Iron Man 2 (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTThere was a moment watching Iron Man 2 that I thought “This is absolutely perfect.”  The buildup from the opening shots to that revelation was beyond superb.   In the first moments of Iron Man 2, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) delivers his climactic speech that closes the first film as his nemesis, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), watches on a television.  You see, Starks father played a hand in destroying Ivan's father some years ago, and he is not happy that Stark has gone onto success while he is sitting in a rotting home in Siberia.  Ivan decides to mourn the recent death of his father by building a weapon that will outstrip and destroy Iron Man.

For the next forty minutes as Stark continues his flirtations with Pepper Potts (the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow), tests his strained friendship with Lt. Col. ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard), and faces a new corporate rival in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).  Jon Favreau builds the new post-Iron Man world brick by brick, allowing Tony to revel in his accomplishments and giving us the pleasure of a super hero that does his job well and actually feels good in the process.

But it’s all too good to last for long.  This buildup climaxes at that forty minute mark with the tensest action scene that I’ve seen all year when Ivan faces off with Tony on a race track.  Its whips versus lasers and for a long time, the outcome is not certain.  But we’re so early in the movie Tony has to go on otherwise we’d end up with a very different franchise.

At this point Iron Man 2 becomes a collection of failed aspirations instead of a cohesive film.  Downey created a likable and surprisingly deep Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie and is given that same room to breathe with the character in the second.  His narcissism is not entirely undeserved and it really is nice to see a super hero that doesn’t have to sit around in the shadows moping to be effective.

As good as Downey is, Mickey Rourke is every bit his equal.  His performance is a case study in how far to take a character to the edge without pushing it off into laughable territory.  Ivan Vanko garners a lot of sympathy from us in those opening scenes as his father dies in the cold wastelands of Siberia.  Then he explodes onto the race track with silver teeth, scraggly hair with striking gray strands, and a physique altered by a technological spinal support; and boy howdy does he seem like he’s too much for Tony.  I actually enjoyed his performance a little bit more than Downeys.  They’re both excellent actors, but Rourke managed to convey a lot more emotion and sympathy with a quarter of the screen time and almost a tenth of the dialogue.

The rest of the cast is solid.  Sam Rockwell actually dials down a bit and manages to convey a sense of smug underhandedness without being annoying.  As a replacement for Terrence Howard, Don Cheadle is a welcome upgrade.  Put very simply he’s a better actor, and his scenes with Downey really emphasized their friendship better than in the last movie.  Scarlett Johansson is the weakest addition to the cast as Tony's new assistant with a secret (which, unless you have missed every single trailer, shouldn’t be too hard to guess).  She eventually grows comfortable with the role, but is a bit awkward in her first moments onscreen.

This all makes it sound like Iron Man 2 has few flaws, but the problem is in peaking early, we see that the “bigger” approach did not make everything better.  The first movie went from scene to scene brilliantly, climaxing in an epic fight where we understood villain and hero equally, and their battle was given proper importance.  Here once Ivan and Tony face off on the race track the movie loses its way for the next act trying to figure out what to do with its characters.  Once it finally decides the conclusion is wrapped up too quickly and too neatly, even though the final scenes are exciting in their own right.

But there’s just too much.  Too much plot, too many explosions, and too many new characters to keep track of.  For example, I was wondering why they even bothered adding a subplot involving Tonys blood slowly being poisoned by the mechanism that keeps him alive.  It’s an unnecessary attempt at creating more tension when Stark's professional problems with Hammer, personal problems with Pepper, and overall problems with Ivan are such driving forces in the plot.  The resolution of the blood poisoning storyline is particularly disingenuous, and we see exactly how little it was needed.

Moments like this pepper the movie, especially notable in one moronic scene featuring a drunken Tony wearing something that should never be combined with alcohol.  It's clear Favreau and Downey still have a lot of fun making these films but I'm starting to feel the series is suffering from franchise bloat.  There's plenty of good in Iron Man 2, I just hope they trim the fat moving forward.

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Iron Man 2 (2010)

Directed by Jon Favreau.
Written by Justin Theroux.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Posted by Andrew

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