Saturday, May 15, 2010
I love comic book films that take the genre seriously and "Iron Man" has been a standout in a field that has included masterpieces like "The Dark Knight;" so it's no surprise that it has been one of the most anticipated movies of this year. The only question is whether or not it lives up to its excellent pedigree. "Iron Man 2" takes place six months after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gleefully announces his identity as Iron Man to the world. Not shy or retiring is our happily narcissistic hero, nor is he an angst-ridden, ambivalent crusader in the mold of Batman. The Iron Man technology has brought about a period of peace that Tony is only too happy to take credit for and when the government tries to appropriate Tony's technology, he proclaims that he has "privatized world peace" and predicts that nations hostile to America are at least five years away from developing anything that can compare to the Iron Man suit. But what Tony doesn't know is that the arc reactor technology that powers his suit, and keeps him alive, isn't the secret he thought it was. It turns out that Tony's father, the founder of Stark Industries, had a Russian partner by the name of Anton Vanko, who helped him develop the first arc reactor. But when Vanko tried to profit from the technology, Stark had him deported to the Soviet Union where he dies in poverty after passing on his anger-- and blueprints for the arc reactor-- to his son Ivan (Mickey Rourke). Ivan publicly, and catastrophically, unveils his arc reactor in the form of a vicious energy-whip at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Tony is racing, and shows the world that Iron Man is not invincible. The incident then sets off a flurry of controversy over whether Tony is unqualified to keep the Iron Man technology to himself while rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) schemes to have Vanko develop a fleet of Iron Man suits to sell to the military. "Iron Man 2" is a strange movie in that it has a very sketchy plot, and yet manages to entertain throughout. The thing with "Iron Man 2" is that it feels as if the movie is being pulled in two directions as it flits between one narrative featuring the story of Tony Stark and another that attempts to build the foundation of the S.H.I.E.L.D storyline. It's no secret that "Iron Man" is but one part of a movie franchise that is looking to incorporate other characters from the Marvel comic universe, including Captain America, with the end result being a movie featuring a number of comic book characters from "The Avengers" series. Because of the tweaking needed to introduce certain super heroes into this movie, "Iron Man 2" is not allowed to simply be about Tony Stark and the film suffers for it. What keeps "Iron Man 2" in the running as a successful sequel is a particularly good cast and some good action sequences that keep it interesting. Robert Downey Jr. has turned out to be essential to the success of "Iron Man" because his charisma manages to overcome some glaring defects in Tony Stark's personality. Any other actor could easily bring too much of an edge to the egotistical Stark, but Downey keeps him likable. Sam Rockwell is wonderfully jumpy as Stark's rival and carries his screen time beautifully, while Mickey Rourke is also very good even though his character is woefully under-developed. And when the acting is somewhat weak, as is the case with Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), the fight scenes pick up the slack. It hits you while watching "Iron Man 2" that the casting is uncharacteristically good for an action film, with most of the actors either being nominated for, or winning, Academy Awards. So it's even more glaring when they're not given anything to do. Don Cheatle, who takes over the role of Colonel James (Rhodey) Rhodes from Terrance Howard, is probably the most underutilized actor in the film and it's hard not to feel as if an actor of his caliber is being wasted. But, again, I blame this on the forcible interjection of the S.H.I.E.L.D storyline. Interesting plot-lines, like Tony's slow poisoning due to the arc reactor embedded in his chest, are rushed through, while others, like the strange interlude dealing with Tony's father, feel strangely out of sync. Ultimately "Iron Man 2" is a successful sequel because it's good enough to keep the franchise alive. It's energetic and fun like the first movie and even as you intellectually pick apart the script, you'll still enjoy yourself. It's not an out-of-the-park sequel like "The Dark Knight," but it's still worth the price of admission.