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Director Jon Favreau’s 2008 thrill ride, Iron Man was universally hailed as one of the most enjoyable comic book to big screen ventures to ever blast a box office.  By virtue of a smart, witty script, cutting edge special effects and a perfectly cast leading man in Robert Downey, Jr. to bring it all to life, Iron Man ranked alongside Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men, as one of the greatest adaptations of a Marvel superhero on film.  Could moviegoers hope for more of the same or better from its successor?

Here we are, picking up not long after we left off in the original film with zillionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark’s stunning announcement to the world that he was indeed the mystery man in the red and yellow metal costume.  That was him flying around saving the world with all sorts of impossible feats of derring-do.  Unlike other superheroes with the good sense to employ a secret identity, Stark revels in his fame as Iron Man, making splashy Vegas-style stunt entrances into his own technology exposition, signing autographs and basically thumbing his nose at anyone foolish enough to try to inject a little reason into his self-indulgence.  He’s living like a man who thinks tomorrow might be his last day on earth.  Sadly for Stark, that might be a painfully accurate assessment.  The technology that replaced the failed heart and saved the life of the former weapons dealer is now slowly killing him.  The power sources that keep his glow-in-the-dark ticker thumping are burning out within hours of installation and Stark’s blood grows more toxic by the minute.  This sends the already impetuous playboy into a tailspin of high-risk behaviour.  From impulsively taking the wheel at Monaco’s Grand Prix, to drunken, destructive binges and allowing his own company and the entire Stark legacy to flounder; Tony knows the end is near and feels no need to share the news.  Even friends like military man “Rhodey” Rhodes and faithful assistant, “Pepper” Potts are at a loss as Tony’s wild behaviour grows more bizarre and uncontrollable.  While Stark careens, other stones gather no moss and with great power come a whole lotta enemies:  An undiscovered connection to his father’s past pops up in the form of Ivan Vanko.  The vengeful son of a disgraced former inventing partner of Stark père, Vanko is given access to the Iron Man technology his father helped build, and he uses those secrets to become a character called Whiplash.  How fitting as the guy walks around with two long cable whips that with a little help from the Iron Man arc reactor core, are able to slice through an entire fleet of racing cars and pretty much anything else in their path.  In his gadget making brilliance, Tony Stark has met his match in Vanko.  The other competition is Stark’s life isn’t as gifted, but as determined to bring about Stark’s downfall.  Justin Hammer gets no love; his weapons company simply cannot duplicate the wonders of the Iron Man suit, which, as manned by Stark, has brought about an unprecedented period of peace around the world.  Even a Hammer-engineered roasting on Capitol Hill blows up in his face, only serving to transform Stark into a champion for civil liberties as factions of the government attempt to get their warmongering claws on Tony’s red and gold finery.  Whiplash’s stunningly public introduction as the first real challenge to Iron Man’s martial superiority makes him fast friends with the wealthy weapons man.  While his enemies mount, unexpected allies also make their way into Stark’s life, including a deepening tie between himself and the enigmatic Sgt. Nick Fury of the shadowy military organisation called S.H.I.E.L.D.  Having a vested interest in keeping the billionaire in one piece, another S.H.I.E.L.D. operative works much closer than Stark is aware.  Natalie Rushman, the mysterious and freakishly agile redheaded secretary, is like catnip to Tony’s roving attentions, which makes her job tracking the superhero playboy with a death wish a whole lot easier.

