The first “Iron Man” movie defied expectations to become one of the most critically acclaimed and popular superhero films of all time. “Iron Man 2” retains many of the qualities (special effects, performances, humor, etc.) that made the first one great, but overall the film suffers from a minor case of “sequel-itis”.
The story picks up where the last one ended… Billionaire genius Tony Stark impulsively reveals to the world he is the armored superhero known as Iron Man. Months later the world is largely at peace due to Stark’s efforts but all is not well with the brazen playboy. He soon learns the rare metal in his chest plate that keeps him alive and powers his suit will soon poison him to death. His solution: Get drunk and party. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) – the thuggish son of a disgraced Russian scientist – discovers the secret to Stark’s power source. He uses it to build a weapon of revenge against Stark whose late father he blames for the ruination of his family. Also meanwhile, Stark’s inept weapons industry competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) searches desperately for an edge against Stark’s armor technology and hires Vanko to literally crush the competition. Meanwhile again, Lt. Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) no longer believes the hard-partying Stark deserves lone use of the Iron Man armor so he steals a unit and employs Hammer to militarize it into the super weapon known as “War Machine”. Also meanwhile… (you get the idea).
I had hoped closely-guarded studio secrecy was behind the reason I had not found a clear synopsis of this story before viewing it. Now I realize the awkward pacing and clumsily structured storyline prevented me from even writing a decent synopsis for “Iron Man 2” myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun movie and there is a lot to like here but I noticed my mind wandering several times due to the lulls in the action and the lack of clear character motivations. Speaking of action, you’ll no doubt spend most of the film waiting for the final 20 minute battle which I believe is well worth the wait despite the slow pacing of the first two acts. Personally, I can forgive these things. I’m clearly a biased and unapologetic “Iron Man” fan, but I think the general audiences deserved more epic action sequences spread out through the entire arc of the story. Most were quick and unsatisfying.
While I have absolutely no complaints about the performances (all fairly excellent), I do have a bone to pick with the development of the main characters. If you think Tony Stark was a brash and reckless cad the first time around, he magnifies that behavior times ten in this picture. The storyline tries to justify this as Stark’s way of coping with his imminent death, but when he shows up to a party stumbling drunk, wearing his armor and starts firing his weapons over the heads of his guests, it’s nearly impossible to respect the guy. It’s worse than if he had walked into the party with a loaded shotgun. When Lt. Col. Rhodes suits up in another Iron Man suit to stop him, Stark fights back, wrecking his house and nearly killing his guests! I’m all for complex and troubled characters but that buzz-kill of a scene nearly ruined the tone of the movie for me.
As for his relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, 90% of their interaction is tiresome bickering. Even when he makes her the CEO of Stark Industries he appears to spring it on her to dodge her sniping about his excessive drinking and irresponsible behavior. I suppose you could explain it away as sexual tension before they fall in love, but I resent having to sit though their constant arguing to get to that point. Watching Lt. Col. Rhodes play big brother to Stark wasn’t much of a picnic either. I felt a strange relief when he finally stole the Iron Man suit so there would at least be one level-headed hero out there. Ivan Vanko’s character proved an interesting contradiction: A monosyllabic Russian mobster, covered in prison tattoos who is just as technologically brilliant as Tony Stark. Hard to buy but it worked, even though I couldn’t translate Rourke’s accent half of the time. Sam Rockwell stole the show as the hilariously slimy and awkward Justin Hammer. Rockwell chose to play him so goofy, with such nervous energy that his impromptu hip hop dancing moment in front of a cheering crowd at the Stark Expo had me rolling in the aisles. I can’t get enough of Rockwell as an actor especially after his starring roles in the underrated indie film “Choke” and his surprisingly emotional performance in the cult sci-fi film “Moon” last year.
Screenwriter Justin Theroux and director Jon Favreau inserted a great deal of obvious Marvel Comics franchise tie-ins. The inclusion of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalia Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) code named: “Black Widow” harkened something far more significant than a simple nod to comic book fans. It is a tentative promise by the in-house production company to create an “Avengers” movie in 2012. Instead of “Iron Man 3”, very soon we could see Old Shellhead teamed up with Captain America, Thor (both have stand alone movies premiering next year), Hulk and Ant Man. Yes, I said an “Ant Man” movie directed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” and this summer’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”) in 2012, probably as a direct lead-in for “Avengers”. I know, let’s just give that one the benefit of the doubt. Actually, I’m still skeptical that an “Avengers” movie will happen. If any one of these stand alone movies tank at the box office, it could kill this ambitious super-group franchise in one fell swoop.
So is “Iron Man 2” worth the price of admission? Definitely. The humor is still present and there are some spectacular scenes, especially the final 20 minutes when the film finally goes into high gear. I can’t back out of a recommendation simply because I felt a few parts of it were slow or off-putting in what is otherwise an entertaining summer flick. After all, this is “Iron Man” we are talking about here… I guarantee you I’ll still see it a couple more times in the theater.
Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars
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