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Iron Man 2

Studio: Marvel; Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jon Favreau; Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson

May 07, 2010 Web Exclusive
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Sparks flyliterallywhen Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke share the screen in Iron Man 2. Rourke’s character, the vengeful Russian physicist Ivan Vanko, is on the attack, with deadly electric whips of metal stemming from his arms, when he first confronts Tony Stark (Downey) on a Monaco speedway. With Rourke sustaining a chilling grin, and his bare chest displaying the same illuminated arc reactor that powers Iron Man’s armor, the nightmarish daytime action sequence is director Jon Favreau’s most cinematically realized moment in the film. But those expecting the figurative sparks to fly between Downey and Rourke, two of American film’s more daring actors and intriguing offscreen personalities, will be disappointed. With the exception of a brief cell room chat, the hero and villain engage instead with other new characters throughout the filmStark ogling new assistant Natalie (a heavily made-up Scarlett Johansson) and Vanko sneering at slimy arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who springs Vanko from prison to help him make the Iron Man technology of his chief competitor obsolete.

Iron Man 2 breaks out of the gate strong. Sole screenwriter Justin Theroux’s screenplay pops with snappy dialogue as Stark testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee. The government wants Stark’s technology, deeming the Iron Man suit a weapon. Stark, entertainingly brash and insubordinate, refers to it as a high-tech prosthesis (the miniature arc reactor in his chest powers an electromagnet that prevents shrapnel from damaging his heart) and boasts that he has “successfully privatized world peace,” a reference to him defeating terrorists in the first film. From there, however, Iron Man 2 falls into some traps that have hindered superhero sequels through the years.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) takes a doughnut break in Iron Man 2.

Typically, in the first film of a superhero franchise, the hero goes through an exciting period of discovery where he familiarizes himself with his extra-human powers. In the second film, extraneous conflicts supplant character development and weigh down the plot. The hero goes through a funk of diminished power, the sexual tension between hero and female ally (here, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts) succumbs to sappiness, and new characters are introduced to set the stage for a longer, more elaborate climax. In this film, the palladium in Stark’s arc reactor is infiltrating his body and raising the toxicity level in his system. Unless he discovers a new element to replace the palladium, he will die. Meanwhile, both Vanko and Hammer are plotting against Stark but with separate agendas (Vanko blames Stark’s father for the downfall of his own father). The thrill of Stark building and testing his suit in the first film is never recaptured in Iron Man 2; instead, we see him alienating himself from Potts and his military friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard from the first film), while Vanko and Hammer forge a working agreement through a series of uncomfortable exchanges.

Still, the film retains its humor even when Stark is down and outthe shot of him sulking inside the hole of a giant doughnut sign is a nice touchand eventually rebounds for a wild, high-flying conclusion. Humor is Favreau’s strong suit; he has a keen feel for how it should complement the films’ depictions of technology. With Downey in the colorful lead role, the Iron Man films are fun (the sequel being less consistently fun), and unlike the science of movies set in the future or involving aliens, the technology in the Iron Man films feels only a couple steps ahead. The holographic 3D images that are launched during Stark’s computer research are dazzling, yet they seem within the realm of impending possibility.

Favreau is less reliable as an action director. The aforementioned speedway confrontation between Stark and Vanko is followed up with visual clichésthere are two instances where a character walks toward the camera as something explodes in the background. Favreau also is too infatuated with television imagery. And there’s a scene late in the filmwhere New York highway traffic is shown to be moving along briskly after a night of mass destructionthat could have used more of his attention. Amid all the names with post-production credits, no one could identify such an easily correctible implausibility? No matter. It’s only a minor shortcoming, one of many that are eclipsed by the star power of Downey, Rourke, Paltrow, Cheadle, Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and the enduring feeling of good will built by the first film.

As with Iron Man, you’ll want to remain for the conclusion of the end credits. (

Author rating: 6/10

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