Thursday, June 3, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man caught me (and pretty much everyone else) off guard in 2008 with its character-driven story and with the depth of its themes. I’ll get the initial disappointment out of the way in reporting that Iron Man 2 isn’t as strong as its predecessor, though I’m glad to say that it does retain just enough of what made Iron Man special. Through charming performances and quality action, this sequel makes for a fun, albeit flawed, Summer movie.

The whole world knows that billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man, and that hasn’t improved his ego any. Stark struggles to keep his hectic life balanced while fending off the US Government’s efforts to confiscate his Iron Man technology. “I did you a big favor,” says Stark. “I’ve successfully privatized world peace.” He also quietly seeks a solution to his newfound health problems, as the paladium-powered arc reactor in his chest is slowly killing him. On the other side of the world, Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) plots revenge against Stark for what Stark Industries did to his family years ago.

Iron Man 2 doesn’t have the focus or purpose of the original, and there’s nothing here to match Tony Stark’s character-arc in the first film. Still, Robert Downey Jr. has fun playing this role, and all returning actors match the quality of their previous performances (Don Cheadle does a fine job filling in for Terrance Howard in the role of James Rhodes). Quality performances help keep Iron Man 2 from crashing, but the story feels much more scattered and spread out. Whereas Iron Man followed one man’s journey of personal growth, Iron Man 2 hops rapidly from one story thread to the next.

Iron Man 2 is more action-heavy than the original, but the action is top-notch. I felt that Iron Man lost its way a bit during its final action sequence, but the blow-em-up last act of Iron Man 2 injects some much needed payoff at just the right time. Iron Man 2 grounds its action the same way that Iron Man did: through shots of the actors faces inside their helmets, thus allowing the performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle to shine through the computer-generated mayhem. Scarlett Johannson’s character doesn’t amount to much more than eye candy for most of the picture, but even she gets her satisfactory share of the action-packed finale.

Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko isn’t particularly interesting, and the other main villain, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), alternates between being amusing and annoying. The villains at least represent intriguing story concepts, though the concepts were never fully developed. While Tony Stark claims to have saved the world, Vanko still suffers because of Stark Industries’ previous mistakes. Stark’s change of heart doesn’t magically undo all the sins of his past. Justin Hammer is one of Stark’s competitors in the world of weapons manufacturing, and he does whatever he can to pirate Stark’s technology and one-up him in the court of public opinion. These pieces are the blueprints for a strong sequel, though the finished product leaves a fair amount of storytelling potential untapped.

Iron Man 2 lacks the character development of Iron Man, and as far as villains go, Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko doesn’t come close to matching Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane. Still, Tony Stark’s mix of social justice and unhinged narcissism remains unique, and the movie has just enough quality in its action and performances to offset its sometimes awkward mix of humor and melodrama. The screenplay for the original Iron Man was penned by the Oscar-nominated writers of Children of Men (2006), whereas Iron Man 2 was written by the fellow who gave us Tropic Thunder (2008). Perhaps the original writing team can return for Iron Man 3; this second installment isn’t bad, but it could take a few pointers from its high-flying predecessor.

Click here to view the trailer.

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

It’s not bloody, but the action does get intense; lots of bullets and explosions. Scarlett Johannson has an extended martial arts bit, but again, it’s not graphic. The language remains on the mild end. The action isn’t anywhere near as real or effective as in the original Iron Man, so if your kids have seen the first, they’ll be fine for this one.

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