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Downey, Rourke power second “Iron Man” installment

Only a true friend (Don Cheadle) would stick around for an army drone smackdown.

Self-effacing superheroes are so 20th century, and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is a man who belongs firmly to the 21st. The “just doing my job” routine isn’t in his repertoire. Tony’s a megalomaniac who rockets onto the Stark Expo stage with fireworks, blaring arena rock and scantily clad dancers. There’s a dire shortage of superheroes who stare up the skirts of their own cheerleaders, if you ask me. 

The Downey we love does not do humble. He does do cocky, self-destructive and sarcastic. Because he does them better than any actor working today, “Iron Man 2” soars when it should falter. Downey’s rakish charm has carried smaller ventures than this, but the fact that they can prop up a gigantic comic book franchise movie like this is astounding. Two years after Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man,” the more fully-rounded film, “Iron Man 2” falls into the same trap “Spider-Man 3” did. Think of it as the Lure of Too Muchness: too much plot, too many explosions and villains (note: both are unassailably cool). Any actor could be forgiven for getting lost in the smoke. Downey knows what he’s doing, though, and he’s mostly all the fuel “Iron Man 2” needs.

Where “Iron Man” ended in 2008 is where “Iron Man 2” begins. The opening credits belong to Mickey Rourke (terrifying in his “Russian villain suit”) as Ivan Vanko, an ex-con physicist who watches Tony Stark strut like a peacock at the expo. Grief over his father’s death turns to rage as Ivan watches Tony don the suit Ivan believes his father helped create. But Ivan isn’t the only foe Iron Man faces. On his case are the head of a congressional committee (Gary Shandling, funny as ever), who’s pressuring Tony — and confidante Lt. Col. Rhodes 2.0 (Don Cheadle) — to relinquish his Iron Man suit to the government, and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), keen to design a suit to “make Iron Man look like an antique.” There’s a new assistant, Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), too mysterious to be legit. And there’s something else: The electromagnet in Tony’s chest is poisoning his blood. He tells no one, not even colleague-or-lover? Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), convinced he has to keep up what Rhodey calls his “lone gunslinger act.” It may be this act, not his blood toxicity, that really gets him.

Speaking of “getting,” let’s declare Mickey Rourke’s comeback a flaming success. True, in “Iron Man 2” Ivan sometimes comes across as a caricature. The Russian accent (it makes Cate Blanchett’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” brogue seem tame), the 44-karat smile, the hair — it all hollers supervillain in Big Capital Letters, the opposite of what Jeff Bridges did with Obadiah Stane. Still, that was another movie, and Rourke puts his own menacing stamp on Ivan (that sinister chuckle was made for supervillainy). His showdown with Iron Man at the Grand Prix in Monaco is thrilling, a superb combination of great CGI and great acting. Another reason this scene resonates is because the parts are tailored for the actors; both have lived the histories, to some extent, that their characters have: beaten down by circumstance or bad choices, then resurrected through sheer force of will. Rourke and Downey bring a raw, bruised humanity to their parts few other actors could. Who better to rise from the ashes than these two?

Remaining cast members are all over the map. Despite Sam Rockwell’s inherent coolness, Hammer is less interesting. He feels thrown in for comic relief. Johansson fills out that zippered bodysuit fetchingly … and that’s all. Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury, is suave personified; only a pirate could wear the eye patch better. Paltrow’s part is whittled down to nothing, though her chemistry with Downey doesn’t suffer for it. I was unsure of Cheadle’s replacement of Terrence Howard as Rhodey, but a rewatch of “Iron Man” sold me. Never showy, the new Rhodey brings a quieter energy to the part that makes the character more nuanced, so some might mistake his performance as bland. And while “Iron Man 2” as a film has the opposite problem, it’s still the kind of ride you want to take more than once.

Grade: B+

25 Responses

  1. Man…I didn’t even think for a second about how cool it is that two of Hollywood’s biggest flame-outs were sharing the screen together. You are so right, it’s so cool seeing them square off.

    Seriously, where are the negative reviews of this movie coming from?!?! These people are nuts!

  2. I still think that “Iron Man 2” lacked what Bridges brought to the first film – maturity.

    • @ CC — I don’t know because I LOVED IT! There were eight other true “Iron Man” nerds in the audience who stayed all through the credits, and when the promo came on some guy in the back yelled “Suckers!” And I pumped my fist in the air and yelled back “RIGHT ON!”

      @ Frank — I can’t argue with you there. Bridges as a villain had nuance; Rourke is all about going over the top. Ivan is a caricature mostly, as good as Rourke is, whereas Obadiah was a character. But I think both kinds of villains belong in this franchise, so I’m OK with that.

      • You didn’t feel that once Hammer took over as the main villain that Rourke wasn’t really left with much to do until the ending. I just feel that this film unfortunatly went along the lines of “Spiderman 3” instead of “The Dark Knight”.

        I think it’s sad that Johansson was just in the movie for t & a – and it’s even sadder that it’s put in the movie for my demographic and I don’t give a shit about it.

