Man in the can

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert Ben­ziker I For The New Mex­i­can

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

mumbo-jumbo.

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.

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