Iron Man 2

Tony Stark is back, bishes! He’s back and refreshingly unchanged as the flawed, hard-partying narcissist with whom we fell in love back in 2008. It’s comforting to realize that in an ever-changing world of chaos and confusion, our Great American Hero remains immutable.

But wait! say you. Superman is the Great American Superhero! I mean, his slogan is “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” for crying out loud! And that’s true, if you’re rather adorably delusional about what it actually means to be an American. Rich, arrogant, bullying, imperious, as red-state as Glenn Beck and a hell of a lot more handsome, Iron Man is about as American as they come. And this bleeding heart blue-stater is mad crushing on him, anyway!

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 is an exhilarating follow-up to the original with more bang and more bucks. It’s summer blockbuster done right: breathtaking spectacle bolstered with just enough brain and heart. Maybe not quite as much brain and heart as the first film, but it’s still fun as hell and a solid sequel. Since when is fun not good enough for a comic book movie, anyway? Ever since (the admittedly brilliant) Christopher Nolan, that’s when. I love the Nolan Batman films. I love the (first two) Spider-Man films. But dammit, Iron Man shamelessly entertains its audience without need for message or moral, no dark significance or weighty lessons. Fitting, as Iron Man himself gleefully indulges in his power, money, talents and rewards with no yucky contrition or boring ethics. It is such a relief to find a superhero who isn’t all angsty and guilt-ridden! 

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few issues bogging it down. Screenwriter Justin Theroux’s got a damned fine ear for dialogue (to go along with the rest of his damned fine self), but the plot could use some tightening. The flick’s a bit meandering in the middle and about 10 minutes too long. Worse, the high stakes are pretty much…not. I want to be holding my breath, gnawing on my knuckles, scared shitless that Tony won’t be able to save the day—much as I did during the climax of the first Iron Man. Here, I was just complacently waiting for the resolution that I knew was inevitable. A resolution’s always inevitable, of course—this IS a comic book movie—but I want to become so wrapped up in the thrill that I forget that for a few moments. Not so much with Iron Man 2.

That said, many of the action sequences are staggering, the dialogue is funny and incisive, and  Favreau’s true strength is in garnering phenomenal performances from some of the most entertaining actors in Hollywood. First and foremost, obviously, is Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire and lone gunslinger Tony Stark. The man is a tsunami.  He carries away the film with a stunning combination of spright, bluster and sex, made more palpable by those precious glimpses of vulnerability he gives us from time to time. (Mr. Stark’s got some Daddy Issues!) And boy, has he got CHEMISTRY. Literally!  He actually CREATES A NEW PERIODIC ELEMENT. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Tony’s magnetism is equally persuasive whether it be with Pepper, Happy, Natasha, Rhodey, Hammer, Fury or JARVIS. When Tony Stark turns on the heat: SHIT. GETS. REAL.

I find Terrence Howard personally despicable, but he did a great job as James Rhodes in the first movie. Who could ever complain about trading in Howard for the great Don Cheadle, however? Cheadle gives Rhodey the perfect fusion of strength, overbearance and complex loyalty. He holds his own against RDJ with strong, quiet dignity, a subtle improvement over the more clamorous performance turned in by Howard. War Machine is a force and Cheadle delivers the goods. 

Iron Man 2 brings us two villains; the weasel behind-the-scenes Justin Hammer and his champion Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (an amalgamation of Crimson Dynamo and Blacklash from the comics). Sam Rockwell’s Hammer is absolutely sublime as Stark’s foil. He takes every cheesy, vain, power-hungry tendency that Stark manages to turn into something cool, and Hammer turns it into something GROSS. He’s all windsor knots and ascots, smirks and self-tanner, veneers and pinky rings. He is a RIOT. Sam Rockwell has a thing, and it may just be ONE thing, but dammit, that thing has no equal in Hollywood today.

 

And of course there’s Mickey Rourke as Vanko. God bless the odds that brought Rourke back onto the scene, surly and incoherent and brilliant as ever. Vanko’s single-minded pursuit of vengeance is shown to perfect advantage on Rourke’s craggy, irascible visage. The man’s got weight, scary weight, large, forceful,  I don’t wanna mess with THAT weight. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Rourke from the moment we were introduced to Whiplash on that race track. DAMN. The race track scene. Forget what I said earlier: those were some stakes!

This installment brought about much more of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. He’s simply doing his usual SLJ bit, but it’s so just so damned cool.  He’s perfect for the role and perfect up against RDJ’s Tony Stark. He’s got some of the best lines of the film: “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to exit the donut.”

