You know summer is just around the corner when the first big studio blockbuster opens. This past weekend moviegoers flooded into theaters for the latest Marvel comic- turned-movie, “Iron Man 2,” and were treated to a film that did something most sequels don’t do – lived up to its hype.
“Iron Man 2” picks up six months after the first movie ended. Weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has revealed his superhero alter-ego to the world and appears to be relishing all the attention. Privately though, Tony is slowly being poisoned by the palladium in the arc reactor which powers him and his suit. This is ironically what saved his life in the first film.
After a U.S. Senate committee tries to take away the Iron Man suit for national security purposes, Tony’s thrill-seeking tendencies spiral out of control. He promotes his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), to be the new CEO of Stark Industries. This leaves him more time to concentrate on the important things, like drinking, partying and his new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson).
That is until Tony has a small run-in with angry Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who, like Tony, has his own arc reactor. He also has a grudge against the Stark family, and is being funded by competing weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). With some words of encouragement from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Tony comes out of his self-destructive funk, works on finding a way to stop Vanko, and save himself and the rest of the world.
Comic book adaptations, as a movie genre, are kind of hit-or-miss. For every “Dark Knight,” there is an “Elektra.” What makes or breaks it is the casting of the hero. Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark – he just is. No other actor can make an arrogant, narcissistic, pompous prick like Tony Stark as likable and entertaining as Downey. He has a tough-guy bravado mixed with a quick sarcastic wit that makes him one of the most enjoyable superheroes in theaters today.
Downey can make any movie great. But what is a superhero without a super villain? Rourke’s Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash) is dark and menacing and a perfect counterpart. Whiplash has very little dialog in the film, and what he does say is usually in Russian, but Rourke does a lot to give him depth and a sense of humor.
Along with exceptional casting, what also sets “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” apart is the direction of Jon Favreau (who also appears in the films). Some superhero movies tend to take themselves too seriously. Favreau does an excellent job of balancing the humor with the action. The movie has some genuinely funny laugh-out-loud moments. There is a playfulness to these movies that makes them more fun and engaging.
As good as the movie is, it’s not without its (minor) faults. First, there are one too many storylines. Between evil Russian physicists, rival weapons manufacturers, palladium poisoning and U.S. Senators trying to take the Iron Man technology, the plot gets a bit muddled. As awesome as Samuel L. Jackson is, the entire Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. sub-plot seemed thrown in as just a big set-up for future “Iron Man” sequels and the upcoming “Avengers” movie (look for it summer 2012). Plus, I don’t care how super hot Scarlett Johansson looks with dark red hair in a skin-tight leather suit; it cannot distract from the fact that the girl can’t act.
Was “Iron Man 2” as good as the first one? No. But as far as sequels go, it was pretty great and is definitely worth your time and money. Pay close attention and spot cameos by DJ AM and superhero uber creator Stan Lee as themselves. And be sure to stay until the end of the credits for a teaser scene introducing a certain Norse-god-turned-superhero who should be hammering his way into theaters next summer.