Monday, May 10, 2010

"Iron Man 2" (2010)

"Iron Man 2" (2010)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell
Written by Justin Theroux
Directed by Jon Favreau

The Iron Avenger returns to continue building another layer onto Marvel's new film universe.  Tony Stark (Downey) has become a hero to the whole world, acting outside of international law to quell conflicts all over.  As a result, the world feels safer and more peaceful.  To celebrate, Stark builds the Stark Expo, a sort of world's fair of technology that his father had pioneered decades earlier but that had fallen by the wayside, to foster the ideas of technology and progress toward the ideal of world peace.  At the same time, the United States government is attempting to gain control of the Iron Man technology, believing that such power in the hands of a private individual to be dangerous.

But that technology is coming at a price: the element that powers Stark's artificial heart (and thus, Iron Man) is actually killing him by slowly poisoning his body.  As Stark grows more desperate to find a replacement power source and a cure, his behavior grows more dangerous.

Meanwhile, an embittered Russian physicist named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, oozing menace) builds himself a version of Iron Man's armor that includes two powerful whips, and sets out for revenge.  You see, Vanko's father worked for Stark's father, but he was let go and Stark took all the credit for Vanko's work on the reactor project.  After a violent confrontation on a race track in Monaco, Vanko is recruited by Stark's business rival Justin Hammer, who has been struggling to replicate the Iron Man technology for the government.

There's a lot going on in "Iron Man 2".  It sounds very complex, what I just wrote, and I even left out a couple subplots.  The movie's 2 hour runtime is positively jam-packed with characters and goings-on, a tornado that revolves around Stark and his many, many issues.  There are women, there's business problems, problems with his friend James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle, taking over for Terrence Howard), problems with the government, problems with Nick Fury (Sam Jackson, not really trying very hard)... The list goes on.

And yet, somehow it all fits together and it all works.  Government intrigue, hot women, fast cars, drunken superhero fights, everything factors in here.  It's kind of astonishing, really.  A film with this much going on should feel like an overcrowded mess, but "Iron Man 2" rarely feels that way.  It's packed, but it's entertaining.  With so many characters, a lot of them aren't given a lot of time or development; the focus here is purely on Stark.

Probably the other most fully-realized character is that of Justin Hammer, a business rival who obviously, desperately wishes that he was Tony Stark.  Not only is Stark smarter, but he's more charismatic, more successful, more cool... Hammer's jealousy of stark is palpable, and the brief scenes they share together are brilliantly played by both actors.  Sam Rockwell really nails it with Hammer; he has to work hard to be the way Tony Stark is naturally.

Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark, once again imbuing the character with both an incredible sense of fun, and pathos.  Though Stark's arc here is less about his sense of personal responsibility than it is about confronting his personal demons and his sense of his own mortality, Downey is no less able to make Stark a sympathetic character despite the asshole-ish things he does.

Don Cheadle is serviceable as Rhodes, who definitely gets to suit up this time as War Machine.  Also fine but unremarkable is Gwyneth Paltrow, whose character Pepper Potts doesn't get nearly as much screentime or development as she did in the previosus film.  Potts simply feels like she's just there, not quite the amazing companion and caretaker she was in the first film, and barely registers as Stark's love interest at all.  This is probably the film's greatest failing, and the only thing about it that I'd change.  

The most surprising thing about "Iron Man 2" has to be Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, aka "The Black Widow."  Strikingly sexy and decidedly deadly, she owns every scene she's in.  And when she's let loose to do her thing in the climax, it's one of the more fun sequences in the entire movie.  Maybe it's just because I'm a hot-blooded male, but it's nearly impossible to take your eyes off her once she gets going. 

So what's wrong with "Iron Man 2"?  I think it's an issue of expectations, personally.  Let's face it: few people thought the first film was going to be as awesome (or as successful) as it was.  Personally, I thought to myself, "The guy who made 'Elf' is gonna do 'Iron Man'?"  Downey at the time was an unknown quantity, considering the state his career had been in for so long.  So once it came to be that it was actually a well built and entertaining film, expectations for a sequel begin to swell.  When the sequel merely meets those expectations instead of exceeding them like the first movie, it can feel slightly disappointing in a certain way.  "Iron Man 2" is a fine, fun summer blockbuster, just like the first one.  But maybe that's what's wrong with it - it's just like the first one.  It's good, but unsurprisingly so.  It's a strange complaint to make, I think. 

But in the end, it's a fine superhero film, a fine sequel.  It's entertaining, and well worth your admission price.  What more are you gonna ask from a summer blockbuster that isn't "The Dark Knight"?