Iron Man 2

Movie Information

The Story: Iron Man returns to take on new villains, new personal complications and government pressure to co-opt his technology. The Lowdown: A vastly entertaining movie with strong characters and wit to keep it as -- or more -- interesting in its plotting as in its action set pieces.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Comic-Book Action
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
Rated: PG-13

Saying that Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 is the best big-budget action movie of the year to date isn’t doing it justice, though that’s true. But that’s not shocking, since the competition hasn’t been strong. What might be shocking is that it’s also the best romantic comedy of the year so far. Wild statement? All right, you compare the banter, the interplay, the chemistry and the romance between Robert Downey Jr.‘s Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts with any of the year’s other contenders—Amy Adams and Matthew Goode (Leap Year), Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston (The Bounty Hunter), Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin (The Back-Up Plan)—and see who wins.

Is Iron Man 2 perfect? No. There’s a structure problem in that the first sections of the film—up through the scenes immediately following the Monaco Grand Prix—move so fast and with such assurance that the middle feels comparatively slow. But the movie recovers from this with a much better third act than Iron Man (2008) got anywhere near. Factor that in with no need for an origins story this round and you have that rarest of the rara avis, a sequel that’s better than the original.

Iron Man 2 manages to navigate some very tricky fine lines. It isn’t pretentious and pompous like certain very serious-minded superhero movies, but it does manage to have a well-crafted more serious side. It’s certainly a pleasure to have a hero who isn’t all angst and gloom, yet the film—and Downey—manages to create issues and currents that lie beneath the surface without turning Tony Stark into a low-rent Hamlet. He has daddy issues, but he keeps them to himself. He acts like an even bigger narcissistic jerk this round, but there are reasons that keep him from becoming unsympathetic. And those reasons—that he’s dying from the poisons entering his blood from the power source that keeps him going—are such that his joie de vivre and lack of self-pity are even more appealing.

Stark’s condition forms only part of the plot. The main nemesis this round is Mickey Rourke as the embittered Ivan Vanko, a heavily tattooed, cockatoo-loving, hygienically dubious fellow with a lot of gold teeth and a chip on his shoulder because he thinks Stark’s father did his own father dirt. To get his revenge, Vanko creates his own variant on Iron Man and goes after Tony. And since Rourke is playing the character, the menace, while amusingly done, is still palpable. Vanko ends up teamed with Stark’s great rival in the munitions game, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). As played by Rockwell, the character is a formidable mixture of clueless spoiled frat boy and the kind of pure meanness this very mind-set can generate. He’s a very unusually fun villain who also manages to be disturbingly sinister.

Also involved is Stark’s new assistant, Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), who Pepper not only views with a degree of jealousy, but as a “sexual harassment suit waiting to happen” thanks to Stark’s unabashed lechery. Johansson is quite good in the role, but her presence is fairly minimal (there are other reasons for her being on board). We also have a troublesome senator (Garry Shandling looking like a monument to Botox), who wants the government to take over the Iron Man technology, and—since we’re setting up a related franchise—Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. And there’s Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as Stark’s friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. With no disrespect to Terrence Howard, Cheadle has much better chemistry with Downey.

When you get down to it—and away from all the effects and action sequences, which tend to be coherent, well-done and exciting—what makes Iron Man 2 such a good time at the movies and such a good film in its own right comes down to the chemistry of all the players. That really is the kicker, since all these actors work wonderfully well with each other. They all feel right sharing the screen in a way that just can’t be faked. In that respect, there’s a little magic—or at least the best casting imaginable—at work here. And yes, in case you’re wondering, there is something at the end of the credits. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

25 thoughts on “Iron Man 2

  1. Vince Lugo

    Iron Man 2 is only the third time that Marvel has made a film themselves without any outside help and the reason their self-made films are so good is that Marvel understands better than any studio could what works and what makes their characters tick. Next summer we get Thor and Captain America followed by The Avengers in 2012 (followed by-supposedly-a sequel to The Incredible Hulk). What’s really gonna be good is when all their other studio deals expire and they are truly free to use ANY of their characters (that won’t happen for awhile yet, but it’s fun to think about).

  2. TonyRo

    I like this one a lot better than the first, but thought Mickey Rourke was completely CGI…like Jar Jar Binks. Also Sam Rockwell is one the most underrated actors of our generation.

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    While I definitely did enjoy the overall movie, I found the Avengers tie-in stuff to be kind of distractingly annoying at times. It felt a bit too much like Marvel was using Iron Man 2 as a means of advertising for their future frachises to come. As a result, certain ‘tie-in’ scenes would momentarily take me out of the proceedings. For me, that underlying impression was the weakest part of this.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I found the Avengers tie-in stuff to be kind of distractingly annoying at times. It felt a bit too much like Marvel was using Iron Man 2 as a means of advertising for their future frachises to come.