And naturally, “I’ve got my EYE on you.”

Of course, Tony holds his own right back at Fury: “I’ve already told you! I don’t want to join your super secret boy band!”

Starting to feel like a boy’s club up in here? Never fear! Iron Man 2‘s got Marla’s favorite thing: hot, smart ladies kicking ass! Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is as capable, erudite and efficient as ever. She’s got a promotion and no problem telling Tony off when he needs it—which is often. I’ve always loved the push-and-pull relationship between Pepper and Tony. He’s a genius: passionate, frenzied and reckless. That he would come to rely so heavily on a responsible worker bee—even a worker bee as gorgeous and intelligent as Pepper—moves this little administrative assistant’s heart. He needs Pepper, and he trusts her implicitly, and Pepper NEVER lets him down. Their romantic chemistry, while BRUTALLY hot, is beside the point to me. That they are equals, friends and cohorts: THAT is why I love this relationship.

And then there’s Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanaff/Black Widow. Emily Blunt was originally supposed to take this role, and I was disappointed when Johansson replaced her due to scheduling issues. I needn’t have worried. Johansson was fierce in the role, nice to look at but believably packing a solid punch.  She dispenses with a lot of big, burly men through the course of the movie, and she does it with style. I love that she had no interest in Stark romantically; she was there as a representative of Nick Fury and SHIELD and in no other respect. Girlfriend was PROFESH, stone cold and smoking hot all at once. And the best part: she and Pepper had no stupid bitchy competitiveness! They were allies, both long-suffering in the wake of Stark’s self-destruction. Thank you! Two hot, strong, smart women in ONE movie, not fighting over a man? YES!

Iron Man 2‘s got plenty of stellar smaller roles, as well. Such a great cast, and so many great characters! You’ve got to love a movie that casts Garry Shandling as a United States Senator.

And the foxy John Slattery as Howard Stark!

Clark Gregg is back from the first movie as the disarmingly dry SHIELD Agent Coulson, and as in the first film, he shares some of my favorite exchanges with Tony.

Coulson: “We need you.”

Stark: “More than you know!”

Coulson: “Not that much.”

The late Adam Goldstein (DJ AM) has a stirring cameo as himself, which is a lovely tribute. Hell, the magnificent Christiane Amanpour has a cameo! And Favreau himself is charming and infinitely watchable in his scant scenes as Stark’s bodyguard Happy Hogan. He and RDJ seem to enjoy a real friendship and their few scenes together testify to that.

Favreau and Theroux know where their bread is buttered. The film is riddled with easter eggs, or as I like to call them, sweet, sweet geek crack. The ubiquitous after-the-credits scene does NOT disappoint, and I found myself geek-squeeing more than a few times from my seat. So much to look forward to!

Iron Man 2 is a splendid second act to the original, a film which you should know I ADORE. Is the sequel better? That’s the question every reviewer seems to ask, and the truth is, it doesn’t matter. They’re both solidly entertaining, but the first film had the element of surprise to it. No one expected Iron Man to be that good; it knocked our collective socks off. Expectations were mighty high for the sequel, and damned if it didn’t deliver. If the third film in the proposed trilogy can keep from taking the Spider-Man 3 route and RUINING EVERYTHING, then I suspect Iron Man could quite possibly become the trilogy for our generation.

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13 Responses to “Iron Man 2”

  1. I’m sure to be posting a longer response when I can do it on work time, but it’s worth noting that the still frame you use of RDJ and SJ does not actually appear in the movie. That’s one of the scenes Favreau cut out because it implied that Stark and Natasha had a romantic interest in each other.

  2. Ok, fine. NOW I’m going to go see it.

  3. OMG, I had no idea that Howard was such a narcissistic douche-bag/prudish woman-hater who has some severe poop issues. Marla, you have blown my mind. Thank goodness I don’t have to see his face, but rather be washed in the awesomeness that is Cheadle.

  4. xymarla Says:

    @ jerry: you had better post a longer comment, as this one was rather irritatingly nitpicky after I spent days slaving over this long-ass review!

    @jill: you WILL NOT regret it!

    @sally: that’s why the casting is so perfect! Howard Stark and Roger Sterling are rich, alcoholic soultwins.

  5. I was feeling surprisingly nervous about seeing IM2. I had such an unexpectedly thrilling time with the first, plus I’d been hearing (slightly) more mixed reviews of this one, so I wasn’t sure I was gonna love this one like the original.

