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TBTS Reviews: Iron Man 2

May 11, 2010

Downey, Jr. as billionaire Tony Stark

If you’re the type of person who’s going to attend a screening of Iron Man 2 and then, later, complain about what it was, I have very little sympathy for you.

Because — and let’s face it — this is May, after all, and this is Iron Man TWO. If you’re actually expecting The Reader, you either know nothing about the summer movie season or perhaps do not own a television on which any commercial break has aired in the last two months.

For those of you uninitiated, Actor/Director Jon Favreau deftly snuck his first Iron Man into theaters early in the 2008 summer season, without much fanfare, and proceeded to pretty much wipe the floor with its blockbuster comrades that year. The superhero story of cocky, rich-boy tech geek Tony Stark — who designs a weapons-laden, flying suit to fight criminality — relied on the wit and charisma of Robert Downey, and Downey nailed it.

This time, Downey is back again not only with co-star Gwyneth Paltrow (who plays Stark’s put-upon right hand woman Pepper Potts), but he headlines a massive cast and anchors a lot of sub-plots to bring Iron Man 2, almost quaking under the weight of its own storyline and cast, across the finish line with glory. The film opens with Stark’s appearance at a government subcommittee meeting arguing the safety of the Iron Man suit and chaired by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), who demands he hand the technology over to U.S. weapons developers. Stark, naturally, both refuses and tosses out bon mots like cherry bombs — and the crux of the movie focuses upon a quest by Stark’s detractors to gain his knowledge and know-how.

Others in line to bring down Stark include Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), an overly-accented Russian inventor who begins the film strongly but diminishes, and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, the fast-talking tech geek yin to Stark’s yang. While Rourke fits Vanko adequately (he’s not given a tremendous amount of heavy lifting), those familiar with Rockwell knows that he — like his natural character actor predecessor Oliver Platt — is able to boost any film a couple of notches just by appearing in it.

Others popping up include Mad Men‘s John Slattery as Stark’s father, seen only in Stark Industries corporate propaganda film, Scarlett Johansson as mysterious new assistant Natalie Rushman,  and Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be only in the film to wink cheekily into the camera and say “I’ll bet you can’t wait to get more of me in the Avengers.” And yeah, he’s right; we can’t.

Whew. Just detailing the main characters and basic plotline is exhausting — and we’re only really getting started. But breathlessness is the order of the day in Iron Man 2, and Favreau not only fires characters and storyline at us like a machine gun, he also tosses in some snazzy nail-biters in terms of action sequences. From an introduction to Whiplash at the Monaco Grand Prix to a jaw-dropping series of third-act explosions and gunfire, Favreau balances human storyline and balls-to-the-wall action rather well. As far as summer blockbusters go, Favreau knows his audience and delivers in spades.

Downey Jr. remains the star of the show, however; and one wonders if Iron Man 2 would work nearly as well with anyone else. Downey embodies Tony Stark in such a way that it nearly mirrors what we already know about the actor, which helps add an organic feeling to the proceedings — we’re not being asked to believe Downey in the role as much as he already seems to fit it like a glove. He’s pompous, occasionally unlikeable and almost always snarky, and where another actor might drive audiences away with that kind of character development, Downey makes it work. At the end of the day, the film does have to have a real, human base — after all, the very same glowing element keeping Stark alive is also slowly poisoning and killing him  — and Favreau’s hooked his trailer to the right star.

Clocking in at just over two hours, Iron Man 2 is a giant, builky, oversized action movie that’s really busy and really loud, sure, but also really exciting and really funny. It may be slightly less “human” than its original, but the nature of the action sequel has never been to “take it down a notch.” As superhero franchises go, Iron Man works very, very well. In a perfect world, Iron Man 2 probably shouldn’t have worked — it should have followed the natural sequel progression of too much exposition, overzealous action and a tendency to “try too hard” — but this isn’t a perfect world, or a perfect film, and perhaps that’s why Iron Man 2 remains a cheerer. Consider the CGI-metallic, weapons-outfitted gauntlet thrown down for the summer movie season.

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