Man in the can
Iron Man 2, superhero action, rated PG-13, Regal Stadium 14, 3 chiles If you’re making a sequel to a big action movie, there are two ways you can go. The first is obvious: give the audience more of what it liked in the first film. If viewers thrilled to Neo fighting Agent Smith in the first movie, have him fight a hundred Agent Smiths in the second. Up the stakes, the number of enemies, the action sequences.
The second thing you can do is present darker material. The heroes emerged victorious in the first film, so send them back to the gutter for the second. You can achieve this with tone and setting, as Indiana Jones witnessed in his second screen adventure. You can have them hit emotional rock bottom, like Michael Corleone did. You can kill them off, as happened with Mr. Spock and Jack Sparrow, or freeze them in carbonite like Han Solo.
Iron Man 2 uses both techniques. Robert Downey Jr.’s charm as Tony Stark and his heavymetal action as Iron Man prompted audiences to shower the first film with cash. Downey continues the shoot-from-the-hip line readings that people liked so much in this sequel, which also gives us a lot more fireworks, explosions, and AC/DC songs. The first film climaxed with one iron man fighting another; the second ends with two iron men fighting dozens of them.
The material is darker and more serious because Tony Stark is dying of some sort of toxic
blood condition. Many scenes show a pensive Stark, alone in his lab as his world crashes down around him and the cure for his condition eludes him. Also, in a plot device that would surely make Ayn Rand throw her popcorn at the screen, the brass of the United States’ socialist armed forces feels that the Iron Man armor belongs to the people, and a particularly petty senator (Garry Shandling) wants Stark to turn it over to the military.
This being a comic-book movie, the conflict doesn’t entirely hinge on fatal diseases and debates on objectivism. Other, more punchable, forces are trying to bring Stark down. There’s Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a brilliant Russian with a special hatred for the Stark family. When he makes his own Iron Man suit, he attracts the attention of weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who commissions him to make a bunch of robots for the U.S. military.
Unless you’re already a dyed-in-themetal-armor fan of Marvel Comics’ Golden Avenger, the first thing that will jump out at you here is the cast. Downey has gone from one of our great supporting actors to one of our finest stars. Rourke and Rockwell are both capable of carrying movies in convincing fashion (and recently did so with The Wrestler and Moon, respectively). The supporting cast is peppered with charismatic talent like Don Cheadle (in the role played by Terrence Howard in the first film), Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Scarlett Johansson. They all do their jobs: the dialogue snaps, crackles, and pops, in large part due to their efforts.
But perhaps we don’t give the screenwriters enough credit for their work in these effects pictures. Nearly every scene of Iron Man 2 is lively, even the ones including heavy exposition and technical mumbo-jumbo. It’s worth noting that Justin Theroux, an actor and young (well, under 40) screenwriter whose only other writing credit is Tropic
Thunder, is the only credited writer. And while director Jon Favreau and others undoubtedly gave input here and there, the end result speaks to the fact that having one good writer is preferable to the multiple credited and uncredited writers that produce bland mush like the recent Clash of
the Titans remake.
The only problem is one that the first movie shared: the joie de vivre starts to flag about halfway in. Stark’s struggle with alcoholism — a major part of the comic-book character’s history — is touched upon in a weird party scene, and the movie never quite recovers. I guess there was some interesting potential here, given Downey’s and Rourke’s past struggles with substance abuse, but the subject isn’t given much more than lip service. We’re meant to know that Stark is going through tough times, and the plot spends a lot of time with him hanging his head before gearing up for the big explosions in the final act.
Nearly every scene of ‘Iron Man 2’ is lively, even the ones
including heavy exposition and technical
By the time the movie got around to the loud clanging and banging and rat-a-tat-tatting of the big climactic battle, I had mostly checked out. It’s not necessarily the fault of Favreau or his effects team. The action was better than people can reasonably expect — it was at least coherent, which is more than movies like Transformers can claim — but if I wanted to see robots hash out their problems with blasters and fisticuffs, I’d rent some anime instead.
As sequels go, Iron Man 2 doesn’t disappoint. The coat of paint on the franchise’s armor has faded a little, but the film delivers exactly what you expect. The third installment is where the true challenges lie. That’s where “more” becomes “too much,” as recent films like X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End proved. My
advice for Iron Man 3 would be to go the other way: keep the character out of the darned armor almost entirely. The Howard Hughes-esque billionaire Tony Stark is infinitely more interesting than Iron Man. ◀
Always in the spotlight: Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr.