Iron Man 2
What It Is
The return of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) begins with a bang. He jumps from a plane, hurtles through the night sky over Flushing Meadows Park, and lands with a boom on… a stage. Iron Man is a show, complete with dancing girls, explosions, and cheering fans—all celebrating the peace he’s imposed on the planet and oh yes, the smart-alecky genius of Tony Stark, the millionaire who invented, protected, and now totally is Iron Man.
This clever first critique of commercializing the hero (via Stark Industries) is immediately followed by another critique, when Tony is called before a U.S. Senate hearing (headed by typically sour-faced Garry Shandling). With one deft Steve-Jobsian tech-trick, he thwarts the government’s effort to make Iron Man their weapon, as well as a related effort by entrepreneur Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to own him. Tony then hands the company over to Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and admires Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), Pepper’s new assistant, “from legal.” He reassures his driver (Jon Favreau) and best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) that he’s not so crazy as he seems, and even spends a little quiet creative time with Jarvis the computer (voiced by Paul Bettany).
But for all the seeming order Tony has made in his world, the point of the sequel is, no surprise, to be bigger and louder. Soon he’ll be confronting his own mortality (the glowing core in his chest is killing him), the costs of selling out, and a very vengeful Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). With access to the Iron Man technology, the villain from Russia makes it his mission in life to embarrass and ultimately destroy Tony, whose father long ago had a falling out with Whiplash’s father. And well know that in superhero movies, paternal legacies die very hard.
With all these pieces in place, the plot has little to do but proceed. Whiplash crashes cars at Monaco, Tony crashes Whiplash, Whiplash goes to prison, Tony worries Pepper (again and again), Whiplash creates an army of robots (or “knock-offs,” as Tony sneers), Tony fights Whiplash (again and again). And guess what? Friends are forgiven, bad guys are punished, and girls wear tight outfits. And oh yes, lessons are learned.
Why It’s Fun
The colorful, spread-out city setting (Tony lives in LA), along with his designer suits, multi-roomed mansion, and sweet Audi, all make for a splashy look in this bigger-and-louder movie. The action scenes are mostly thrilling (though the Monaco Gran Prix, which Tony decides to drive in, is really only a setting for Whiplash’s arrival in the West, a.k.a., Tony’s domain). The cars go fast, the planes zip around, and the robot-battles leave behind smashed-up walls and windows.
Tony’s cunning chatter is still fun, and Downey’s fast-talk can make everyone else seem a beat behind. His smarts don’t always make him right, just as being stronger and faster than everyone doesn’t guarantee he’ll win every battle. But that little bit of complication means he might overcome his arrogance, you know, become a better (iron) man.
Rourke, as Whiplash, is at first a lot like Randy the Ram, the character he played in The Wrestler: restless, ambitious, and crafty. He’s good at intimidating the much smaller Tony, and he’s even better at wearing the pain resulting from years of abuse—by poverty, brawling, and self-medicating. He has little time for the twirly business Tony prefers. He doesn’t want to chat or show off his wit. He only wants to crush his enemy. This means the film pits two very opposite characters against one another, though it loses this contrast by the end, when both are wearing the same updated Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots suits. It’s not so soulless as Transformers, but it gets a little tedious by the fourth or fifth time you see it.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the first film are primed to like this one, as it delivers a similar story: Tony’s cocky showmanship gives way to self-reflection, which in turn gives way to more showmanship, only this time to save the world.
It’s made to sell related products, which makes the movie’s own satire of product-pushing seem either wry and hypocritical (or maybe both).
What To Be Aware Of
A couple of language alerts: the “s-word” and one use of “bitches.”
When Tony’s depressed, which is more than once in this film, he tends to drink. And while he pretends to be a happy drunk, he’s actually miserable, tending to take out his frustrations on friends he thinks are betraying him. (During one early morning self-pity-fest, he’s eating a box of Randy’s Donuts, while sitting in the iconic rooftop donut in Inglewood: Kids, don’t try this at home.) The guns are plentiful and the violence is sometimes bruising, and the close looks at Tony’s and Whiplash’s battered bodies might make you wince in sympathy.
And the thematic insistence on Tony’s need to reconcile with his dead father—who appears repeatedly in projected Stark Industries promotional clips—is fine the first time, but eventually wears out. Tony’s smart enough that you shouldn’t be figuring this to so long before he does.
6 out of 10
Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Garry Shandling, Samuel L. Jackson, Leslie Bibb
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Premiere: May 7, 2010
UK Premiere: April 30, 2010