Monday, November 26, 2012

Iron Man 2 (2010) - Another Brick in the Wall

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2
"Iron Man 2" (2010).

"Iron Man 2" (2010), directed by Jon Favreau for Marvel Studios with a screenplay by , continues right where its predecessor "Iron Man 1" left off. As the film begins, the global media swarm all over Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) revelation that he, and nobody else, is Iron Man. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father was deported by Tony's father and who lusts for revenge, starts building his own reactor so that he, too, can be a man of iron.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2
Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2."

Stark uses the suit to maintain world peace, but he refuses to turn it and all related technology over to the government. Stark has a secret, and it is that he is slowly being poisoned by his own invention. Fearing his impending death, he appoints personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to head his company. To replace her, he chooses promising Stark employee Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson).

Gwyneth Paltrow talking to Tony Stark in Iron Man 2
Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2."

Vanko, meanwhile, has had some success in building his own arc reactor, and uses it to power deadly weapons. He attacks Stark during an auto race, but is defeated. Another rich arms dealer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), spirits Vanko away and puts him to work fashioning competing armored suits.

Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2
Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle in "Iron Man 2."

Stark still thinks he is dying, so he gets drunk and makes a nuisance of himself in his armor. His friend, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, who replaces Terrence Howard from Iron Man I), puts on another suit and the two do battle, which ends in a draw. Rhodes then steals the other suit and gives it to the military.

Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 2
The man in the iron suit always gets the ladies in "Iron Man 2."

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of world peace organization S.H.I.E.L.D. then turns up and reveals that Stark's dad helped found the organization, and that Rushman in fact is an undercover operative. Fury gives Stark some of his father's documents, which provide a solution to the palladium problem that has been poisoning Stark.

Gwyneth Paltrow holding a helmet in Iron Man 2
Gwyneth Paltrow has a thankless role in "Iron Man 2."

No longer worried about dying (at least from poisoning), Stark is free to go after Vanko. Stark and Rhodes confront Vanko, all three wearing suits of armor, but Vanko's is the most powerful. They duke it out in a final, epic confrontation.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, full frontal shot, in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson as an undercover Black Widow in "Iron Man 2."

"Iron Man 2" is a continuation of the first "Iron Man" in every sense of the word. The beauty of the Marvel universe, in fact, is the pure continuity that flows from film to film, and from film series to film series. A problem in one film, even one devoted to a completely different set of characters, still exists in the next film.  Here, we see Nick Fury appear, and it creates great anticipation for 2012's "The Avengers." Meanwhile, Natalie Rushman is introduced doing some fine stunt work, and she will play an increasingly important role as the sequence of Marvel films plays out.

Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman on the telephone in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson in "Iron Man 2."

"Iron Man" 2" is essential viewing if you wish to fully enjoy the entire Marvel universe of superheroes. The plot is straightforward, primarily one of loss and remembrance. The emotions are clear and easy to understand, there are no murky motivations or anything like that.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, lying on the floor legs spread, in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson in "Iron Man 2."

If the film has a weakness, it is that some of the characters are a bit too straightforward. Of course, that is an inherent problem with comic book superhero characters, but it is more so in this film than in other Marvel efforts. More time for character development would have helped, especially for Rourke's Whiplash and Rhodes.

Tony Stark dancing with Natalie Rushman in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson in "Iron Man 2" with Robert Downey Jr.

The drawback to Marvel's master plan is that each film does not feel like a whole, but rather a brick in an ever-ascending wall.  Now, with so many of the films in the sequence out there, that becomes almost a benefit. You can slip in the next DVD right away and immediately enjoy the masterly progression of events towards the climax of "The Avengers." No need to wait six months or a year, just go out and get the next instalment. However, if you are starting from the beginning, it is a long way to the end. For modern audiences used to bingeing on entire film series from Netflix or Hulu, though, that is not too unusual.

Natalie Rushman in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson in "Iron Man 2."

The real secret to enjoying "Iron Man 2" is to appreciate the women. It's all well and good for Downey to strut around in his little robot outfit, but the real draw to this film is the women wearing black. By the end of "Iron Man 2," Scarlett Johansson struts around nicely in her skin-tight catsuit, turning her back on us once in awhile (which, believe me, is greatly appreciated), lying on the floor with her legs spread, that kind of thing. There is nothing very subtle going on. If you want to see Scarlett in top-notch form, watch this film and then "The Avengers" back-to-back. Scarlett undoubtedly will do the same thing in "Iron Man 3," but that is not out at the time of this writing, and besides, what more could she really add to the character that we haven't already seen? Gwyneth Paltrow is OK as well, but only as a minor distraction. One of the behind-the-scenes aspects of "Iron Man 2" is that Paltrow went into the filming as a big star, but Johansson came out of it a superstar.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, shot from rear, in Iron Man 2
Scarlett Johansson in "Iron Man 2."

Overall, "Iron Man 2" is entertaining, if a bit lightweight. It is no "Avengers Assembly," with that film's clash of civilizations. Within the Marvel universe, "Iron Man 2" is almost a small, introspective film which exists mainly to establish a backstory and characters. Johansson looks terrific, and Downey is his usual cocky self. The one who steals the film, if anyone, is Sam Rockwell as the sleazy financier who causes all the trouble and enjoys every minute of it. "Iron Man 2" is highly recommended, but do yourself a favor and see it in sequence with the other films handy to watch before and after it. If you don't, "Iron Man 2" loses a lot of its impact.

Poster for Iron Man 2
"Iron Man 2" (2010)


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