Movie Title: Iron Man 2 (2010)
2008's Iron Man was to some an enigma, a movie that did better at the box office than some would say it should have. And the film's well deserved success didn't have much to do with the fact that every character played a vital role that was succinctly and pleasingly identifiable as protagonist or antagonist, nor with the fact that the movie was never, ever boring or self-absorbed. Why then did the first Iron Man prove to be such a sensation?
We have essentially three reasons: a. The man behind the (literal) mask - Tony Stark - made sense as a man of principle, as well as compassion. Tony Stark was not only brilliant, but also thoughtful, a Robin Hood of sorts. b. He had (has) resources, which is an inspiration to all humans because that is something attainable by way of power, as opposed to Superman or Silver Surfer who both possess cosmic powers. And those points lead to reason c. the comics are then made believable in that they feel less like comics and more like a reality where a bold figure puts his money in the right place and makes the right changes. Iron Man is much like Batman. His toys are just different.
Iron Man 2 takes us back to within a few months of the conclusion of the first film. Anton Vanko, a dejected Russian physicist who once worked with Tony Stark's father, is sinking into the abyss of death. Feeling wronged by the Stark family, the fires of revenge have been fueled. Another will carry the torch. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) - his son and himself a physicist, "Whiplash" - is ready to carry on as a technologically competent and hungry extractor of revenge (you knew this was going to involve revenge sooner or later).
Meanwhile, Iron Man has cleaned up the world stage. He has taken off in popularity like he has in his flying suit. There is relative peace, all because of Iron Man, who is even more of a proud, charismatically endowed peacock than he sported himself as in part one. But all is not well due to his damaged arc reactor, which leads to Palladium poisoning that is slowly killing him.
There appears to be no competition in the world for Iron Man. Stark's technology is leading—so much so that by it we see the introduction of the next tier of the multi-tiered plot: the government wants Stark to hand over his suit and its technology. Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) is the leading voice behind the move to take the Iron Man suit by force in the interests of national security. Stark's personal assurances that his work will remain top-notch and used only in the best interests of the country will not be enough.
The doubters are right to have their doubts. Stark soon finds himself up against Vanko, the at-first-under-funded-but-still-powerful enemy with a philosophically charged and predator-appealing point of view: “If you could make God bleed, the world would cease to believe in him.” That will be considered one of the cooler villain lines in movies in years to come. How will Iron Man's popularity fare if a genius physicist newcomer steps up to the plate and makes him "bleed" helplessly before an on-looking world of former admirers?
As with Iron Man I, film time is without slack and well utilized. There are no long or airy pauses for dramatic effect between expressions or lines, no stagnant scenes that need to be cut. The expected drop-offs for comic relief come at exactly the right times.
Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has now a more significant role than just Stark's close friend and representative of the military. He is in on the action, but finds himself torn between his allegiance to the U.S government and his friendship with Stark. Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury of the Avengers, who has but a small part allotted to him. His was, however, a smart write-in. The role is significant and hints at more sequels and gives other comic movies ways to unite in direction with this one. And it's always nice to see Samuel L. Jackson's involvement in a movie that does not suck.
Iron Man II stands behind Iron Man I in terms of quality for one reason only: there is no sufficient resolution to the biggest conflict component of the story. What is stopping the government from stripping Iron Man of his power? A city succumbing to explosions because of fighting, out-of-control droids and enhancement suits equipped with secret technology is a symptom of the problem of not keeping power in check. Being the hero who stops disaster will not be a long-term solution. Disasters of this kind would only expedite Uncle Sam's measures to get the potentially deadly technology out of private hands. Competition must always be presumed a threat in the struggle for national survival.
The character of Vanko was sufficiently (but not memorably) written. We never get to see the character's full potential. If the same "heart-and-soul" had been put into his construction as some of the other characters, all would have benefited. The fascinating progress of the story that scoots by 112 minutes like nothing makes up for most of that, more so at the beginning than at the ending. Part II may not be quite as slick as its predecessor, but I am not one to split hairs.
Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language)
Director: Jon Favreau
Summary: Billionaire Tony Stark must contend with deadly issues involving the government, his own friends, as well as new enemies due to his superhero alter ego Iron Man.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. "Tony Stark," Don Cheadle "Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes," Scarlett Johansson "Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff," Gwyneth Paltrow "Pepper Potts," Sam Rockwell "Justin Hammer," Mickey Rourke "Ivan Vanko," Samuel L. Jackson "Nick Fury"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Thriller