Sunday, May 9, 2010


Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell

Marvel Comics's film production arm, Marvel Studios, previously announced that, with the ability to cross their characters from one film to another, they will create what president Kevin Feige calls the "Marvel Cinematic Universe." This means that any character in any film produced by Marvel can show up in any other Marvel-related film. It's pretty much unprecedented, what Marvel is doing. We've already gotten a taste of this cross-pollination when Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark, showed up at the end of 2008's The Incredible Hulk. Samuel L. Jackson has signed an unheard of nine picture deal with Marvel Studios to play S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury.

While it's an interesting and ambitious prospect on Marvel's part, it might also hurt individual films produced by Marvel, as fans will come to expect their favorite characters to cameo in films that aren't their primary vehicle, even if it means shoehorning them in inorganically. Such as the case with Iron Man 2.

For all intents and purposes, Iron Man 2 shouldn't (and doesn't, really) work. Marvel Studios' insistence on making sure the film connects to the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" hampers the arduous and inane second act. Pages of screen time are given over to setting up future Marvel films and ultimately The Avengers. Although there are interesting concepts and ideas in Iron Man 2, these are abandoned in favor of scenes that don't build on Tony Stark's story but end up being easter-eggs for comic fans. It's amazing, then, that I ended up not only liking Iron Man 2, but overall enjoying it more than the previous film. The sheer enthusiasm of the cast and character chemistry makes up for the gigantic shortcomings of the screenplay.

The film picks up six months after the first with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) defending his Iron Man weaponry against the U.S. government, which seeks to co-opt Stark's technology and utilize it for military purposes. In a long but funny and well-done senate hearing sequence, federal officials explain that they are worried that other weapons manufacturers will create their own Iron Man-esque technology. They are proven right when Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian weapons genius with personal ties to Tony Stark, builds a suit of his own and attempts to assassinate Stark, wreaking havoc at the Monaco Grand Prix in the process. Impressed by Vanko's handiwork, rival billionaire and weapons-tech junkie Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) recruits the puffy-faced Russkie to improve Hammer's line of Iron Man suit rip-offs.

For being such an imposing and outrageous looking villain, Rourke is given very little to do in Iron Man 2. Vanko is essentially driven by revenge, but he spends more time being yelled at by Hammer (who becomes frustrated when Vanko doesn't follow orders) than he does actively pursuing Tony Stark. When Vanko finally does take a pro-active approach to going after Stark, he spends twenty minutes of the film behind a computer, remotely controlling drones in hot pursuit of Iron Man. Many shots consist of Rourke finger-pounding a keyboard while the camera swoops back and forth. He's then given a chance to take Iron Man on one-on-one (or one-on-two, with War Machine in the picture) in an ending battle so short and anti-climactic as to be mind-boggling.

Meanwhile Stark is being consistently poisoned by the palladium in his arc reactor (that thing in his chest) and the constant threat of death hangs over his head. This causes him to act irrationally and, in a hilarious birthday-party bash sequence (seriously, Stark in Iron Man suit scratching "California Love" is one of the funniest images so far this year in film), an intervention is made on his behalf by his best friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who steals Stark's War Machine suit and battles it out with his drunk belligerent friend in the middle of Tony's beach side mansion.

It is the relationships between Vanko and Stark and Stark and Rhodes that are dis-serviced by the addition of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. sub-plot. Not that the information doesn't contribute to Iron Man 2's main thread, but much of it feels tacked on shoe-horned in, against the better judgment of screenwriter Justin Theroux and director Favreau. There is a scene in which S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) advises Tony that Coulson is going to New Mexico. The scene exists simply as a set-up for Marvel Studios' next movie, Thor. It's a short scene, but it's one of many that could be excised with no damage to the plot or structure of the film.

It's a good thing, then, that Iron Man 2 has the cast that it does. Downey Jr. has found the role of his lifetime in Tony Stark, and the banter between him and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) is delightful. Potts is more than just a bit player in Tony's world, she's he's support, and the two display their years of history through the time honored cinematic tradition of good acting and solid dialogue. Scarlett Johansson (never looking better) is convincing as the dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. member Black Widow. She gets some amazingly choreographed fight scenes towards the end of the film. Cheadle and Rourke are fine in their respective roles but unfortunately, as previously mentioned, their roles are reduced and truncated.

The film's secret weapon (and probably the main reason I enjoyed it so much) is Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. I've long been a champion of Rockwell; without a doubt one of the finest actors working today, and in Iron Man 2 he doesn't disappoint. Justin Hammer is Tony Stark if Tony Stark had to act like Tony Stark. Everything that comes natural to Stark is foreign to Hammer. Watching Hammer try to one-up Stark in every department (especially showmanship wise) is one of the best features of the film. It's clear that Favreau and Rockwell see Hammer as the true villain of the film and not Vanko, and Rockwell relishes every moment.

With some script revisions and some heavy editing, Iron Man 2 could have been the sequel that everyone was expecting after the solid first film. As is, it's good but frustrating film. It is not a better film than the first one, but it is one I personally enjoyed more. There are fascinating and fun elements of this film that I couldn't help but love, and these elements were enough so that I could forgive the film for its multiple flaws.

Discuss Iron Man 2 here!

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