Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010): United States – directed by Jon Favreau

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence and some mild innuendo

The first Iron Man film was a pleasant surprise: it was sharply written, had a credible human element, and a popping performance from Robert Downy Jr. The sequel is now here, picking up exactly where the first film left off (with Tony Stark declaring that he is Iron Man).  There is a new villain, even a couple of different villains, and some new supporting characters to go along with some cast replacements.  Chief among these is Terrence Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle in the role of Colonel Rhodes.

Without having seen Iron Man recently, the switch is seamless.  It takes some time for Rhodes and Stark to respark their chemistry, but when they succeed the payoff is quite enjoyable.  Iron Man 2 introduces Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a distressed Russian with a personal grudge against the self-made and self-proclaimed Tony Stark.  His father used to work with Tony’s father, and some perceived injustices, in Ivan’s view, need to be corrected.

Tony maintains his playboy persona.  He is impeccably narcissistic, though his soft spot for his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is even more clear in this film.  But she is worried about maintaining Stark Industries, a task Tony seems ever more reluctant to undertake.  She must also ensure that the U.S. government, led by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), does not succeed in its bid to have the Iron Man suit turned over to the Armed Services.  Initially, Tony takes his rock-star persona on the road, appearing at a Senate hearing to argue that the government is stupid.

He is met on the other side by a competing weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, recently a revelation in Moon [review here]).  Stark gets the upper hand, as usual, leaving Hammer seething in rage.  Later, an attack on Stark by Vanko, who has created his own manner of arc reactor that he uses to power energy whips, leads Hammer to pursue Vanko.  The two of them form an unstable partnership aimed at taking Stark down, and in the process ensuring enough government contracts for Hammer to live out a life of luxury.

Stark’s friend, Rhodes, is split between two camps.  The Army wants him to acquire an Iron Man suit for them to weaponize, but he maintains an odd sort of loyalty to Tony and Stark Industries.  The final piece of the puzzle involves Stark’s dark secret: the suit is carefully poisoning him.  The palladium cores keep breaking down and have polluted his blood stream.  His only chance at survival seems to be the mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the undercover Natasha/Natalie (Scarlett Johansson).  She is endeared to Tony as a legal aid, though it is her mass of curves, more than anything, that keep her in his sights.

There are a variety of threads in Iron Man 2, but it never gets as overwhelmed as bloated superhero movies like Spider-Man 3.  The film shines the most during the witty repartee between Stark and his associates, especially Potts, the only one who manages to hold her own against his advances.  The initial half-hour is enjoyable and fast-paced, as Ivan is introduced and Stark is reestablished as the character that the audience loves, even though they would hate him in real life.  An action-packed scene at the Monaco racetrack culminates this initial section, before the film settles into a more dull routine.

Tony struggles to find a fix for his ailment, and this scene, more than all the other ridiculous moments in the film, highlights the lack of importance logistics plays in the film.  In a matter of days, by himself, Stark builds a particle accelerator in his lab, which he uses to create a brand new element.  But the film isn’t worried with the science or possibility of such an action, and neither should the audience.  By this point there is enough fun in the film, created by genuine and endearing characters, that allows one’s suspension of disbelief to grow.  The film ends after a few lackluster action sequences.

The fight scenes are some of the duller moments in the film; I was more thrilled when the strong characters were allowed to go after one another, verbally.  The constant dialogue, often overlapping and stuttering, is credible and effective in shaping many of the characters.  Natalie/Natasha is the weak link here, as she does little more than have many, many curves.  Her one fight sequence is odd, and having it occur against a white background leads to a great deal of ghosting on screen (unless that was only the digital projection, and 35mm prints don’t highlight the flaw as much).  Nevertheless, the film is generally energetic enough to gloss over the flaws, and I continually found myself excited when the action stopped and the characters were allowed to speak again.  Iron Man 2 is a great start to the summer movie season: big, loud, inconsequential, but with engaging characters to keep the experience from being entirely vapid and meaningless.

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