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'Iron Man 2' Movie Review

Iron Man's Back...And He's Brought a Bunch of New Friends to the Party

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 4.5 Star Rating (2 Reviews)

By

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr photo from Iron Man 2

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr in 'Iron Man 2.'

© Paramount Pictures
Iron Man 2 is the perfect way to kick off the summer of 2010 movie season which, frankly, is something I didn't anticipate I'd be saying. Why? Because the trailers for Iron Man 2 turned me off. Love Robert Downey Jr and I gave the first Iron Man movie a B+, but the trailers for Iron Man 2 lacked the humor of the first film. In its place the trailers served up what appeared to be battling robots. All I could think was, "Is this a teaser for an Iron Man movie or Transformers 3?" However, those trailers were completely misleading and, thankfully, Iron Man 2 is as good as its predecessor - and in some ways even better.
The original Iron Man introduced us to the playboy billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Downey Jr) and how he, through a cruel twist of fate, became the heroic Iron Man. This second film doesn't need to deliver a backstory, thus can leap right into the story. And screenwriter Justin Theroux and returning Iron Man director Jon Favreau do just that. The film kicks off with the introduction of the main villain, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a crusty Russian with bad teeth and a nasty disposition. Though his introduction is brief, it's obvious he's going to be a much more entertaining villain than Iron Man's Obadiah Stane (played well by Jeff Bridges). So, just a few minutes in, the sequel looks promising. And then cut to Tony Stark on stage with scantily clad women dancers and from his opening remarks, worries that this Iron Man 2 has forgotten what made comic book enthusiasts and comic book virgins embrace the first film are put to rest. A villain worthy of standing up to Iron Man, and Downey Jr as a conflicted, medically challenged Tony Stark back to fight the good fight - it's evident from the first 15 minutes Theroux's headed in the right direction with the sequel.
Scarlett Johansson photo from Iron Man 2

Scarlett Johansson in 'Iron Man 2.'

© Paramount Pictures
And here's the deal, my other worry was that Iron Man 2 would just be used to set-up The Avengers and that the story would suffer from doing so. This was a case of hearing too much about a film before seeing it. Where normally I pay no attention to advance reviews - I, like I assume most critics do, refuse to read any reviews before I write my own - it was impossible to escape the blurbs declaring this a filler between the first Iron Man and the 2012 release of The Avengers. And because I know nothing - I repeat, nothing - about the source material other than what I've learned from the film adaptations, I figured I'd be completely lost watching a movie loaded with references comic book fans would understand but that would go right over my head. Wrong again. Iron Man 2 does set-up The Avengers, but it does so in an unobtrusive, oh by the way manner that's organically woven into the story. There's a reason Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) is in Iron Man 2, and it's not just Avengers-related. So if you, like I, were worried that as a person who doesn't read comic books Iron Man 2 was going to let you down, relax. Iron Man 2 delivers the goods, and the action/CGI - my chief complaint about the first movie - is infinitely better this time around. It's like night and day, and in fact the robots surrounding Iron Man and War Machine scene from the trailer turned out to be one of my favorites.

The Story

So, Ivan is pissed at Tony Stark and Tony's dad, Howard, for stealing his father's invention - the Iron Man suit. Meanwhile, the core reactor that's keeping Tony alive is also killing him slowly, so he's preoccupied with the fact he doesn't have long to live. He's a little more broody than normal and his work is suffering, but he's not so far gone that he can't put in an appearance in front of a senate committee that wants to take the Iron Man suit from him and put it to use in the military. Even Tony's old friend James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (used to be Terrence Howard, now it's Don Cheadle), has written a report that seems to indicate the suit would be better off classified as a weapon and under the control of the government. But Tony charms the pants off of all assembled, except for the head of the committee, Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) and Tony's business rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who's also been called in to testify as an expert. However, Tony has a trick up his sleeve and reveals that Justin, sensing the potential for great wealth and power, has been secretly working on his own suit. The cat's out of the bag and Justin's extremely upset. Yes, that will come back to haunt Tony.
Back at work, Tony turns over Stark Industries to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) without telling her he's sick. And Tony, with free time on his hands and billions to spend, heads to Monte Carlo to race cars. Why? Because he can. There, he, Pepper, and their sidekick Happy Hogan (Favreau) have a disastrous encounter with Ivan aka Whiplash. Iron Man wins, but barely, and Ivan's locked up. Flash-forward and Justin Hammer is now teaming up with Ivan to create their own Iron Man suits in order to take down Stark Industries. Oh, and Rhodey's walked off wearing one of Tony's spare suits. Oh, and Tony's new gorgeous assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) is not who she says she is and in fact has actually been sent to Stark Industries with a specific mission to accomplish. And, Nick Fury wants to recruit Tony to The Avengers but Tony's not really a team player. There's also Tony dealing with unresolved father issues, an appearance by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D. as a babysitter sent by Nick Fury to make sure Tony does as his father wanted and completes the elder Stark's work. Saying there's a lot to keep track of is an understatement, yet somehow it all works and doesn't overwhelm. There's an overload of characters, but each is fleshed out enough and each has a place in the story.

