Men of Steel
With first films, no one knows what to expect; with sequels, expectations are inescapable. The follow-ups that caved under the pressure of pleasing too many parties are countless, but Iron Man 2 doesn't join them. Fortunately, director Jon Favreau and company specialize in cohesive chaos, whipping up a smarmy, off-the-cuff adventure instrumental in lending the comic book genre credibility. The massive coin pulled in by Iron Man guaranteed part deux on the horizon, but Favreau respects the property too much to a "more of the same" mentality rule. Though less interesting a picture than the original, Iron Man 2 is a rarity in itself, a rock-solid sequel that gives itself a lot to do and deals with it in efficient, butt-kicking order.
Secret identities are so last century. Rather than keep it under wraps, billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has fully owned up to being the metallic defender known as Iron Man. The results include uninterrupted peace for the U.S. and booming business for Stark Industries, although there is, as always, a catch. The glowing chest piece that's keeping Stark alive is also poisoning him, and if that weren't enough, some vicious rivals emerge to lay claim to the Iron Man technology. While unctuous weapons dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) shills for Uncle Sam, physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is out for blood. Feeling his own father's designs were stolen by Stark's dad, Vanko invents an imposing weapon all his own to send Iron Man back to the Stone Age.
My friends, I've only begun to outline the various calamaties and capers Iron Man 2 concocts. I haven't even mentioned Scarlett Johansson as Stark's sultry new secretary, his pal Rhodes (Don Cheadle) getting his own suit, or Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to recruit Iron Man for a certain super-team. It seems an awful lot for one flick to handle, having to continue Stark's story, establish new players, and set the stage for future comic sagas. But the beauty of Iron Man 2 is that it's economic with the elements at its disposal. Although this sequel seems more story-driven than its predecessor (which, admittedly, had the more interesting story), viewers should have little trouble adjusting. When the pacing does begin to lag, there's more often than not a thematic turn of the screw or pyrotechnics display to jolt it accordingly.
Again, Stark is the very core of Iron Man 2, though his smartassery masks the actions of a man facing the possible end of his life. But make no mistake, Iron Man 2 doesn't come across as a two-hour mopefest but a film that cleverly supplies its protagonist with demons to conquer without making off with his good sense. It helps to have a charmer like Downey be as adept with drama as he is with fighting evil, but he's not alone in giving the movie a sense of variety. Cheadle takes up the long-awaited mantle of War Machine, an army onto himself helping Iron Man dole out some pain in the dizzyingly whiz-bang finale. Rockwell's sneering bad guy is like Eddie Haskell with a defense contract, while Rourke's Vanko is unnervingly direct in his desire to beat the living tar out of Stark. Johansson looks as stunning as they get, dispatching flunkies with lightning precision and while wearing one hell of a costume.
Iron Man 2 is great fun, but it may not be delivered as consistently as viewers desire. I fear all the toys and fast food tie-ins might indicate a more loose picture, which it is -- but just in certain doses. Either way, Iron Man 2 delivers more well-rounded entertainment than the usual popcorn fare. It satisfies both comic fans and Joe Moviegoer -- a boast few films can make.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some language.)