Only days away from IRON MAN 3 now, so let’s look back at our initial review of IRON MAN 2, and see how it’s stood the test of time…
When you get right down to it, Tony Stark is kind of an ass.
Always has been, really. It’s kind of his most defining characteristic. Over and over again in the comics, we’ve seen Tony pushing away the people who care about him and make a colossal mess of things, only to turn to his friends once he’s hit rock bottom (a locale Mr. Stark tends to be very familiar with.
Whether it’s the alcoholism, which in the comics leads to his losing the company, or other stories like the “Armor Wars” in which he becomes a vigilante in order to get back all his stolen technology, all the way up to his neo-fascist behavior in CIVIL WAR and his utter failure to realize what was really going on in SECRET INVASION — he always thinks he can only handle things himself, and winds up in serious trouble because of it.
So I was pleasantly surprised to see director Jon Favreau pick up that thread and run with it in IRON MAN 2, in which, despite threats from vengeful Russian physicist Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko, jealous arms merchant Justin Hammer and pompous politician Senator Stern, most of Tony Stark’s problems remain firmly of his own making.
I said in my review of the first film that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark was so good, I could be entertained by an entire movie with just Stark, and never see him climb into the armor. Well, they almost hold me to that here, as there are long stretches of time where we’re just watching Stark’s descent into self-destruction, and only three major action sequences in the film. And yet, it still works, held together by a very sharp and entertaining script, and the best ensemble cast ever assembled for a big-budget superhero movie.
Mickey Rourke in particular exceeded my expectations as Vanko. He underplays the role, which is smart, not succumbing to the temptation to chew the scenery like so many actors do when they’re cast in what they think of as “comic-book” movie. As for the use of the “Whiplash” character as Iron Man’s primary antagonist here, I was again pleasantly surprised. The fight scene at the race track works really well — I didn’t think the whips would come across as all that threatening, but they totally worked for me. The character shouldn’t be able to go totally toe to toe with Iron Man, but the film gave him just enough juice to be a threat in that first scene. Sam Rockwell’s Hammer made a great secondary bad guy as well, with Favreau wisely choosing to stick with a single supervillain from the rogue’s gallery to feature. Rockwell’s jealous, preening second-rate wannabe Tony Stark makes your skin crawl, and yet he’s so entertaining in the process.
I was also pleased to see Favreau’s cameo as Stark’s chauffeur Happy Hogan expanded significantly in this outing, with Happy training his boss in the boxing ring, rushing into danger alongside Pepper Potts to get their boss his suitcase armor (in a bit that felt very much like the classic Happy and Pepper moments from the 1960s comics) and even getting a substantial fight scene, albeit one played for laughs as he takes on one hired goon while Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow tackles a dozen.
As much as I love it, the film isn’t without its faults, I’ll admit. The Black Widow is very much underutilized; it seemed as though she was there more to help establish SHIELD in the world of the movies, without having to overuse Samuel L. Jackson. It also felt like Rhodey was suddenly combat-trained on the Mark II Armor far too quickly in his big fight with Tony (not to mention that since the suits are powered by the ARC reactor in Tony’s chest, it shouldn’t have worked at all. It wouldn’t have taken much to fix that, either. If they had shown Stark outfitting the other armors with an ARC reactor for some reason, and then re-established for the viewers that Rhodey is an ace, top-of-the-line fighter pilot, and then showed him having a bit more of an uncertain takeoff and landing, that whole issue would have gone away. Even merely giving Rhodey a line of dialogue about how Stark is such a genius that the suit is amazingly easy to fly would have solved the problem.
One of my favorite new elements introduced into the film was the expanded dynamic between Tony and his deceased father, seen here only in film excerpts as played by MAD MEN’s John Slattery. In a clever historical allusion, Howard Stark and his futuristic Stark Expo are cast as the spitting image of Walt Disney and his dream of a city of tomorrow, EPCOT Center. The producers even hired Richard Sherman, co-writer of many of the most popular songs from the Disney films of the late ’50s/early ’60s., to write a retro-sounding theme song for the Stark Expo. Not seeing the connection? Take a look at this and tell me that:
So while I would have liked perhaps a bit more Iron Man and Widow in the picture, it’s hard to complain about what is probably the most fun I’ll have at the movies all summer. Highly recommended.
And make sure you stick around after those credits…