Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Iron Man 2 (2010) Review

Iron Man 2
Big, loud, fun, funny, and even a little indulgent. Kind of like Tony

Back in 2008, I was one of those moviegoers who thought Iron Man was a great movie, but not an excellent one. It felt more like a “one thumbs up” movie in my opinion, than a “two thumbs up” one. For me, The Dark Knight was the better of the two (three if you count The Incredible Hulk reboot), although I realize there are many out there who would disagree. So with the sequel there was certainly plenty of room open for more interesting storylines and better action scenes. And with the reveal of Nick Fury and his plan for The Avengers at the end of the first movie, it was clear that Marvel was planning to expand their universe beyond the evolution of Tony Stark and Iron Man. But after my initial excitement for the trailers, I began to have déjà vu of another superhero movie where the abundance of characters and plotlines eventually overwhelmed the story. It was Spider-Man 3, and while Iron Man 2 is nowhere near as jumbled as that one, the final product does feel like too much of a good thing.

Plot Synopsis: After the first movie, the world now knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man. But Tony could not care less. On the contrary, he is relishing the moment. Unfortunately, this increased popularity has come at the price of his life, as the arc reactor powering his body is slowly poisoning him, even more when he uses the Iron Man armor. He wants to keep this a secret, but at the same time he appoints his assistant Pepper Potts as the new CEO of Stark Industries just in case something should happen to him. Pepper soon gets an assistant for herself in the form of Natalie Rushman, who is stronger than she looks and has her own agenda. Tony eventually comes under fire from a slimy US senator who feels the Iron Man armor should be under military control, with weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer overseeing the perceived “weapon.” Also on the watch is Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D., a secret organization that wishes to hire Tony for their band of superheroes, but are hesitant because of Tony’s erratic behavior. Unbeknownst to them, Ivan Vanko is building his own arc reactor to power a homemade suit with whips that he will use to get revenge on Tony, whose father Howard fired Vanko’s father Anton from Stark Industries and deported him back to Russia after discovering that Vanko was selling weapon designs.


Once again, Robert Downey Jr. is excellent as the arrogant Mr. Stark, elevating the movie to a higher level of entertainment with his scenes. And this time, it seems fame and his hero status has gotten the better of Tony, to the point that his ego overshadows his sense of responsibility and he feels untouchable. Ironically, this is also because he is trying to hide the truth about his blood toxicity, and his indulgence is literally killing him. Tony’s almost as much of a villain to himself as the real bad guys are. His alcoholism is also touched upon, but not for very long. Replacing Terrence Howard in the role of Rhodey is Don Cheadle, who I felt gave a better performance than Howard did in the first movie. Tony and Rhodey’s friendship is put to the test in this installment even more as Tony gets out of control, and the two actors have a nice rapport together. Similarly cracking is the relationship between Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The screwball interaction between the two of them really shows off their palpable chemistry and some snappy dialogue.

On the villain side, we have three opponents to duke it out with Tony, and this is where the Spider-Man 3 syndrome begins to kick in. In addition to the great casting of Garry Shandling as the sleazy senator, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell prove to be a dynamite bad guy duo. Rockwell’s hilarious, scene-stealing turn as Justin Hammer is balanced out by Rourke’s brawny Ivan Vanko (a.k.a. Whiplash), decked out in a multitude of tattoos and grey-streaked hair. And while Hammer gets plenty of screen time to build himself up as the “used car salesman” version of Stark, Vanko all but disappears from almost the entire middle of the movie. It’s hard to get around the way they wrote the character, but I wish Rourke had more time onscreen because he really could have provided a greater sense of menace and danger to the plot. Part of this has to do with the expansion of the Avengers subplot introduced in the after-credits scene of the first film. Not to fault Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Scarlett Johansson (Natalie Rushman/Black Widow), who bring their own level of humor and spunk to their characters, but they get in the way of the Iron Man 2 story while trying to set up the plot for the Avengers movie.


But even when the plot doesn’t quite get the amount of fleshing out that it needs (both Iron Man movies are the same length despite 2 having many more developments), director Jon Favreau keeps the humor, action, or character moments coming to make up for it. The action is much more dynamic than what was present in the original, especially Ivan’s attack on the racetrack and the scenes with War Machine. War Machine, for those who don’t know, is the suit Rhodey must use to stop Tony during a drunken tirade in the Iron Man suit. Their fight is both refreshingly grounded and rough, and also surprisingly poignant because it shows these two friends having to fight it out because Tony has become so full of himself at this point. Except for those two scenes and the final 20 minutes though, most of the “action” comes from the way these people interact. Tony’s ego and suicidal tendencies (because of the poisoning) play a big part in the way things play out here, and it’s nice to have the main characters actually dictate where most of the plot moves rather than simply forcing them into situations.

There’s a lot of talk going around saying that Iron Man 2 doesn’t live up to the fresh original, and while I share many of the same criticisms of these people, I must respectfully disagree. Sure, this sequel may not have the level of surprise or plot focus of the original, but it makes up for that with better villains, better action, and a lot of humor. I say the two movies both have shortcomings of their own but in the end are equal to each other in entertainment. And for the comic book fans out there, be on the lookout for two hidden cameos, one in the movie and one after the credits.

Initial Rating: 3/4    Revised Rating: 2.5/4

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