    I didn’t mind that and I’m not sure why, because I understand the complaint. Maybe it’s because it entertained me. Maybe it’s because it didn’t jar with the tone. I was much antsier during the Tony Stark out of control scenes, which kinda bored me.

  5. Also Sam Rockwell is one the most underrated actors of our generation.
    I’m with you there. Consistently excellent in everything from CHARLIE’S ANGELS to MATCHSTICK MEN to CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND to MOON.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I think Rockwell isn’t so much underrated as he is an actor who tends to choose roles he likes as opposed to roles that will necessarily be seen by the widest number of people.

  7. brianpaige

    I might need to see this again but there’s just something about Iron Man 2 that prevents me from saying it is better than the first. Maybe it is due to the initial impression of Rourke as Whiplash looking like a cheesy reject villain from a He-Man cartoon?

    Just wondering but is Cheadle locked up for the future? They could do a running “Felix Leiter” type joke with Jim Rhodes if they wanted and have a different actor in the role for each film.

  8. Sean Williams

    What’s really gonna be good is when all their other studio deals expire and they are truly free to use ANY of their characters

    You know what needs to happen? Jack Kirby’s ETERNALS: The Movie.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Maybe it is due to the initial impression of Rourke as Whiplash looking like a cheesy reject villain from a He-Man cartoon?

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. Actually, I was wondering if he was channeling Robert Blake with that cockatoo.

  10. kjh.childers

    Entertaining? Yes.
    Worth killing a couple of hours? Maybe.
    Better than the Original? Hmm. Hard to top the escape from the cave with the rough draft of IM.
    Still, the character selection throughout made the film.
    I mean … wow! … Ms. Avenger Kick-Butt Johansson gave it a nice twist. And, the Director Favreau’s multiple scenes, e.g. “Got’em!” …
    a plus.

  11. c

    I love Iron Man!! Robert Downey Jr. is charming and endearing and made me love this movie! Normally I’m not a comic book fan, usually I go for more dramatic stuff like the movie Cycle (www.myspace.com/cyclethemovie), but because of Downey I’m a convert and loving it!! But Scarlette Jo has got to go I just find her annoying.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Persnally, I find people who come on here claiming to be fans of something in order to hawk something else.

  13. gurugeoff

    I believe the movie captured the comic book genre perfectly. The iron man saga is essentially a long running soap opera, with some action thrown in.

    Yes, i really enjoyed it, and rate it a more enjoyable movie that the first

  14. Chad Nesbitt

    I always believed that a soundtrack makes 50% of a movie. This one needed more ACDC.

    I also don’t like it when the writer brings our hero down. The drunk scene with the Iron Man suite on sucked. The end when Nick Fury is talking to Iron Man sucked to. It left the ending with Iron Man not sure of himself.

    The best part of the movie is when the little kid with the Iron Man mask thought he shot one of the robots but it was really Iron Man.
    “Nice shot kid!”

    Douny’s performance was great but he looked a little peeked in this one. I hope he isn’t going back to his old ways.

    Loved Rourkes performance.
    The guy can play anything.

    Can’t wait for Thor!

  15. Chad Nesbitt

    By the way Hanke – Can’t wait to read your thoughts on the new Robin Hood. Have not seen it yet. Just wondering how Hollywood can keep re-inventing this merry man.

  16. Dread P. Roberts

    This one needed more ACDC.

    Huh? I’m choosing to view this as a definitive reminder of how very subjective movies are; by virtue of the fact that film incorporates so many different elements (like music) that we, of course, all have varying opinions on. It’s obvisouly not just about the film, but about how those indivual elements come together, to compliment the overall package.

    Much like you sir, I absolutely love how the music can significantly enhance the overall experience – even if it is a much different type of music that enhances the experience for me personally.

    Perhaps it’s merely my inner nerd, but I find the way in which music can significantly alter the mood in different ways, for different people, rather profound. I love this psychological stuff.

  17. I also don’t like it when the writer brings our hero down.
    Surely any compelling narrative must bring the hero down at some point, otherwise where’s the thrill in his climactic success?

  18. gurugeoff

    People talking about bringing the character down are missing the point that Iron Man is not a new story, and his story has been around nearly fifty years now in the comic series.

    What is being done is condensing that fifty years into a few movies. Tony Stark had his documented battles with alcohol and depression, just like the film says.

    I agree that we did not get to see the ‘good’ Tony for long before seeing the ‘bad’, but this is a movie, not a tv series, and timelines need to be condensed, such as reducing Happy Hogan to a bit character.

    From the 400+ iron man comics in my cupboard, to the iron man tatoo on my shoulder, this is an excellent comic book adaption and a very enjoyable movie.

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