Review: Iron Man 2
PLOT: Tony Stark is officially Iron Man, and everybody knows it. The media frenzy is now in full swing, thanks to Stark himself and his major revelation. And luckily for the United States, it seems that no other country has been able to keep up with the technology. But that doesn’t stop a greedy politician and an envious inventor from wanting the Iron Man suit to be shared with Washington. And if that isn’t bad enough, a crazy Russian feels that part of the fame and glory that Stark is reveling in should be his, since their fathers worked together. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a super hero that loves the excess of celebrity. Will those that surround him be able to keep him healthy and grounded? Well, I’m sure that most of you will want to find that out for yourself.
REVIEW: What happens when you create a superhero and people find out who you are? Well, if you are Tony Stark/Iron Man, you not only accept it, you relish the celebrity of it. Whether you are putting on an extravagant performance at the Stark Expo with a ton of scantily clad Iron-ettes, or just having a drink or ten with some close friends, you are thrilled by the attention. That is exactly where we find Tony Stark in IRON MAN 2. And I don’t think many actors could have a better understanding of that lifestyle than Robert Downey, Jr. as he has been there and done that. Needless to say, his Stark is undeniably believable and absolutely charming. This is a very important fact, especially since his behavior is oftentimes not so heroic. I’m not talking about a SPIDER-MAN 3 kind of way (no emo Spidey at all). But even though Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is a new breed of badass, this second installment is mostly about family.
Early on, we find a man by the name of Ivan Vanko. He is with his dying father Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev) who we soon learn has worked with Howard Stark (John Slattery). It seems something went terribly wrong with Howard and Anton’s relationship. Ivan clearly has a bone to pick with Tony, since the knowledge and his creation is as much his, if not more, in his mind. This opening sequence looks incredible, as Ivan gathers together blueprints and parts to create his own powerful “weapon." In many ways, this reminded me of the first shots in the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It is dark, dreary and you know he is simply up to no good. Although director Jon Favreau never brings the look and pace of the film into grim territory, he actually keeps it funny and fresh.
As much as Ivan wants the power that Stark has created, there are some people in Washington that are even more desperate to obtain it. So much so, that Iron Man himself is asked to give the “weapon” to help protect the United States. Tony claims that the world doesn’t want to mess with it, so the suit should stay with him. The others, well, they think the wealth should be shared… especially when the “others” happens to be the government. One sequence in the film finds Stark defending himself and his choices against the brilliantly cast Garry Shandling as smarmy Senator Stern. So you’ve got a madman and the government looking for a little piece of the pie, and a certain celebrity that is enveloping your personal life? What do you do? Well, you’ll have to see the film to learn more, and of course, find out what uber-sexy role the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) plays in the scheme of things. I don’t want to spoil it here.
The fact is, I had a blast with IRON MAN 2. It is one hell of an exciting adventure, but it may not be the adventure you expect. You see, both Stark and Vanko have daddy issues. And family is an important part of the first sequel. And I appreciated that. The script by Justin Theroux may feel a bit too simple, but it is certainly rich in wit. When it came to Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, the banter is the best it’s been. And the two actors bounce off each other, beautifying the dialogue with style and humor. (Has anyone mentioned a “Moonlighting” remake? Cause these two would be perfect.) At certain times, their relationship felt like classic Hollywood, like a good old-fashioned battle of the sexes (see Myrna Loy and William Powell in THE THIN MAN). Yet this charmed relationship never stands in the way of it being a Marvel Comics superhero film, in fact, it only makes it more interesting.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, I have to say that Don Cheadle really shines here. I personally wasn’t thrilled about Terrence Howard in the original. It’s not that he was bad; he just didn’t generate much thought from me at all. Certainly that could be simply that the role is much more fleshed out this time around, but I also happen to think that Cheadle is simply a wonderful actor. As I said, IRON MAN 2 certainly seems to have its focus on family, and I would absolutely include Stark’s cohorts in that group. Even Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) joins in for more of the action and it is a funnier film because of it. Add to that, a little more Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a smarmy opponent of Stark's named Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and you’ve got a damn fine cast. I was very impressed as to the balance of these characters, without taking too much away from Iron Man himself.
IRON MAN 2 lets itself loose and in many ways it is more fun than the original. As far as the action is concerned, some of the battles happen somewhat unexpectedly, but there is a slight predictability to the story. As smart as the dialogue is, the straightforwardness of the story is sometimes problematic. I would’ve liked a little more mystery in regards to the ‘who, what, why and where’ and how it is revealed because honestly, all the questions don’t need much of an answer as they are all pretty clear. But I’m not sure if they were trying to create mystery so much as to introduce the growing Marvel character library. And I mean that in a good way. After watching the film, I couldn’t help but think about where they would be moving in Marvel’s future. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Stark and Fury.
Now back to Whiplash. Mickey Rourke sort of slithers down into his character's skin and brings them to life and Ivan Vanko is no different. From his tattoo covered body to his overdone Russian accent, he is a villain to be reckoned with. So I do question why he wasn’t used more. His shining moment comes early on during a day at the races. While some of this footage is used in the trailer, in its full form there is a lot to love. But he doesn’t go mano e mano against Iron Man as much as we may desire. Fans of the series may have some issues with this, especially since he could be a truly powerful bad guy. Ironically, one of the best action sequences in the film doesn’t even involve Mr. Lash. I won’t spoil it, but somewhere in the middle two friends have a pretty big quarrel to settle. It is a major plot point and it is made believable enough due to strong acting and a surprisingly rugged battle.
I loved IRON MAN 2 for what it was. But I have a sneaking suspicion some will be left disappointed if they are expecting something else. I will caution those going to see it for the first time, this will not necessarily be the movie you expect to see. The action and effects are great, but this is about the breakdown of the IRON MAN regulars, and exactly how they will keep things together and move on in the future. And yes, Favreau did his part and made a very satisfying sequel for those looking to expand their idea of a superhero flick.