Thursday, May 6, 2010


By: Mediasaurus Rex

There has been a lot of online whinging about IRON MAN 2, but the truth of the matter is that it is a lot of fun. IM2 is completely Robert Downey Junior’s vehicle. It is Downey’s charisma, ego, and personality that hold the whole film together. Downey has been cut loose to present Tony Stark AKA Iron Man the way he wants to. It is all Downey, and he has such a spark and well-conveyed lust for life that the film is superglued together by his performance.

Other actors attempt to steal his thunder (most noteably Samuel Jackson), but they can’t compete with Downey’s constant upstaging kinesis. When Tony Stark tells Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), “I am Iron Man; the suit and I are one,” he might as well be talking about his own presence in the film. If there was no Robert Downey Junior, there would be no Iron Man. Downey is the backbone of this cinematic enterprise; he knows it, and he is completely cocksure on the subject. His Stark perpetually says, “Mute” to whatever electronic chatter is in the air because he is in control, and any hindrance to that needs to shut up and listen.

It is true that if IM2 is placed up against its predecessor, it comes up short. Part of this is due to the fact that the expectations for the original IRON MAN weren’t particularly high. When IRON MAN actually delivered and then some, an impossible bar was raised for IM2 to hurdle over. IM2 simply cannot bring what is required of it. This doesn’t mean that it has “failed” or is a “mess.” What it does mean is that even though it doesn’t clear that hurdle, it is a good movie that will stand up over time. As a matter of fact, for the most highly anticipated film of 2010, IM2 holds its ground well. It stands a solid two or three feet above anything else in the mainstream multiplex today.

The tone of IM2 is more that of a quirky comedy-drama than an action-packed superhero film. There was a lot of sharp dialogue in the first IRON MAN, but there was also an omnipresent suspense. IM2 has a greater amount of clever chatter, but the atmosphere is much lighter. Stark’s sickness and internal conflicts aren’t enough to ratchet up the tension whereas Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) in the first IRON MAN really kept the menace oozing both in the fore and background. Part of this new flippant air has to do with IM2’s lighter, PG rating. Although IM2 is not the disjointed mess that SPIDERMAN 3 or WOLVERINE was, it still has more plot and silliness than necessary which damages the final product.

The plot is relatively simple but heavy with tangents. In short, Tony Stark is in need of some new form of energy to power his heart and his Iron Man suit because that palladium he harnessed in a cave is killing him. Corpselike veins are threading themselves over his body, and his blood toxicity is up. This is Tony’s secret, and he hides it well while living his rock-star industrialist role to its fullest. Stark’s life is full of complications though, and they are close to him and hounding incessantly.

Stark’s main problem is that the government wants Tony to turn his Iron Man suit over to the military. The televised hearings on this subject, featuring the oddly bloated Senator Stern are showcase fodder for Stark’s textbook narcissism.

There is also a heavily-tattooed, Eastern Bloc brute named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has managed to recreate and harness the arc light power of the suit for his own means. Rourke has parked his customary cinematic tobacco intake for this film, and his kid-friendly prop of choice for Vanko is an everpresent toothpick. When he is on the screen slashing everything with his electrified horsewhips, it is fantastic. However, it is made clear early in the film that he is really no match for Stark or his battle suit.

There is also Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a sleazy weapons manufacturer who likes to call Stark “Anthony,” and manages to speak long paragraphs of dialogue that mean absolutely nothing. Hammer wishes he could be as cool and smart as Stark and even has his own fat US military weapons contracts but suffers from a debilitating case of Stark penis envy. Justin Hammer is the money behind the chaotic battle at the end that blows everything onscreen to pieces, but he is really more of a dork than a menace.

Other complications include the sexual tension between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) that hits high gear with “arguing over each other” dialogue reminiscent of classic episodes of MOONLIGHTING. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury is still pestering Stark about his nebulous Avengers initiative. And a new pose-striking legal secretary named Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) has caught Stark’s wandering eye.

Stark has his hands full, and every time he goes to blow off some steam, things go crazy-wrong. He is attacked by an electrified Vanko while racing his car on the Monaco GP track. And later, at Stark’s birthday party (where he does a little drunken DJ scratching and repulsor ray skeet shooting) one of his backup Iron Man suits is stolen by his buddy Lt. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to the tune of ‘Robot Rock” by Daft Punk.

There is an awful lot more, and the plot threads make for long passages in the film sans Iron Man himself—the guy the audience wants to see. Stark has a lot of loose ends to cauterize and relationships to mend before the film ends, and he handles them all rather well. However the viewing experience is really bogged down by all of the manufactured plot developments required for a cast this large to find and interact with one another. Unfortunately, IM2 is more or less reduced to the pornographic standard of keeping the audience in wait for Stark to suit up. But when Iron Man is onscreen throwing fists and weaponry about, the movie hums along perfectly.

IM2 contains everything that a blockbuster comic book film should have. It showcases a heavy serving of loud explosions, pretty women, fantastic state of the art weaponry, and high-tech gadgetry. When the action breaks onto the screen, it is nothing short of fantastic. The mime-like Iron Man mask manages a look of pissed-off indifference followed with over-the-top beatings and destruction of anything and everything in the vicinity. An example of the even more high-powered nature of Stark’s Iron Man is an explicit tripling of his suit’s firepower. Seriously, multiply that tank scene in the first IRON MAN by three.

IRON MAN 2 is a well-crafted, long-winded (over two hours), enjoyable sequel. No expense was spared for this film. But with a paring down of its over-zealous script, IM2 could have been better. In a few years, there will inevitably be IRON MAN 1 and 2 DVD/Blu-Ray double-packs for sale. They will be worth the purchase, but the first film will always be the stronger one. IRON MAN 2 is no GODFATHER 2 or EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But then again, it isn’t like any of the countless sequels out there that don’t even deserve to be mentioned. It has its problems, but considering the legacy that it has created, it has done well to step up and deliver.

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