    This did not turn out to be a problem. Your review nicely summarizes the reasons why this thing turned out to be just awesome as hell – the casting on these movies is just so damn good! Any series that starts with bald Lebowski, then moves onto Russian Mickey Rourke and slimy Sam Rockwell, clearly has the magic touch for casting bad guys. You mix that with Favreau’s ability to pull consistently comfortable performances from his actors, and the fun that’s written into the script, and it’s just UNSTOPPABLY AWESOME.

    In fact, my only complaint is that we didn’t get more Mickey Rourke. It’s a miracle that his career is back, and when I watch the persona he can create around himself, I’m just in awe of the man’s ability. At first, I was annoyed that he didn’t get better weapons, but I decided I liked even more that he knew full well he couldn’t build and didn’t need to match IM with weaponry – he just had to prove that IM could be challenged.

    If they were ever inclined (and I don’t think they will be), I would love to see a more serious, extended conflict between Iron Man and Whiplash. There’s room in there for a lot of interesting looks at the conflict between Tony’s capitalism-based success, and the people he’s trampled to get there.

    And then there’s the joy of watching RDJ just having a good time. I guess that’s what they call charisma. My biggest concern with the brilliance of his Tony Stark is that I cannot imagine the other members of the Avengers being able to stand next to him and feel even remotely significant. Who wants to be Captain America when Tony Stark’s around? I already pity the actors that have to compete for screen time against RDJ.

    Finally, I’m pretty certain that this review is the best writing Ms. Marla has published. Well done, Marla! I’ve always been a fan of your writing, but this post truly stand out. I’m gonna go ahead and make the official call (as is my self-designated right): Best. Review. Ever. Your passion for movies and your ability to write have blended into one supremely readable force. I can’t wait to read what you write next!

  6. xymarla Says:

    hee! Aww, okay, I liked this comment lots better.

  7. xymarla Says:

    p.s. DUBS TRUE on The Avengers. Sarah and I were talking about that yesterday. Good luck, Norton and Hemsworth and Evans and co! You’ve got some heavy lifting to do.

  8. yeah, suddenly the avengers movie looks like it might be… a mistake?! i can’t believe i’m saying this but come on. how is chris “cocked eyebrow” evans gonna stand a chance against RDJ, the grand master of charisma?

    this review was flipping fantastic, marla. you nailed all of the film’s strengths AND weaknesses, which i didn’t really want to admit because the movie is just that entertaining. GAH I NEED TO SEE IT AGAIN IMMEDIATELY. esp. since i, uh, am kinda hazy on the ending thanks to an ill-advised third bottle of wine…

    not only do i want to see that kiss again (SQUEE!!) but i also want to check out the easter eggs on the screens in the SHIELD office. sweet geek crack, indeed.

    also: “He actually CREATES A NEW PERIODIC ELEMENT.” = MAJOR LOLZ. and also DUBS TRUE X INFINITY.

  9. Excellent review, and so true! LOVED the ladies in this film! Also loved the silver fox cameo! RDJ, who is quite possibly the most awesome-filled man in Holllywood! Sam Rockwell! Whip Hand! All amazing,

  10. I agree with Jerry 98%! Except, I was just fine with the amount of Mickey Rourke we saw. Looking at that dude is PAINFUL ON MY EYEBALLS. I don’t mean this in an insulting way – he is just SO GOOD at playing these hard, embittered, scuzzy actors that I find it difficult to look at him.

    However I can look at RDJ all day long!! CALL ME RDJ! But please don’t talk about politics.

    ALSO, as an unabashed Pepper Potts enthusiast, can I just say that she was even more Peppery in this film! Gwyneth Paltrow, I don’t know what the hell is happening, but I LOVE YOU AGAIN. I mean, like, a return to the mid-90s love, when it was all Sliding Doors and Emma and no Goop or macro diets. What have you done to me, Pepper Pots?!

    Excellent review, Marla!!! Um, can we go see it again now?

  11. I’m definitely down for seeing it again with anyone who wants to go. This movie totally rocked my socks. I was pretty apprehensive when it started but I think it definitely delivered. I was a bit indifferent to Don Cheadle–not because he wasn’t awesome–it just throws me for a bit of loop when they change out actors in sequels or on tv shows. Becky #2, I’m looking in your direction. I would say I definitely don’t prefer Terrance Howards. I’m like Jezebel, I can’t look at him without thinking of baby wipes. I guess that’s what you get for being an asshole.

  12. I am in no way a movie buff. I’m not sure what constitutes an incredible movie. All I know is that I absolutely LOVED this movie. It spoke to every side of me and most importantly, my nerdy side.

  13. Amazing! Its actually amazing article, I have got much clear idea on the topic of from this piece of writing.

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