Mania Grade: C+
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- Movie: Iron Man 2
- Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.
- Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Same Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, John Slattery, Garry Shandling and Samuel L. Jackson
- Written By: Justine Theroux
- Directed By: Jon Favreau
- Distributor: Paramount Pictures
- Series: Iron Man 2
IRON MAN 2 Movie Review
Back in Black
By Rob Vaux
April 28, 2010
To those of you sputtering in incoherent fury right now, please remember that I’m just doing my job. Let’s not blow this little mixed review of a nominally decent event picture out of proportion. Don’t blame the messenger, see the film before you form your opinion, and hey, put that chair down before somebody gets- AAHHHH!!! NOT IN THE FACE! NOT IN THE FACE!
Look, in a lot of ways Iron Man 2 is fine. Just fine. It touches the same notes as the original film: the improvised banter still sparkles, Robert Downey, Jr. is having the time of his life, and director Jon Favreau never loses the characters in the midst of the fights and one-liners. He also finds a terrific villain in Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, whose showdown with Tony Stark (Downey) in the midst of the Monaco Grand Prix stands as a high point in recent comic book cinema.
Having said that, Iron Man 2 really could have done better. So committed is it to recreating the feeling of the first film that it forgets to add any new elements of its own. It lacks the freshness of the original -- the pleasant surprise brought on by spot-on casting and an audience caught unawares – opting instead for recycled conversations and a few new guest stars. In the process, an ever-so-mild sense of disappointment enters the equation.
To be sure, the high points are quite high indeed, and for awhile I thought the film was on track to equal its predecessor. Downey knows his character extremely well, and his playful banter with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) hasn’t lost an ounce of its pep. Favreau centers the plot around the secrets of Tony’s father: a drinker, like Tony, who left unhealed scars for his son to deal with. One of those scars knows much more than anyone could guess about the Iron Man technology.
Ivan Vanko (Rourke) watched his father build the arc reactor in Howard Stark’s factory only to lose credit for the invention and die in an alcoholic haze. So he constructs his own exo-skeleton -- complete with electric whips than can slice through steel -- and takes aim at that pound of flesh in Tony’s hide.
Favreau does extremely well in developing the dynamic between them, as well as the parental ghosts with which Tony continues to struggle. He also has a good grasp on the film’s second major arc. The U.S. government wants to get its hands on the Iron Man suit, hiring a smarmy wannabe (Sam Rockwell) to develop some clones and putting Tony’s friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) -- an Air Force colonel accustomed to following orders -- between a rock and a hard place. The two threads intertwine quite effectively, giving Cheadle something to do besides just blasting bad guys while Rockwell quietly steals the show out from under everyone’s noses.
And yet for all the strong elements on display, too many of them rehash similar parts of the first film. The same conversations crop up more than once, the same “superhero as rock star” motif is replayed again and again. Revisiting such notions holds a certain joy, but as Iron Man 2 proceeds, a sense of “been there, done that” comes creeping into the frames. Key moments in the film are badly misplayed: an homage to “Demon in a Bottle” can’t find the right emotional balance, while the climactic showdown proves curiously toothless in comparison to earlier scenes
Then there’s the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. business. Sam Jackson returns as Nick Fury -- and yes, he’s still the supreme ultimate bad ass of the universe -- but his scenes fail to connect to the remainder of the story, and the addition of Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow smacks of unnecessary fanboy bait. (Granted, she flips around on wires decently enough, but I’m sure Rebecca Romijn wants her gimmick back by now.) Iron Man 2 also pushes the upcoming Avengers project far too often, diminishing its own assets by acting as marketing for a movie still two years away.
None of that should prevent anyone from seeing it, and as the marquee attraction of the summer season, it could have been much, much worse. Fans should find enough to enjoy, provided they lower their sights and understand that the filmmakers didn’t recapture lightning in a bottle this time around. But it’s still a letdown. The original Iron Man left some pretty big shoes to fill, and rather than rise to the challenge, the sequel opts to play it safe. There’s no shame in that, but don’t be surprised if you come away from the film wanting more than it was prepared to give you.
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