        I just wish Favreau would have just kept the film simple – stick to the basics and not think to hard – after all this isn’t “The Dark Knight”, it’s “Iron Man”.

  3. I made a typo! 😦

    • Actually, it kinda makes me happy that she was meant to be eye candy for your demographic and you didn’t care. Restores my faith in mankind a little bit! 🙂

  4. You know, while I can’t say the sequel was a better film, I actually enjoyed it a little bit more than the first. I watched the first on Friday, so that my memory of it would be fresh. I think the sequel had more, for lack of a better term, “OMG” moments. I could have stood for a little more character focus, because RDJ especially shined so brightly in the quick moments where he got the chance to show some vulnerability. All in all, I just felt the sequel was a bit more, well, rollicking than the first one, and sometimes that just hits the spot.

    • I agree — I don’t know where all these reviewers writing about “how little fun” the sequel was are coming from! “Iron Man 2” was a blast and, despite the gravity of Tony’s health situation, seemed more light-hearted more often. Sam Rockwell and Gary Shandling were around to bring on the funny, and so was Rourke. What’s not to enjoy?

  5. Too many bad guys in this one. Poor Rourke is just left out until the end of the film but I loved the final battle much more than the first film.

    This one was still good but I didn’t like this one as much as the first, the middle starts lagging too much here.

  6. Despite its flaws this manages to be wickedly entertaining, and isn’t that the point? It’s being closely criticized by a lot of reviewers, but I think it was easy to just sit back and enjoy. I really liked your review and totally agree with it- great point about the parallels between Rourke and Downey’s real lives and characters!

    • Thanks! The more I thought about it, the more sense it made — these are two men who have been to hell and made it back with scars … but the point is they made it back. It’s just so fitting that it’s DOWNEY and ROURKE duking it out.

  7. Heard good things and bad, so I’m going in with mild expectations.

  8. Wow, that’s a pretty postive review for a film that felt a bit all over the place at times. I did enjoy the actors, but the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship, so strong in the first film, felt very weak this time around. I would agree that the villains were far superior this time around.

    • The villains this time were more … comic book-y and not quite as nuanced as Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (but that’s to be expected when you hire Bridges, right?). More colorful and over-the-top, but in a fun if sometimes cheesy way. I didn’t like how Paltrow’s part was whittled so small; I suppose there was so much else going on there wasn’t room for her. Maybe in the next one? Let’s hope!

  9. it was a bit of a mess truth be told, but a parts-enjoyable mess, with Rourke and Rockwell entertaining. pity they were hardly in it.
    RDJ was good but come on, how many times is he gonna do the same schtick?

  10. I wasn’t floored but I still enjoyed it. Downey rocked the house, and although you’d disagree, Rockwell was more than just relief…he was awesome. To me he was the only one besides Downey who added anything to the movie and he had the biggest character arc.Rourke and Jackson were just kind of walking through the scenery. That was disappointing:(

    After the success of the first, I knew this would be a tough act to follow. While the premise was ambitious, I think they rushed quite a bit…namely the ending. (Hey Favreau, way to take care of the finale ala Spider-Man 3:P)
    It wasn’t bad by any means and it fared waaaay better than Transformers 2 and that made me happy:)

  11. You seem kind of on the fence here. Not quite as into it as I was, but I’m pleased to see not as ready to rip into it as a lot of other reviews I read.
    You are so right about Downey and Rourke. No one else could play Iron Man like RDJ. It is perfect for him.

  12. It was a perfectly entertaining movie but I was left wishing for more. This was too much of an Avengers prequel instead of an Iron Man sequel. Very little development was made for the Iron Man universe. It’s well-acted, fun and good looking, but at the end of the day, it’s completely forgettable.

  13. I dug it too. And since then I keep speaking with an obnoxious Russian accent. I’m driving everyone crazy, but having a ball doing it.

    There was definitely some things it lacked, and the polished feel the first one had was absentee, but it was a different brand of movie all together. It was certainly a worthy successor even though flawed.

    Excellent point on both Rourke and RDJ and incredibly insightful review as usual.

    • @ Heather — I saw the movie with my mom (yeah, she’s cool) and afterward we kept saying “I vant my boird.”

      @ Katie — “Spider-Man 2” and “The Dark Knight” ruined people for sequels (although if you wanna be technical, “Dark Knight” is only a sequel to the re-re-reinvented Batman). The funny thing is that I’ve read numerous reviews that said there wasn’t ENOUGH action in the first movie and TOO MUCH in the sequel. Favreau can’t win for losing!

  14. “I vant my boird”

    Bumper Sticker.

    Nuff said.

  15. Heather you are so right.
    I’m thinking a T-Shirt franchise. We should go into business together…

    • I kept saying it at work tonight, and no one had a clue. I was overcome with disappointment, and laughing to myself like a whacko. For this I’m thankful for bloggerty friends.

  16. I need to just stop seeing blockbusters, it seems. But that’s not even true because I do enjoy a number of them.

  17. Thought it was Ok to say the least. Check out my review here: http://dtmmr.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/iron-man-2-2010/

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