Steve Jobs wishes he were Tony Stark. Sure,
the iPad announcement was cool, but if Jobs had actually
dropped down from the sky on repulsor rays, the coolness
would have been through the roof. In Iron Man 2,
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) bears some resemblance to
Jobs, tightly controlling his technology, deriding attempts
at knock-offs and hiding a potentially deadly health problem.
For even as Stark celebrates the ridiculously
huge "Stark Expo," an event that combines MacWorld, the
Consumer Electronics Show and the World's Fair, when he
walks into the shadows his cocky smile fades and it becomes
apparent that the very technology that saved his life in
the first film is about to kill him. Unless, of course,
he finds a way around it. If there's one thing Tony Stark
is good at above all others, it's beating the odds.
So Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2 doesn't
quite beat the odds in that it's a sequel that doesn't quite
work as well as the first film. Despite creating a pretty
good dramatic arc for Iron Man, it slows down to make sure
that it gives nods to all the baggage that comes with being
the keystone to the movie Marvel Universe.
Part of that is just the common mistake
of comic book movie sequels, overstuffing with secondary
characters. Not only does James Rhodes (now played by Don
Cheadle) deliver on the promise from the first movie to
become War Machine, but Scarlett Johanssen shows up as the
fully formed Black Widow - though she's never actually called
To keep Samuel L. Jackson happy, Nick Fury
has to show up from time to time to remind Stark and the
audience that all of this will lead to an Avengers
movie. What Fury doesn't have to do is add much to the plot
of this movie, except to hint that everything is
And it's not like Favreau and nominal screenwriter
Justin Theroux fake those connections, either. When Iron
Man 2 pays attention to the narrative, everything does
hang together. The film even begins with the ending of the
first one, as Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko gives in to his
rage that Iron Man may be the result of his own father's
Yet some time has passed, and Tony Stark
has been a busy boy, intervening in foreign conflicts and
working for world peace. It's not like he created the iPod
or anything, but it will do. The federal government takes
exception to his playing armored Jimmy Carter, and demands
Stark turn over the armor. If he won't do that, then new
rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) will fill that void.
Of course all forces collide, but the script,
infused with Downey' s constant riffing, is witty enough
to distract from how obvious many of the choices are. Of
course Vanko and Hammer scheme better together than apart;
of course Howard Stark (John Slattery) is too big a figure
to be just a flashback. The sins of the past have to have
a way of reaching out and throttling the present.
So from time to time the movie drags to
feign dramatic impact. After an opening flight, Favreau
goes a long while without putting Stark in the armor, or
at least not seriously. Luckily, what makes Marvel characters
tick is that they tend to be more interesting out of costume,
and Downey remains a perfect avatar of that belief. Even
in predictable scenes, he plays Stark with verve.
Though they rarely confront each other,
Rourke matches Downey really well. Off-screen he may still
be a mess, but onscreen he commits to supervillainy in surprisingly
subtle ways. Heck, he gets points just for being one of
the few actors alive who can throw back his head and scream
in rage without it looking silly.
Good thing, because Rockwell's Justin Hammer
is meant to be inefficient and near impotent as a military
contractor and as a man, insisting to Leslie Bibb's returning
reporter that he and Stark really have a deep love that's
hidden by Stark's snide shots at him. In a crucial but minor
role, Garry Shandling plays a laughable authority, and there's
just no way that Shandling can be taken seriously.
With her martial arts training, "Natalie
Rushman" (Johanssen) has to be taken seriously, but the
movie does not have time to really develop her. Neither
Johanssen or Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts get to play
too many notes, but at least Johanssen scores with some
impressive action scenes.
Though it takes a while, Iron Man 2
delivers on those in spades. The intrigue can get put away
when it's time to just cause a lot of explosions. At least
Favreau tries to justify them with his storytelling.
Yet it's all just another chapter in a
greater saga that isn't limited to the character of Iron
Man. For fans, this will hold us over until Thor
while holding our attention for a little while. Non-fans
will still enjoy it, but they may be scratching their heads
over certain easter eggs and just what the heck Samuel L.
Jackson is doing in this movie.
It's still a fun enough ride, but it's
mostly a linking piece. Start drooling over the thought
of your 2013 Marvel Movie Marathon now.