The Acting

Theroux and Favreau insert humor where needed, let Downey be his charming best, and then surrounded him with a first-rate cast hitting on all cylinders. Paltrow's given a much more meaty role this time around and it's fun to watch as she goes from second-fiddle to boss lady, taking the corporate world - and Tony - by the balls as a powerful woman in control. Johansson looks beautiful and is a real hellcat in fight scenes. It's a different side of Johansson and one that fits her well (as does that skintight catsuit).

Mickey Rourke photo from Iron Man 2

Mickey Rourke in 'Iron Man 2.'

© Paramount Pictures
Rourke is tremendous as Whiplash. The actor's said he doesn't know what Iron Man 2 is about, but he did read his part and totally got into playing the son of a disgraced Russian inventor. He snarls, at times he's nearly incomprehensible, but Rourke is Ivan in a way I'm not sure any other actor could have been. Sam Rockwell plays the film's other villain as a quick-talking crooked industrialist who's motivated by jealousy. Rockwell's Justin is a slimy businessman, yet for some reason he's kind of endearing as Rockwell plays him. You have to feel a little sorry for a guy who has to compete and always place second to Tony Stark.

And then there's the new James 'Rhodey' Rhodes, Don Cheadle. Cheadle had the unenviable task of taking over for another actor (Terrence Howard) and has handled the pressure with real grace. Is he a better Rhodey? Who knows? The second Iron Man's Rhodey storyline is a lot more fleshed out than the first film's, so it's not really a fair comparison. Cheadle is terrific, works well opposite Downey, and can deliver punchlines as well as he handles punches.

The Bottom Line

Now, I'm still not entirely sure what S.H.I.E.L.D. is although Iron Man 2 led me to believe it's the organization in charge of the superhero squad. I guess that's enough for now, and The Avengers will explain that organization in depth when it arrives in 2012. And worries over Iron Man 2 losing its way by trying to do too much (including offering an explanation for S.H.I.E.L.D.) were unfounded; this film is a Tony Stark/Iron Man movie and not just a prerequisite to watching The Avengers.

What really sets Iron Man 2 apart from Iron Man is Favreau's handling of action scenes this time around. The CGI is in a whole other league from Iron Man's, and overall the action sequences are less stagey-looking and more fitting of a huge-budgeted superhero film.

Iron Man 2's an incredibly fun ride. From Whiplash's fabulous electrical whips to the return of Tony's robot buddy, Jarvis (voiced again by Paul Bettany), to Johansson kicking multiple butts while Favreau's handling one lone thug, Iron Man 2 is a perfect balance of over-the-top action, a little heavy drama (Tony has to deal with his worsening physical condition and a dad who he thinks never loved him), and humor added in exactly when needed.

Iron Man 2 more than lived up to my expectations and didn't leave me confused, as I'd anticipated. In a summer that's virtually free of superhero films, Iron Man 2 has a big void to fill and is up to the task.

Don't forget to stick around through the credits for a special bonus scene.

GRADE: B+

Iron Man 2 was directed by Jon Favreau and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

Theatrical Release Date: May 7, 2010

Disclosure: This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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