It's finally here: Iron Man 2. And the wait was worth it.
Unless you're Amish or have been living under a rock, there's pretty much no excuse for missing out on this one. Pound for pound, it matches the original, 2008's Iron Man, and in some ways improves on it, and in other ways takes a step backwards. But whatever step that may be, it's not a very big one.
Robert Downey Jr. is back and as effusive as ever, seemingly having more fun with Tony Stark this time, which is great, because from a writing standpoint, Tony isn't as fully developed as he was in the first film. Like most sequels, Iron Man 2 is clearly built upon its predecessor. If you've seen the first installment, Tony's character depth remains the same, and in a few key scenes, is clearly deepened, but the uninitiated may not see it the same way. However, this doesn't mean you have to have seen Iron Man to enjoy part 2.
The events of the second film literally pick up right after the first one, with Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko watching Tony Stark admit to being Iron Man, the closing scene of the first film. It is this admission, coupled with the death of Ivan's father, that sends the big, mean Russian on a mission to cook up his own Iron Man weapon. From there, we shoot directly to Tony Stark being, well, Tony Stark, doing various things a billionaire playboy with the world's awesomest toys would do- including jumping out of an airplane and sailing into the Stark Expo as Iron Man. (Watch that clip below!)
[video url="http://www.moviefanatic.com/videos/iron-man-2-clip-stark-expo/" title="Iron Man 2 Clip: Stark Expo"] [/video]
But Tony's arrogant and flamboyant exterior hide a darkness inside. The fuel that powers Tony's suit, as well as what keeps his heart alive, is slowly poisoning him. He's on a mission to find a suitable non-toxic solution, but as of yet hasn't been able to make the breakthrough, and the clock is ticking. This conundrum couldn't come at a worse time, as Ivan attacks Stark on the race track at Monte Carlo with his homemade power suit with electric whips.
With Tony Stark publicly wounded, Ivan tells him, it's only a matter of time before Iron Man is torn apart by society. With the help of Gary Shandling as a douchebag senator, and at the further prodding of rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony gets thrown to the wolves. Unbeknownst to either the U.S. government or Stark Industries, Hammer has kidnapped Vanko and put him to work developing Iron Man suits of his own in order to fulfill the wishes of the U.S. military to possess the Iron Man weapon.
While James "Rhodey" Rhodes (fluidly replaced in the second outing by the always-fun-to-watch Don Cheadle) has Stark's back, he's facing increasing pressure from his superiors to deliver the technology. When Tony gets wasted in the Iron Man suit at his particularly eventful birthday party, Rhodey gets a chance to steal the technology.
I won't spoil any more of the movie, but that's a large portion of what's going on in round two. It seems like a lot at first, but Jon Favreau guides us through rather effortlessly, and the first two acts seem to breeze by, properly building tension, setting up characters and entertaining us along the way. And while the third act isn't as strong as the first two, it still delivers, although not in spades.
The main problem I had with the film was that after all the build-up and rising tension, it seemed to be a little too easy to resolve. While I won't get into details, there is a major battle at the climax, which positions itself to be one of the most insane action sequences ever in a comic book movie, but when it happens, it's just not all that exciting. Yes, it's fun, and yes a lot of stuff gets blown up, but there are many moments that are rather unintelligible and underwhelming. From excessively jerky camera movements that obscure the subject a little longer than they should (it's clearly mostly digital work, so that shouldn't be an issue), to an all-too-easy final blow, it just feels like Iron Man 2 promises a lot, then fails to deliver all of it.
I can't complain too much, because the movie is a lot of fun. It's probably the most fun I've had at the movies since, well, the first Iron Man. Okay, Avatar was a lot of fun too. And in Avatar, the main villain is certainly a lot harder to kill in the end than what we get from Stark and Company. But again, I must reiterate, it's just so much fun that I didn't care all that much.
Iron Man 2, like Tony Stark, is funny, exciting, bombastic, and irreverent. It's dramatic when it needs to be, and when it is, verges closer to opera than anything else, because after all, this is a summer blockbuster. It doesn't need to be the dark, serious, teeth-gritting, voice-growling anti-hero movie that The Dark Knight is. That's not Iron Man, and that's not Marvel. No, what we get is something ultimately lighter, faster and easier to swallow. Jon Favreau should teach pretty much all of Hollywood's blockbuster directors how to do their jobs. Yes, I'm looking at you, Michael Bay!
If you're looking for the next Chinatown, it ain't here. But if you're looking for a damn good summer movie that delivers on all levels and doesn't make you feel stupider for having watched it, run, don't walk, to see Iron Man 2. And once you're there, be sure to hang around after the credits for a secret surprise!