The movie: Iron Man 2
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Based on the character created by: Stan Lee
Screenplay by: Justin Theroux
Famous people you should recognize: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
Random people in smaller roles that you might recognize: Kate Mara (happythankyoumoreplease), John Slattery (Mad Men), Paul Bettany (you only hear his voice as Tony’s A.I. supercomputer, Jarvis), Stan Lee (you have to pay attention to see who plays), Gary Shandling and Jon Favreau (the director – in case you didn’t read that info above)
The story: Now that Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has revealed that he is Iron Man, he is back to his shenanigans as the gazillionaire genius/playboy inventor du jour – except with more arrogant verve. The government wants to take custody of his super-duper armored Iron Man outfit; his love interest/right-hand woman, Pepper Potts (Paltrow) gets promoted to CEO of Stark Industries; he hires a new sexy assistant that might have ulterior motives (Johansson); some Russian dude (Rourke) is craving his blood; and a douchey maestro of military weaponry (Rockwell) is out to annihilate his business empire. To top it all off, that glowing battery in his chest is not only keeping him alive, but killing him too. Yup, there’s a lot going on.
The review: As a low-impact fanboy, I was never really a fan of the Iron Man series. Compared to mutants fighting for equal rights and web-slinging teens, a man dressed in a glorified suit of armor was kind of — in a word — lame.
In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. stepped into the volatile laser light show suit and I had the same expectations then as I did now: low.
Perhaps that was a good thing.
Director Favreau, Downey and their posse of high-wattage stars totally changed my mind. With the second installment, my adoration for the Man in Iron was raised.
Downey does what he does best as Stark: portray him with an endearing cockiness. He serves as a core character that the rest of the cast feeds off of -– and they dine well off of his charisma. Meanwhile, Paltrow keeps on working to convince us that not just anyone can play the role of the pretty lady that keeps Stark in line –- which works because of the bickering banter of wits (by the clever screenwriter/actor Theroux who also scribed Tropic Thunder.)
As one of many new Marvel universe recruits, Johansson’s lethal curves bode well for her as Natasha Romanoff (whose superhero handle is Black Widow in the comics.) She has the ability to quickly change into a skintight catsuit whilst in the backseat of a car and infiltrate a secret base with a utility belt full of lethal gadgets and has tresses that magically curl with every hyper-kinetic martial art move. Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard as Stark’s BFF Rhodey. Howard is probably kicking himself because the character he left behind has MUCH more fun in the sequel – and Cheadle is more fun to watch because “Whoop That Trick” isn’t echoing in my head when I see him on screen.
As weapons mogul Justin Hammer (one of the two main baddies), Rockwell plays him with heaping cups of weasely prickosity. Then there’s Mickey Rourke as the limited English-speaking, vodka-drowned Russkie Ivan Vanko whose father was supposedly screwed over by Stark’s poppa (John Slattery); which would explain why he wants to crush Stark. Tatted up and accompanied by his trustworthy cockateil, Rourke drools with cold-hearted revenge and snarls with the same fervor as Randy “The Ram” Robinson – but with more anger and flaccid lightsabers that slice through racecars like butter.
Also thrown into the mix is Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury, the leader of the super-spy organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. He is basically playing fairy Godmother to a whiny Stark. He is also a character that is keeping the Marvel comic-to-movie universe alive; serving as a bridge that will eventually connect a bunch of superheroes for a cinematic fanboygasm called The Avengers.
As expected, the CGI sonic boom of the movie outweighs the actual portrait of Stark as a man who is dealing with being a non-closeted superhero and alienating his friends. The character juggling is rampant and the storyline is too magnified for its own good –- but no one cares about that. They want to see Iron Man use his sonic blaster to blow stuff up (not to mention Cheadle dressed as IM’s partner in crime, War Machine). It just so happens that the cast makes all that less gratuitous via snappy dialogue.
Unlike other superhero movies, the franchise boils down comic book mythology to a level of believability -– or as close as it can get. There are no guys with adamantium claws and no ill-tempered muscularly bulbous green men. It’s just regular human beings set to a background of impossibly ridiculous explosions and weapons. Iron Man 2 continues to pave this path with a bigger budget – a huge budget. Gigantic.
It looks like the season of summer blockbusters has officially started. Grade: B+
P.S. True to “we’re going to force you to watch all the closing credits” form, there’s a little treat waiting at the very end. Fanboys will gush. Everyone else probably won’t care.