Friday, May 7, 2010

'Iron Man 2' delivers heavy metal, superhero thrills

By Steve Crum
Once you get past accepting comedian Garry Shandling as U.S. Senator Stern (hey, he’s a comic in a comic book movie), Iron Man 2 kicks in, turbos upward and fuses on into one spectacular action tale. What a dazzling way to launch the summer movie season. With all its pyrotechnics, maybe IM2 should be opening July 4.
Typical of most superhero franchises, the first Iron Man movie introduced the central hero by spending half the story on the character’s origin, before evolving toward the hero vs villain, clobberin’ time climax. IM2 cuts to the chase in quick time. A foreboding Russian villain is introduced, played by the foreboding looking actor Mickey Rourke. (Is extra makeup really necessary?) His Ivan Vanko character is hell bent on perfecting his own robotic suit with attached metal slicing, spark zapping, bullwhip strands.
Conversely, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is reveling in his fame as world protector Iron Man. Remember, he willingly shouted out his secret identity in IM1. Now the earth, thanks to him, is safer, virtually crime free. (One would think this is also the case in the worlds of Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, etc.) This leaves Stark down time to exploit himself and his alter Iron ego on TV spectaculars. He eats up the attention. At the same time, in private, he frets about his declining health. Without divulging too much, this becomes a major plot element.
It is no secret that there are newly introduced (super)heroes in IM2. (Actually, they are long time, Marvel Comics characters.) Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury was briefly shown in IM1, but occupies major screen time here. However, his scenes are of the static, non-action, confer-with-Tony Stark variety. This begs the question: What is the tough looking, eye-patched, man in black’s function in IM2? His protege, Black Widow/Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), certainly pays her entertainment dues via her sexy, kick booty action takes. Fury is a man of talk, not action.
The surprise of IM2 is Don Cheadle’s Lt. Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes. Cheadle, who replaces IM1’s Terrence Howard, gets to suit up and play an Iron Man sidekick to THE Iron Man. Together, in one of the film’s highlights, the two Iron Men battle a circling army of Iron Man-like robots. It is an ironic moment.
Gwyneth Paltrow is back as Stark’s chief exec and confidant, Pepper Potts. Sam Rockwell’s backstabbing, superficial Justin Hammer is the Stark Corporation’s chief rival for weapons contracts with the feds. Hammer becomes even more formidable and threatening to Stark when he enlists Ivan Vanko as his chief robot designer.
The expected mix of good and evil robots eventually leads to the King Kong inspired finale involving monster robots, Vanko, and Iron Man. Within those 15 finale minutes lie some of the most thrilling action footage this side of Lucas and Spielberg. Factoring in the Nascar-like race sequence toward the beginning with Vanko’s awesome debut--electrical whips and all, multiplies the reasons to experience IM2. Forgive my gush, there must be more comic book geek in me than I thought.
I’ve saved my comments about director Jon Favreau and his writer Justin Theroux until now. Theroux has perfectly captured Tony Stark’s egocentricity as well as his drive to live life over the top out of fear of impending death. It is never clear whether Stark is driven by fame and hero worship alone. He talks patriotism and peace for mankind, but delivers the message like a carnival pitchman. Theroux makes this complexity believable.
Favreau continues to do Marvelous things with the Iron Man franchise. The look and feel of the action sequences and use of restrained humor (again thanking Theroux) make this superhero one of the best of them all. Favreau also plays the continuing, non-super hero Happy Hogan, who is a comedy relief sidekick to Tony Stark. (During one choice sequence, Hogan spends six minutes in fisticuffs with one bad guy, while the nimble Black Widow takes down a dozen.) Including the Hogan character is a welcome touch, nicely realized by Favreau’s acting.
IM2 is as solidly super as the first Iron Man movie, and in spectacle alone surpasses IM1.
A hint: Stick around after the credits. There is a three minute teaser regarding the next installment...or perhaps a hint of another franchise in the wings.
GRADE on an A to F Scale: A-
Get out the WD-40 and enjoy the Iron Man 2 trailer:

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