Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: "Iron Man 2"


This sequel was hyped as the dark-and-dreary Iron Man in which Tony Stark, having conquered the world in a red-and-gold super-suit, descends into the depths of inner turmoil.

Turns out it's more a milk chocolate coating of darkness. Stark's problems magically disappear about halfway through at the touch of a button. Bing! Oh well, this ain't Hamlet.

I mostly liked "Iron Man 2," but after the pure adrenaline kick of the first movie -- coupled with Robert Downey Jr.'s affable rake of a protagonist -- any follow-up was bound to be a comedown.

For those not up to speed: Brilliant billionaire/playboy Stark invented the Iron Man suit to escape from terrorists, and decided he liked the thrill. Rather than deal with the whole cumbersome alter-ego thing, Stark outed himself as a super-hero to all the world.

Fast forward six months, and tranquility has broken out all over the globe -- mostly because everyone's afraid to tangle with the golden boy. Stark haughtily refuses the government's attempt to appropriate his technology.

"I have successfully privatized world peace!" he declares at a freewheeling congressional hearing that even Joe "BFD" Biden might find a tad informal.

One guy who isn't thrilled is Ivan Vanko -- played by Mickey Rourke, chewing a heavy Cyrillic accent while looking decidedly un-Russian in long dreadlocks and gold teeth. Vanko's daddy co-created the energy technology behind the Iron Man suit along with Stark's pap, and isn't happy about getting kicked to the curb.

So Vanko fixes up his own power suit complete with energy whips, which he uses to nearly kill Stark at a grand prix in which he's driving.

(For comic book geeks, Rourke's character appears to be an amalgamation of the Crimson Dynamo and Blacklash villains.)

Vanko is defeated, but isn't down for long with the help of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a business competitor of Stark's who wants the top spot on the military-industrial complex pyramid.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Stark's right-hand woman and wannabe love interest, and Don Cheadle takes over (from Terrence Howard) the role of James Rhodes, Stark's best friend and liaison to the military.

New on the scene is Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, the mysterious new assistant at Stark Industries, who busts out a few nifty moves you couldn't draw up on a legal pad.

One-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who had a brief cameo at the end of the first flick, turns up again, still murmuring about putting together a team. Based on the speed at which Fury is gathering recruits, I can only imagine how long the clubhouse will take to build.

Director Jon Favreau has a good vibe for this material, somewhere between fanboy fetish for comic lore and recognizing the need to move the story along. With just two years between films, screenwriter Justin Theroux had to improvise on the fly, and as a result the plot often jumps from Point A to Point D without concerning itself much with B or C.

For example, the Stark-Rhodes relationship gets lost in the shuffle of finding some way to cram Rhodey into a modified version of the super-suit -- thus becoming War Machine, Iron Man's sidekick. It's hard to buy that Stark's oldest buddy, having stuck his neck out for him innumerable times, would acquiesce without a peep when his military bosses conspire with Hammer.

It's all a set-up, of course, for a showdown between the Iron Men and Vanko.

This duplication of suits summons a ponderable for the super-hero genre: What happens when super-powers reside not in the person but something they wear, which can be stolen or become obsolete? Stark himself reasons he's got a window of a few years to reign as top badass before the technological gap between his gear and everybody else's closes.

That's the problem with hardware, and movies that rely on it: What's cool today is scrap tomorrow.

2.5 stars out of four

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