Tony Stark. The other is Justin Hammer, played by show-stealing Sam Rockwell. The actor is given some much needed face time as a counterpoint to Downey, though they don’t share many scenes together. Hammer is just as egotistical as Stark, but he lacks the brains. However, Hammer is essential to the story, bridging the subplot of Vanko’s deep-seated revenge. He brings the Russian physicist into the fold with the intent that Vanko will improve upon his own Iron Man design and make them fully operational.
Fans of Iron Man are likely to complain that there’s too much exposition and too little action. Two major action sequences – at the mid-way point and finale – are wonderfully constructed, especially the Monaco Grand Prix, but it may not be enough for some. The dialogue is heavy and not all of it pertains to the movie we are watching. Samuel L. Jackson has an extended cameo as Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., as does Clark Gregg, reprising his role as Agent Coulson. Scarlett Johansson is shoe-horned in as Natalie Rushman, who is an undercover operative for Fury, working as Stark’s new assistant. The payoff for her involvement is well worth the wait. If she were a little older, she could be a surrogate mom for Hitgirl. Their involvement helps to set up The Avengers movie, but are inconsequential to the subplot involving Vanko, who becomes an afterthought for a large portion of the movie until the special-effects heavy finale.
Robert Downey Jr. once again shows why he’s perfect in the role of Tony Stark. With a natural charisma, he alone makes us forget about the faults in the storytelling. One of the best moments in the original was the chemistry between him and Gwyneth Paltrow. Sadly, they don’t have many moments together. But when they do, the dialogue snaps, crackles and pops like a screwball comedy from the 1930s.
Iron Man 2 is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated movies of the year. With anticipation comes expectation. The sequel manages to be fun and entertaining even with superfluous characters and a second act that is more about advancing The Avengers movie that is two years down the pike. But Jon Favreau pulls it all together to make a movie that does just enough to keep fans satisfied while also leaving them wanting more.
Director: Jon Favreau Notable Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke Writer(s): Justin Theroux
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!