Iron Man 2 exhibits far more deficiencies than its sire, most notably in the script.  Origin stories usually play better onscreen as they have a more defined arc; Iron Man 2 suffers from too much going on with too many characters in an overcrowded screenplay.  Most of the drama centers on Stark’s failing heart and his crazed end-of-days acting out, but otherwise, there’s not much of a story here.  While one cares for the wacky, misunderstood billionaire (- played brilliantly once again by Downey, Jr.), for this film our attention is pulled in many different directions and whether due to the lack of time to develop or thin writing, there’s really not anyone amongst the many introduced here that rings with any depth.  Other characters that weren’t particularly well-represented in the first film fare even worse this time around.  Pepper Potts {Gwyneth Paltrow} is just a non-starter; given more face time than in film one, we’re shown irretrievably that there is absolutely no chemistry between the trusty gal Friday and her tin can superman.  After a couple of years of chasing her boss around in invariably life threatening situations, I would expect more gumption of Potts than to see her whimpering in the backseat of a Whiplash-sliced car, too afraid to simply hand off the portable version of the Iron Man armour to a waiting Stark.  One might gather from that lacking description that I would have been fully on the side of the mysterious Natalie Rushman (a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a Scarlett Johansson) as a far worthier vessel for Iron Man’s affections.  But even with a very deliberate attempt to establish Natasha as a seductress par excellence - pin-up worthy camerawork accents her face and curves in every shot, and later in the classic catsuit, she’s given a fight sequence that would make Angelina Jolie froth in jealousy - this Black Widow doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, either.  I admit to total fandom of the long, cool woman from the comics in the shiny, painted-on Kevlar, backcombed Russian Red ‘do and the regal, haughty demeanor that poured off the pages.  Alas, despite my faith in Favreau’s success in replicating these characters for the screen, this Black Widow had none of her comic book counterpart’s commanding personality or wry, Russian sensibilities and depth.   Those qualities must’ve been saved in the script for Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, with his tragic family legacy and his fatalistic melancholy masking his strategic quest for revenge.  Covered in Russian gang tattoos, Mickey Rourke does his best to turn a dangerously one-dimensional character into something memorable right down to Whiplash’s kinship with his fine-feathered friends.  Also way up on the plus side of things was Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.  Hammer is a hilarious comic relief with his bumbling attempts to usurp Tony Stark’s place as the world’s sexiest weapons maker.  Rockwell’s off-the-cuff delivery and willingness to play the fool is a perfect foil for the pinpoint timing of Robert Downey, Jr.’s acerbic, rapid-fire improv and he nearly runs away with the picture.  Don Cheadle dismisses the audience’s conjecture about his replacement of Terrence Howard as Rhodey Rhodes with his opening salvo to Stark, “Look, it’s me.  I’m here.  Deal with it.” Not as physically prepossessing as Howard, Cheadle nonetheless seems more on equal footing with regard to Downey, Jr.’s sharp, stream-of-consciousness riffing.

Less good plot is bolstered by much bombast and the action scenes and visual effects are once again ace.  The hologram touch screens are still sweet even when used as frequently as they are here, so is the array of nauseatingly gorgeous rides decorating Stark’s garage.  The flaming car wrecks on the Monaco race track are thrilling, as are most of the scenes of rampant destruction.  The new cool thing is far and away the aforementioned Iron Man travel case, which after being opened at Stark’s feet, wraps Tony in a crunchy tin coating in a matter of seconds.  Favreau’s conversion of the skeleton of Flushing Meadows Park’s 1964 World’s Fair grounds into an electronic Epcot-meets-Akihabara wonderland for the Stark Expo made me wish the Iron Man 2 production team would submit some architecture designs to the City of New York.  One battle takes place inside a Japanese exhibit so lovely and serene; it was hardly noticeable that most of the petals were singed in the repulsor ray mayhem.  The fights are bloody good, as well; the standout for me was the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots battle between Stark and distrustful friend Rhodey.  Rhodey commandeers an unused Iron Man suit to become War Machine and attempts to put his drunken friend in his place to the tune of a DJ AM mashup of Another One Bites the Dust, It Takes Two and most appropriately, Robot Rock by Daft Punk. (Woo Hoo!)  The climatic melee at the end doesn’t hold the same interest despite the variety of armoured drones that Iron Man must avoid and destroy.  Iron Man is at its best when its personality is showing and there isn’t as much on display in this chapter as there was in the last.  Even so, top-shelf special effects and Favreau’s popcorn-perfect timing for action and comedy combined with great work from Downey, Jr. and Rockwell make up for many of this sequel’s inadequacies.  While not perfect, Iron Man 2 is still a fun, fantastic time at the movies that is, on occasion, nearly as spectacular as its sire.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 6th, 2010

 

Click here for our review of 2008's Iron Man

Click here for our review of 2013's Iron Man 3

 

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(Courtesy of  Paramount Pictures)

 

 

 

 

 

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