Iron Man 2

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Robert Downey continues in a role for which he was perfectly cast, a selfish and narcissistic superhero who, while striving towards the virtuous, is nevertheless at peace with his shortcomings.  Just as the first Iron Man movie provided the vehicle for Downey’s personal redemptive return into stardom, Iron Man 2 offers Mickey Rourke the opportunity to continue Iron Man 2 - Robert Downeyhis comeback as well, in the form of an antagonist named Whiplash. 

Comic books have never really been only about the battles between good and evil, but about the life struggles of the person behind the mask.  The “creation story” for any superhero is the natural launching point for the first movie about any superhero.  If it’s done well, a sequel is all but guaranteed.  Still, some fail terribly from the get go (Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra).

After that, it becomes more challenging to sustain interest in the hero, both to accommodate a dedicated fan base as well as to entertain those unfamiliar with the character.  Superman and Batman (until his re-launch as The Dark Knight) generally failed at sequels, focusing ion the creation of the villain, leaning towards the most comedic elements, and forgetting the star of the show.

The Spiderman series, however, provided a cast of better sketched characters to supplement the inevitable fight scenes, which, in a biased opinion, resulted from the soap opera approach that Marvel Comics takes to their stories rather than DC Comics’ straight laced and lackluster surrounding casts. 

Iron Man was a great movie through 90% of its length based on its humor, back story, Downey’s performance and special effects.  It breathed life into an also-ran Marvel character that suddenly became more interesting on screen than on paper.  Then, as many plots go, the story unraveled in order to meet its climatic expectations of a battle scene that couldn’t, and didn’t, end soon enough.  I guess it’s not a Hollywood “grand finale” if the last battle doesn’t last at least five minutes.

Iron Man 2 is more balanced.  It doesn’t reach the heights that the original did in the back story, but it delivers far better with its villain and concluding battle.  Mickey Rourke, an actor for whom I never particularly cared, is almost unrecognizable as Whiplash, which is a good thing.  His character is certainly evil, but he’s never given free reign to overplay his character and is, in fact, largely muted through the use of foreign dialogue or lack of script.  Contemptuous looks are enough for a bad guy, I suppose, especially one that can slice through cars.  

Iron Man 2 - Mickey Rourke

Interestingly, where Downey succeeds at being a playboy/genius, the arch nemesis here is actually Justin Hammer, a competing military arms supplier/”genius” who hires Whiplash to undo Stark.  Sam Rockwell’s character is paper-thin and cartoonish, in the worst sense of the word, both in script and portrayal.  It would have been a better movie without him, as the few chuckles that resulted from his incompetence aren’t worth the pain of watching a character with no believability.

Scarlett Johansson appears as an intriguing addition to Stark Industries before she is revealed as a member of SHIELD, for the purpose of setting up additional stories to the movie franchise.  Imminently watchable, her action scene remains a bit forced, particularly in that her stunts are treated stylistically differentIron Man 2 - Scarlett Johansen  from the remainder of the movie.  Obviously, celebrity power has its benefits, and no doubt she’ll shine more later.

From a plot perspective, there’s no big deal to be found here.  There is some imagery of a “one world order” through the success of Iron Man as a war deterrent as well as the philanthropic desires for creating a better world by Stark’s father.  But, that may have over-reached and fallen flat.  So, the plot is kept fairly simple, concentrating on the characters and allowing the actors to flesh them out.    Playing it safe works well enough when gold has already been struck.

Overall, there’s far less “Wow” factor to this sequel as it’s all been seen before.  Still, it holds together despite its excesses or lapses in judgment, and it’s a very enjoyable movie.  Downey is quite the entertainer, and the special effects are eye candy.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

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