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Movie Review - 'Iron Man 2'

Iron Man 2

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by Jon Favreau
Rated PG-13

im2poster.jpg More mainstream than its predecessor, Iron Man 2 is less a comic book film than it is a Hollywood blockbuster, following mostly the same structural guidelines that have steered summer movies since, probably, Independence Day. It's a better story than the way it's told, and the performances are mostly just call and response, but damn it, this is a lot of fun.

Ultimately, that will be your barometer on the second Iron Man movie: Do you want it to be more serious, going deeper into the troubled life of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) or do you want a two-hour movie trailer?

There's nothing wrong with either, although minus Downey's brilliant creation of Stark as a snarky celebrity roast panelist in the first film, the series itself seemed to be pointing in a heavier direction. There are elements of that here as well, but realistically, that's all Iron Man 2 has -- elements.

Again, it bears pointing out that director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux have hit upon a fantastic and timely story and a couple of the subplots aren't bad either, but there's a traffic jam of characters and a few scenes that, somewhat transparently, just don't work at all, primarily because there's only so much you can do in a certain amount of time.

In the months after the events of the first film, Stark is subpoenaed by the Senate to testify on whether or not the Iron Man technology should be turned over to the US government. Taking a cue from current events, there's reason to believe that North Korea, Iran, and probably non-affiliated interested parties are working to develop their own ultimate weapon. Among those lone rogue elements is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the hardest-edged Russian physicist ever, or at least since Fyodor Reshetnikov. He's never called Whiplash in the film, by the way, although the electro-charged bullwhips are his calling card.

Arguably the scene with the most impact (and some of the most excess) in Iron Man 2 is the first confrontation between Stark and Vanko at a grand prix race in Monaco. If you've seen the trailers, you know the score. It crystallizes the thrust of the story - that anyone can really become their own Iron Man, thereby making a great peacekeeper an even more dangerous weapon - and Rourke absolutely sells it. There's a Dark Knight-styled interrogation between hero and villain that follows it, and again, all eyes are on Mickey Rourke.

Had Iron Man 2 just devoted itself to this part of the story, it probably would have worked out considerably better. The tangent off of the Vanko storyline involves Stark's rival defense contractor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), and that would have been a fantastic movie on its own featuring three of the biggest risk-takers going in the leading man/character actor category. But it's not meant to be.

Instead, Iron Man 2 is leading towards a movie called The Avengers, due out in two years, so pieces for that film are buried here like some sort of time capsule. An obvious tip of the hat to Captain America, another part of Marvel's Avengers arc, gets a laugh but is completely inconsequential, as are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Fury provides some exposition, Natasha a third act fight scene, which rather conspicuously has faster editing than anything else in the movie, but are either of them really necessary? No.

Stark is also facing personal demons. In the comics, he's undone by the bottle eventually, and that still doesn't come up in the movies, although it's too big to really be ignored, especially with one of the most famous recovering addicts in Hollywood playing the role. For his sophomore effort, Stark's issues involve his sexually tense relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has more importance in the world of Tony Stark here but probably less dialogue, or certainly less meaningful dialogue.

Iron Man is likewise wrestling with a strained friendship with "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who's caught in the middle between his national and personal allegiances. And there's Stark's worsening health, which gets great play in the film's first hour but there's only so long it can remain a factor when all these other things have to be sorted out in time for the big finish.

In the first movie, Iron Man faced Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) in a terrible CGI fight, lousy because it was clumsy and ho-hum because Stane just wasn't a strong enough villain. Here, there are two potentially great villains in Whiplash and Justin Hammer, and while the there's a lot going on in the last 20 minutes, the precursor to the final battle is actually much more impressive.

Put it all together and what do you have? A competent, expensive sequel that's a little off track, but never gets boring, is never wanting for stuff to look at, and has more than enough action to please tens of millions of people. It's certainly not in the pantheon of great comic book films, but it's so apparent that the goal was to make a spectacle that it's impossible to knock it on that point.

Reader Comments (9)

did anyone else feel like they were setting up to squeeze robert downey out of the avengers, like they were gonna put the iron man suit in it but leave him out.

Friday, May 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdan novak

Yeah, I did get that feeling as well. But really...why would you even try to do that? Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man would help to sell tickets for The Avengers and he's just so essential to everything that I can't imagine the character not being in that movie. Unless the plan is to put Tony on the sidelines and only focus on Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp and characters that aren't getting a full movie of their own.

Friday, May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Jeff Bridges played Obadiah Stane, not Obadiah Stone.

Friday, May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Fixed, Scott. Blame 3am...

Friday, May 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

Vanko, Colin, not Danko.

Saturday, May 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTjei

I love Iron Man!! Robert Downey Jr. is charming and endearing and made me love this movie! Normally I'm not a comic book fan, usually I go for more dramatic stuff like the movie Cycle (, but because of Downey I'm a convert and loving it!! But Scarlette Jo has got to go I just find her annoying.

Monday, May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterc

iron man 2 was a letdown. i found it dragged on, and mickey rourke's russian accent was pitiful. maybe i\m just being nitpicky.

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