IRON MAN 2
Tony Stark (Downey) is dying.
That’s the conceit that drives Downey’s performance at the start of this hotly-anticipated follow-up that does what any decent Part II is required to: advance and deepen the story, expand upon the world introduced in Part I and set up a tantalizing finale. The movie is not without its big flaws, but it accomplishes what it needs to. About that dying thing: billionaire Stark may be the most famous person in the world following his cliffhanging proclamation “I am Iron Man,” but the pressures and responsibilities are weighing on him. The government has declared him a menace, enemies are conspiring to take him down – and now the Palladium in the Arc Reactor keeping his heart beating has begun to leak into his body and poison him.
Downey’s Stark might be arrogant but now he’s getting reckless, not sure how to spend his last days. So, he parties hard, tapping into the well-established alcoholism story arc from the comic book. He alienates his friends and potential love interest Pepper Potts, played again with bluster by Paltrow; and by the time Nick Fury (Jackson, reprising his role as the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.) shows up to bring Iron Man to his superhero team, he’s not so sure.
Not helping matters is the sudden appearance of the perfectly-cast Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a brilliant Russian scumbag bent on avenging his father. He dons electrified whips, and in one of the movie’s most effective set pieces, attacks Tony while racing in Monaco. Whereas the first film spent much of the time with Tony Stark, the sequel spreads the action around evenly and isn’t afraid to create an environment in which the main character hero is the guy losing his grip on everything around him.
It’s a bold and smart move. That said, when it comes to pulling all the story strands together – and there are many – screenwriter Theroux short-changes the narrative with an ill-conceived subplot. Stark’s military pal James “Rhodey” Rhodes may be played by a different actor (Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) but was there any reason for changing the direction of his character? What he ends up doing, while Tony gets smashed at his birthday party, is a betrayal of everything the first film set up. Worse, it’s not even a full reversal but a script contrivance so Rhodey can fly away in one of the extra suits and it’ll fall into the wrong hands, setting up the action-packed finale.
That’s the best they could come up with? Rockwell plays Justin Hammer, Stark’s business rival, a power-mad bureaucrat who has watched too many tough guy movies. Rourke is all simmer and sneer when he’s not in attack mode and even though he spends the middle of the film as Rockwell’s prisoner, he’s larger than life. Johansson is a double agent in a cat suit, but I won’t spoil any secrets here. This much is certain: when the role calls for it, she kicks ass and sexes things up effectively. Iron Man 2 is filled with spectacle and attitude, which doesn’t make it a great movie. In the grand pantheon of comic book flicks, it’s no Dark Knight. But it’s a very enjoyable flick at times if not on par with the original. It answers a few questions, sets up no ones, but otherwise leaves the Iron Man universe in a good place. At least until The Avengers opens. Sequentially, Iron Man 2 precedes The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Thor (2011). (Paramount)
— DENNIS WILLIS