Mark Reviews Movies

IRON MAN 2

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Garry Shandling

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language)

Running Time: 2:04

Release Date: 5/7/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 6, 2010

Without the burden of an origin story and all the resulting narrative hurdles to jump, Iron Man 2 is free to solidify the concept of its hero and find what sets him apart from the rest of the world of superheroes.

As presented here, what sets Iron Man apart is his borderline anti-hero status. He is vain and self-centered. His actions are noble, establishing the longest period of peace the world has known (which is six months, by the movie's reckoning), but his intentions lie entirely on boosting his popularity. His first appearance leads him to be surrounded by cheerleaders, dressed in skimpy approximations of his armored suit. "I" is his favorite word in his speech to the world about his accomplishments, but it's not about him, of course.

His astounding wealth has come from running a company building weapons, helping to enable the wars he's since eradicated. Perhaps the least interesting thing about Iron Man is the most intriguing element from the original movie, when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) announces to the world that he is, indeed, Iron Man. A superhero with no secret identity sounds like a promising prospect, but Iron Man 2 doesn't make a big deal out it. The fact that Stark wants everyone to know he's the armored defender of the United States and the world is just another piece of his outlandish ego.

Even billionaires get the blues, and Stark is humbled by two things this time around: slowly dying and the memory of a father he could never please.

Those are just the personal issues with which Stark has to deal. He also has to contend with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the vengeful son of Stark's father's former partner, and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the head of a competing arms company. Ivan wants to kill the man; Hammer wants to destroy the legacy.

These, along with a grandstanding Senator (Garry Shandling), who thinks the Iron Man suit should be property of the government, his personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who becomes the next CEO of Stark's company while still going through their old love/hate relationship, and Lt. Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who tries to stay Stark's friend while following his obligation to obtaining a model of the armor, are the main threads of the film. There are, admittedly, a lot of them, but screenwriter Justin Theroux maintains these plot points and keeps them all suitably aimed toward what makes Stark/Iron Man unique among his superhero peers.

The story does get bogged down in a few of its ancillary characters, namely Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), both members of SHIELD, whose presence here is solely to bring up another entry in the comic canon (along with a post-credit scene featuring the discovery of a prop from another hero in the increasingly incestuous cinematic Marvel Universe). While their characters are unnecessary (except to give Stark a little more time with a miracle injection that halts the poison in his system), at least Jackson and Johansson seem to recognize such and play the joke.

Downey keeps us distanced from the less appealing nature of Stark's personality with his charismatic performance, and Rockwell complements the dichotomy between the two weapons manufacturers by playing the scummy extent of Downey's charm. Theroux adds a subtle, generic political undertone here, which creates a certain rebellious tension to the proceedings. The underlying point of the Stark/Hammer feud is that men who make a living making tools of war are just as likely to fight for power as anyone else; they just have the better weapons to do so.

The film contains few but worthy action sequences. Ivan implements a rip-off reactor like the one Stark needs to keep alive to create energy-producing whips that can cleanly slice a racecar. Luckily, Stark's bodyguard (director Jon Favreau) has a Suit case always on hand for such occasions. Favreau never takes the material too seriously, meaning the fight ultimately comes down to how many times the bodyguard can plow a car into the villain.

That sense of humor comes through most importantly during the action, like when Rhodes dons his own super armor to forcibly calm down Stark after the tycoon has had too much to drink at a birthday party. The absurdity of two grown men having a serious conversation is pressed further as the two, now teamed up to save the city from Hammer and Ivan's military drones, argue about who should apologize to whom.

Favreau knows how to play these moments, and he also makes time for Stark as a man outside the suit, memorably in a scene in which he sits, awestruck, inside a holographic representation of the hope of a future his father created for him. When it's working solely for itself, Iron Man 2 works, and does so better than its predecessor.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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