Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2 is a solid second installment

Robert Downey Jr. proved to be the prototypical anti-hero superhero in Iron Man. A self aggrandizing, cocky war profiteer who under pressure and captivity builds a suit of armor and changes his ethos to become the man who brings America into an era of world peace. Yet at the same time retaining his character flaws, like the best superheroes before him, but without the sincere earnestness of Superman or the brooding scowl of Batman. Tony Stark is a superhero in the age of political polarity and the anxiety of terrorism. Who better than a hard drinking, conceited billionaire to save the day?

Of course Stark is hiding something in Iron Man 2. Beneath his arrogant but charismatic public persona is a frail and lonely man whose synthetic heart is dying on him and poisoning his blood. Can Stark withstand government interference (they want to confiscate his Iron Man suits) and battle a new enemy amidst his health problems? The enemy in question is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) a Russian physicist who has a grudge against the Stark legacy. No doubt if you've seen the trailers, you know what he's physically capable of. Vanko is hired by sleazy arms dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) He's a kind of Lex Luthor type who gets in way over his head in his devious dealings.

We also get Samuel L. Jackson expanding his Nick Fury role and Scarlett Johannson in a sexy and confident turn as Stark's new secretary who may be more than she seems. Gywneth Paltrow gamely reprises her role as Pepper Potts, Stark's long suffering but loyal secretary who gets promoted to CEO of Stark Industries. Taking over the role of Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes from Terrence Howard is the talented and versatile Don Cheadle.

Iron Man 2 delivers the goods the way a proper sequel should. It carries on what the first film started with a fast and breezy pace. It balances it's dramatic action with sly humor and in the middle of all the improbable chaos are likable and human characters. Even in his first scene, Ivan is allowed some humanity.

Before the film started, I sat through the trailers and saw at least three coming attractions that were of course upcoming 3-D movies. As this resurgence in the old fashioned craze of 3-D continues toward the summer movie season, it's refreshing to see a blockbuster that not only keeps things in 2-D but also gives us a smart and witty screenplay (by Justin Theroux) and sequences where shit gets blowed up real good. Who says you can't have it both ways?

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