Iron Man 2: It’s not the Dark Knight, It’s just a good time.

7 May

The comic book sequel can go one of two ways: crap flavored crap that couldn’t re-invent itself to fulfill the promise of the original installment (Transformers 2), or the less chosen path of doubling down on the character (s) to use the comic book exaggerations to examine real themes and issues (The Darknight). Well Iron Man 2 has successfully created a new category: bigger gadgets, gizmo’s and bad-guys hoping from one plot line to the next in a successive series of conflicts and resolutions that leave you entertained, but somehow not totally satisfied.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a quality movie that brings the humor to the superhero genre’s usual big guns, tight outfit’s world. But it’s more than the standard quippey one liner, although there are plenty of those, there is a level of sophisticated witty banter that keeps the high-octane speed-explosion fest light  and entertaining.

It doesn’t go the serious and dark route that Nolan took with Batman, which so many people use unfairly as the measuring stick for comic book movies. But then again this film is directed by the swinger Jon Favreau from the screenplay written by Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”) starring the quintessential playboy-comedian actor Robert Downy Jr., they stick to what they know – a funny, entertaining good time.

RDJ picks up with Stark right where he left off, just six months later at the opening of the Stark Expo – basically a technology driven Disney World that was dreamed up by Howard Stark, his father. It’s all fun, games and scantily clad Iron Man dancers with undertones of daddy issues when Stark is called to Washington to testify before a Senate committee on the “Iron Man weapon”.

Enter plot #1: Stark versus The Government. Gary Shandling gets out of a botox treatment for long enough to play Senator Stern who wants the Iron Man for national security reasons. His position is reluctantly supported by Stark’s friend and military liaison, Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes played with his usual quite goodness by Don Cheadle. Enter plot #2: friendship versus national responsibility.  Also introduced is the military techno rival of Tony Stark, Justin Hammer played with pitch perfect blind ambition mixed with minimal competence by Sam Rockwell.  Enter plot #3: jealousy driven professional rivalry.

I’m 20 minutes into the movie and already we’ve got three story lines going, and I haven’t mentioned the vivacious new paralegal/spy, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) challenging Tony’s assistant now CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) for his affections.  Oh wait I forgot to mention the super-villain Tony will have the battle in the awesome final sequence, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) son of a disgraced Soviet scientist who worked with Stark’s father.

The Vanko-Stark fight over their father’s legacy actually has alot of promise that I wish Favreau and Marvel Studios has spent some time developing. Rourke is excellent as the poetical genius whose life in a Russian prison has left him scarred mentally and physically. Vanko is a great foil for Stark as he’s totally driven by emotional revenge, whereas Stark is pretty much driven by the same 4 things every guy wants: chicks, money, power and chicks. But Vanko get’s about as much play as every other plot line, it’s an unfortunate reality of such a stacked cast.

So many plots, but so many good actors. It’s not like the plots are relevant or entertaining, or even well resolved. It’s just that Favreau seems to use them as step-stones of interest, keeping you interested over the course of the film. I mean I know American’s have ADD, but give us a little credit. That being said, the quality of the cast seems to carry the plot lines through to the end and humorous tone makes it some how okay that so many things are happening at once.

Wait, I forgot that Samuel L. Jackson is trying to recruit Iron Man to be part of the Avengers Initiative. Oh and Tony’s arc reactor heart is running on a substance that is slowly poisoning his body, so he needs to create a new element to fuel his invention. But was it really his invention? I mean let’s be honest, who cares.

The critics will mostly bash it as an unfilled promise. But most of them won’t view the film in the larger context of the franchise, or what this film does to setup the broader Marvel world. Either that or they’ll criticize it for not living up for not meeting the Dark Knight bar, which is just film snobbery at it’s finest.  Fan boys will be pleased with all the little nuggets of the comic book world scattered throughout, assuming they can stop staring at Scarlett Johansson long enough to notice them.

And the average movie goer will probably just take it for what it is –  fun from beginning to end. It delivers what it actually promised: a summer blockbuster that keeps your laughing, intrigued and entertained, but with quality. You have to go into seeing it with the right expectations, it’s not going to blow you away, it’s not going to take you on a serious examination of father-son issues, it’s just entertaining. If you accept that, you’ll enjoy it.

Directed by Jon Favreau from the script written by Justin Theroux. Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Rhodey/War Machine), Scarlett Johansson (Natalie/Black Widow), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer) Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko/Whiplash), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Garry Shandling (Senator Stern). Produced by Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios); released by Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes.


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