Rapid Review – Iron Man 2
The original Iron Man was released in 2008 in a year that had been earmarked for the triumphant return of a different superhero: the Dark Knight. Yet, Jon Favreau’s ode to the genius and mayhem of playboy industrialist Tony Stark was a bona fide blockbuster, in part due to its clever and pleasant sense of self-deprecation and a powerhouse performance by Robert Downey, Jr. as the titular character.
In truth, Batman and Iron Man do have quite a bit in common. They both have womanizing, hard-living alter egos in Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, and neither has true superpowers, only a masterful personal arsenal and an enviable knowledge of modern technology. But Tony Stark/Iron Man is himself the technical genius and creator, whereas Batman has his minions to do the dirty work when stocking his gloomy man cave.
This is part of what is so refreshing about Iron Man in comparison with other superheroes. Unlike the Dark Knight, he doesn’t wallow in his own suicidal, “what does it all mean, fate of the universe rests on my shoulders” guilt complex. He tackles the world with self-absorbed, daredevil glee. Thanks to Favreau’s direction and a great script, the original film was a much-needed breath of fresh air in Marvel’s over-crowded universe.
Although the sequel (penned by Tropic Thunder scribe and noted character actor Justin Theroux) at times tries much too hard to weigh our dear hero down with gravitas and the burden of a ticking biological clock, it is still vastly entertaining. The script is appropriately wry and intelligent without seeming too pleased with itself. On the negative side, there is an overabundance of scenery-chewing wannabe villains,but Iron Man 2 is a shiny and loud (although immensely enjoyable) spectacle. It’s a tour de force of CGI and circus act glee. I mean that in the most flattering way possible.
Downey, Jr. is appropriately vain yet endearing as Tony Stark, and his performance is the superglue that holds what otherwise could have been an overstimulated carnival ride together. Downey is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for directors searching for actors specializing in “cads with a heart of gold”.
Mickey Rourke delivers on the promise and range he showed in The Wrestler by tackling the film’s central villain, Whiplash (aka Ivan Vanko). He’s a capped-toothed, grinning, tattooed physicist (just go with it) who’s out to avenge his daddy. This is all set up in the opening credits. But, in the end, he’s really just a noisy, set-bashing cover for a more complex and interesting adversary.
Sam Rockwell, who is a wonderful character actor and used to great advantage in the few important scenes he has, plays Tony Stark’s economic rival, the smarmy and self-assured Justin Hammer. Hammer wants to decimate Stark because Tony is the number one tough guy on the playground otherwise known as the arms race. Let’s face it, family vengeance is one thing, but nothing makes a man truly angry like the potential loss of the almighty dollar.
After spending so much time in the original film setting up the co-dependent and flirty relationship between Tony and his gal Friday, Pepper Potts, it is no surprise that Theroux and Favreau have upped her screen time for the sequel. She’s the perfect “everywoman” foil to Tony’s brisk self-confidence, and they have a charming and genuine chemistry.
Scarlett Johansson’s Natalie/Natasha/Black Widow is shamefully relegated to the requisite femme fatale, mostly reduced to slinking about suggestively in either tight business suits or tight catsuits, but the screenplay hints at things to come for her character in the Marvel universe (ahem… Avengers). The same is true for Samuel L. Jackson as the gruff Nick Fury (the hints, not the catsuits).
Don Cheadle effectively takes the reins as Tony’s BFF Col. Rhodes (also known as War Machine), but is often overshadowed by his louder, more intense costars.
On the whole, Iron Man 2 is a fast-paced stunner of a sequel, and while it may not have the underdog charm of the original, it still will no doubt earn the love (and hard-earned dollars) of loyal fans and moviewatchers everywhere.
It’s nice to walk away from the theater knowing there is more interesting mythos and mayhem to come from this franchise. It might just take a little tweak or two. Here’s hoping Favreau and Theroux streamline their mojo and produce another unique vision for the inevitable third film. They have a tremendously charismatic character (and performance by Downey,Jr.) in Tony Stark. Let’s see what a small stint in rehab (literally and figuratively) can do for the guy.
Overall Grade: A-