This review was originally published on April 28, 2010
Austin, TX audiences were treated last night to an advanced screening of “Iron Man 2,” the follow-up to the 2008 original. In a year that also brought us “The Dark Knight,” a movie that lives up to it’s shadowy name, Marvel presented one of it’s heroes in a much lighter, action oriented film; “Iron Man 2” continues this tradition.
The evening kicked off with a video introduction from the director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr., sitting on a couch bickering over why Favreau was showing the movie to a bunch of geeks. After a little back and forth, Favreau left the couch on the screen and took the stage to a standing ovation from the audience and then he proceeded to bring out Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.. Only Jon stuck around to watch the film with the audience and for the Q&A afterwards, as Downey needed to make the press rounds outside of our beloved Alamo Drafthouse.
Picking up a mere 6 months after the first film left off, we now have the ever so arrogant Tony Stark throwing the Stark Expo (a modern day equivalent of the World’s Fair), meeting with government committees and dealing with outdated technology in his chest that is now detrimental to his health. Watching this unfold in Russia, an elderly man on his death bed gives his last words to his son, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), claiming that the technology should have been his. Prompted by his father’s death, Vanko begins work on his own weapon, using the technology we come to find out was jointly developed by Vanko and Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s’ genius father and founder of Stark Industries.
Meanwhile, under government pressure Tony Stark refuses to turn over the Iron Man project because the technology he has developed is so far ahead of what is out there that nobody has access to it but him. An initial attack from Vanko in his Whiplash outfit proves otherwise and this puts further doubt in the U.S. Government’s mind. His corporate enemy, the charming, yet toxic, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is trying desperately to overcome Stark’s hold on modern weapons. After Vanko is subdued by Iron Man, he is broken out of jail by Hammer and put to work on improving his weapons program, a questionable decision if there ever was one.
The original “Iron Man” spent time introducing us to a millionaire playboy who develops amazing technology and overcomes evil, “Iron Man 2” explores Tony’s relationships and how his narcissistic nature turns on him. Not only is Stark now dealing with health issues brought on by the arc reactor in his chest (once used to save his life), but also having to prove himself to the government, deal with the corporate weasel Hammer, being on the rocks with his best friend James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle), pressure from S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), learning more about his father’s legacy and being on the rocks with his faithful companion and assistant Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow).
If this all sounds like a lot, it is, but it’s all addressed with a deft hand. “Iron Man 2” never drags itself down, instead it forges ahead with jet-pack fueled adrenaline. There’s several amazing battle scenes between Stark and Whiplash and a sensational roller coaster of a ride when Tony and Rhodey, back to back as Iron Man and War Machine, take on an army of robot drones.
While the comic-based world is definitely apparent, what Favreau has done is allowed the movie to feel real and much of this is due to the amazing casting choices. I had been worried that Scarlett Johansson would feel out of place playing a Russian spy in the world of Iron Man, but instead she presents a sexy, strong character that has some of the best a*s-kicking scenes in the movie, which even garnered applause from the appreciative audience. She may not exactly be Russian, but she does come off as a total bad-a*s. And Don Cheadle seemed an unlikely replacement for Terrance Howard’s Rhodey, but the chemistry between him and Downey seemed much more fluid and once he dons the War Machine armor, borrowed from Tony, and goes into battle alongside Stark, their sense of brotherhood really shines. And Downey is solid as ever, embracing a character that couldn’t be more of a perfect role for him, delivering the laughs, strength and yet flawed nature of Stark.
“Iron Man 2” works and not just for a geek crowd. While there is a lot to take in and several shout-outs to future and past Marvel movies (most notably “The Incredible Hulk” and “Captain America”), there isn’t anything in the movie that couldn’t be understood by someone who hasn’t picked up an Iron Man comic in their life. Favreau and crew have given us the first big, fun popcorn movie of the summer and one I cannot wait to revisit again.