Iron Man 2 Review

17 05 2010

The haters can suck it. Iron Man 2 is better than the first film, with a tight script, actors at the top of their game, and a sense of humor and fun that too many superhero movies are beginning to lose touch with.

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), now outed as the armored superhero Iron Man, has taken upon himself to be protector of the free world. This is much to the chagrin of the U.S. government, represented by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), and rival arms manufacturer and current holder of the military’s contract, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Stern’s view is that the Iron Man technology is a weapon, and therefore should be turned over to the military. Hammer just wants to be Stark. Meanwhile, Stark’s mechanical heart is burning through palladium cores, poisoning his blood and slowly killing him. This adds to his sizeable excess, manifesting itself as a dangerous self-destructive streak that worries Stark’s two closest friends: Air Force pilot James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Stark’s Girl Friday, “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). What none of them know is an even larger threat is plotting to destroy Tony Stark and Iron Man. Disgraced Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father helped design the arc reactor that powers both Tony’s heart and the Iron Man technology, is building a suit of his own.

If by "suit" you mean "bondage gear".

If that sounds like a lot of plot for a two hour movie, well, it is (and I haven’t even touched on all of the SHIELD/Avengers stuff). But believe it or not, it all comes together nicely thanks to a rock-solid script by Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) and the steady hand of returning director John Favreau (who plays Stark’s chauffeur/handler “Happy” Hogan). The dialogue is mostly sharp, with the exception of a few groaners (a joke about “Hammer-oids” comes to mind), but the standout scenes are the few between Downey and Rockwell. Their back and forth, rapid fire put downs and snarky comments towards each other made me laugh out loud a few times, and you can tell the actors are really having fun taking shots at each other.

Narcissism Unbound

Robert Downey, Jr once again proves he was born to play Tony Stark, with wit, charm and flippancy, but an underlying intensity necessary for embodying one of the most successful and brilliant men on the planet. Gwyneth Paltrow gets a bit of a thankless role as a buzzkill for the majority of the movie, but weathers through it and like everyone in the cast, gets some pretty good lines in. Don Cheadle, who replaces Terrance Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, is a consummate pro that never phones in a performance, and has a much easier rapport with Downey and Paltrow than Howard did, really making the character his own. He and Downey seem like old friends, familiar and not afraid to punch the other in the mouth if one seems out of line. Continuing his late-career renaissance, Mickey Rourke brings the badassery as the ludicrously buff, brilliant Russian scientist and criminal Ivan Vanko. Rourke portays Vanko as a real person who feels that his life was stolen from him, instead of as a cackling caricature of super-villainy (a la Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever), and the movie is a million times better for it and his quiet menace. The other major villain is Justin Hammer, Stark’s closest rival, played as Diet Tony Stark by one of my favorite working actors, Sam Rockwell. Hammer’s desperate attempts to out-cool and out-class Tony Stark are hilarious, but my favorite scene is of him making a weapons sale, where his sleazy, used car salesman jokes and machine-gun like delivery of his lines really made me love a character that I was supposed to hate.

How can you not love this guy? Oh right, douche.

My biggest worry going into the sequel was the addition of Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman/Black Widow. Johansson has never impressed me as an actress, with flat line delivery and a thousand-yard stare. But she didn’t do too badly. Her line delivery was still as flat as a board (and just as wooden), but she pulled off what she had to: be smoking hot and look good kicking the crap out of people. Her big action scene is really well done, and believable enough, but the punch line really sells it. So my fears were assuaged, at least for this movie. But with Avengers, Iron Man 3, and a possible S.H.E.I.L.D. movie looming on the horizon, we’ll have to see the writers can keep her dialogue to a minimum.

Mmmmmm......lack of talent...I'm sorry, what? Yeah, she's hot.

The thing that really surprised me about this movie is that even with so much plot and all of those characters, there’s a lot of time to add depth to the main roles. We get to explore Tony’s darker urges a little, we get to see him falter and flail in denial and narcissism. Granted, this comes at the expense of EPMs (Explosions per Minute), but I think that’s definitely what the modern summer blockbuster needs: time to slow down and make us care about the people we are watching. I was never bored during Iron Man 2, and for a two-hour superhero film with only three or four effects-heavy action scenes, that’s quite an achievement. But the cast and crew have obviously put so much care into this, so much time, effort, and thought that it shows on the big screen.

"Yeah, see, in Iron Man 2, a rich, over-privileged drunk totally makes you guys look like chumps. Doesn't that sound great?"

It’s almost an anti-Michael Bay film, where the explosions are just a background to what’s going on in these people’s lives. And that’s why, as a Marvel film, it works so well. The Marvel universe was built by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, etc., to be real people that had real problems but happened to be super-heroes. The Fantastic Four was a bickering family. Spider-man was a kid from Queens who was the biggest nerd in school. And Iron Man was an alcoholic womanizer who was trying to be both a successful businessman and a super-hero. Unlike the deified heroes of the Distinguished Competition, Marvel heroes were, for the most part, relatable people.

Haven't YOU always had a hard time flying YOUR armor after a bender? Totally been there.

I’m really happy that a light-hearted adventure is doing so well in this, the age of the Gritty Reboot/Remake and the Grim Hero/Heroine. It’s getting really old sitting though movies where the hero never smiles and no one seems to be enjoying themselves. A dark, moody film is great when it’s done well, and even superhero movies have pulled this type off pretty well (Dark Knight, X2), but I’m ready to have fun at the movies again, and Iron Man 2 is a good sign that we are looking at some pretty rad summers in the coming years, thanks to the House of Ideas.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

Coming Soon: The Pop Culture Podcast!

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