Iron Man 2 movie review
A proverb states that the sins of the father are visited on the son – well, you can pluralize that and in doing so, you have the central plot of Iron Man 2. The sequel to 2008’s box office smash opened in theaters at 12:01 a.m. Friday and delivered a solid story sparkling with great effects, a satisfying final battle sequence, and all of it underscored with wit that went from the bawdy to a wry nod and wink at audiences.
The story begins in Russia where Ivan Vanko, portrayed by Mickey Rourke, watches his father die. Anton Vanko’s parting gift to his son is his knowledge of the Arc Reactor (the smaller version of which sits in the chest cavity of Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man). It seems that the elder Vanko was a Soviet defector worked with Tony’s father to develop the reactor prototype but whereas the elder Stark wanted to use the reactor for the betterment of humanity while Anton had dreams of selling it to the Soviets. When Howard found out what Anton intended, he had Anton deported back to the Soviet Union where Anton was promptly thrown into prison in Siberia for failure to deliver the device. Anton’s hatred of the Starks was handed to his physicist son, Ivan. After Anton dies, Ivan uses his father’s blueprints to develop a small arc reactor of his own, and extends it into electrical whips powered by the reactor. Knowing Tony is in Monaco for a Grand Prix race, Ivan (aka Whiplash) travels to the city and attacks Stark during the race.
The crux of the film pits strength against strength. After all, what is a super-hero without a super-villain, or a genius without evil genius to counter? If the movie does anything wrong, it would be that too many of the characters are painted with broad strokes of black or white, leaving little room for shades of gray, or for character development. There was an evolution of Tony Stark in the first film, but that is missing in the second.
Whiplash is not alone in his hatred for Stark. Justin Hammer, another industrialist weapons manufacturer – played by Sam Rockwell – is second fiddle to Tony and has been humiliated by Stark on several levels and on several occasions. Hammer is a bit of cad, a weasel and Rockwell’s portrayal of him leaves a distinctive distaste for the character.
Whiplash is one thread that sustains the movie, Hammer is another, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s more prominient position in Stark's life is a third, the relationship between Stark and the U.S. government is a fourth – but while the movie seems to be juggling a lot, everything is tied up nicely by the last third of the film. Sure, the movie is predictable, but still fun to watch.
Directed once again by Jon Favreau, the movie brings back Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Stark’s secretary and erstwhile romantic interest. It is the dialogue and interaction between Stark and Potts that provides some of the more enlightening and entertaining moments of the film. The duo is front and center throughout most of it, and it is Pepper that echoes audience sentiments about Stark, his lifestyle and his general shortcomings.
Downey has been on a roll with outstanding performances in a wide range of films and his Tony Stark is still the self-admitted narcissist who seems intent on self-destruction. It is a performance that teeters on the edge of too much, but just when it appears that Downey will take it too far, he pulls back and understates the character with a word or gesture that connects with the audience.
As for the rest of the cast, the roles are iconic for the Iron Man universe, and while there are some well-known actors in here, the film might have tried to fit too many in and as a consequence they receive less-than-thorough treatment.
Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes. The friendship between Rhodes (who gets an earlier prototype suit, has it refitted with weapons and becomes known as War Machine) and Stark seemed a lot tighter in the first film, and could well be that the two actors – Cheadle and Downey – simply did not connect as strongly.
Scarlett Johansson capably provides some eye candy as Natalie Rushman, a notary in the legal department at Stark Industries. Rushman, though, is one of the undercover identities of the Russian-trained agent Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow who is also a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative sent in to watch over Stark. Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Nick Fury has been expanded from the first film, but it feels as though the principle job is to stop the film from teetering on the brink of silly and put it back on a more serious course. Rourke’s performance as Vanko is handled well for the most part, but it comes across as a little too clinical and coldly distant at times.
While some of the character portrayals are a touch on the weak side, it would have been easy for the tech of Iron Man 2 to carry the film, but it really doesn’t. The tech may be splashed all over the movie, but the main actors (Downey and Paltrow) sell their characters and the story to a great extent. And the movie is paced very nicely, making the 125 minutes dance by in stunning aerial chases, heavy metal action and an explosive (literally) finish.
Iron Man 2 is bigger and better on almost every level than the first film. It is a fun ride that takes off quickly, smirks at the audience on several occasions, but entertains throughout.
(Oh, and for those willing to wade through all the closing credits, there is a short tag of what may lay ahead as the Marvel Universe continues to unfold on the big screen. Quite honestly, if what was shown is indeed in the cards, it’s about time.)