Precious Metal: Iron Man 2 Reviewed

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Ladies and gentlemen, Tony Stark is back.

Two years after the original Iron Man surprised audiences with its refreshingly bold take on the classic Marvel Comics character—anchored by a pitch-perfect performance by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role—director Jon Favreau returns us to the cinematic Marvel Universe with Iron Man 2. Fortunately, the Armored Avenger’s showing few signs of rust in his second on-screen adventure, which maintains the comedic, high-energy feel of the original while simultaneously raising the stakes for our hero and laying the groundwork for future Marvel Studios films, including The Avengers and the inevitable Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the conclusion of the original film, when Stark went public as Iron Man during a press conference. By the time we’re reintroduced to our favorite billionaire industrialist-turned-superhero at the beginning of the film he has, in his words, “successfully privatized world peace.” But all is not peaceful in Stark’s world. The United States government—Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) in particular—is after his proprietary Iron Man technology. Meanwhile, rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is out to ruin Stark Enterprises and construct his own army of government-sanctioned armored drones. In his quest to outdo Stark, Hammer later enlists the aid of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father worked with Howard Stark, Tony’s dad, on the original arc reactor but got none of the credit. Vanko catches Hammer’s eye when the vengeful Russian physicist attacks Stark with a pair of whip-like energy weapons powered by his own home-brewed arc reactor. Speaking of arc reactors, the very device that’s keeping Stark alive is also slowly killing him by poisoning his blood. So yeah, ol’ Shellhead’s plate is pretty full these days.

Since the title character is dying throughout much of the film—bringing to the surface some of his worst self-destructive tendencies—one might expect Iron  Man 2 to venture into some pretty dark territory, but Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux never stray too far from the light-hearted tone that made the original film so endearing. While some fans might cringe during some of the goofier sequences, especially when Stark gets drunk and soils his armor, there’s rarely a moment in Iron Man 2 when we’re not supposed to be having fun.

As was the case in the first film, Downey owns this role, adding a new layer of vulnerability to Tony Stark without abandoning the characters’ trademark narcissistic bravado. As Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow seems to have less to do this time around, even though her character gets promoted from Tony’s assistant to CEO of Stark Enterprises. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Tony’s best pal Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, and he seems to enjoy this material far more than his predecessor did. Of course, that might have something to do with fact that Rhodey gets to armor up as War Machine this time around.

The other newcomers do an exceptional job as well. Rourke is suitably creepy as the unhinged, bloodthirsty Ivan Vanko, a.k.a. Whiplash, while Rockwell’s smarmy Justin Hammer emerges as the villain we love to hate in Iron Man 2. Needless to say, fanboys are sure to enjoy seeing Scarlett Johansson slip into a skintight catsuit and kick all kinds of ass as Black Widow.

As far as action sequences go, Iron Man 2 delivers on that front; however we don’t get as many of them as we might have wanted. Save for the oft-advertised racetrack showdown between Vanko and Stark (wearing his unbelievably cool suitcase armor) and the CGI-laden final battle pitting Iron Man and War Machine against Hammer’s drones, the set pieces are few and far between. This might disappoint fans who were hoping for a more action-heavy second film after the original Iron Man got the origin story out of the way.

To its credit, Iron Man 2 is ambitious from a story and character perspective, but the film seems bloated at times, simply because there’s too much going on at once. In the hands of a lesser director, this film could have been a disjointed mess, and Favreau fortunately manages to keep things reasonably focused. Having said that, one wonders how much better Iron Man 2 could have been if it wasn’t juggling what seems like two films’ worth of material.

While it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, Iron Man 2 certainly proves its mettle.

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  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom May 10, 2010 at 9:01am

    is it not also because it is also making way for other movies (Black Widow, Avengers etc) so this is more an #0 then really a #2?

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