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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 7, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 19
Iron Man 2 driven by pure star power
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Iron Man 2 driven by pure star power

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Iron Man 2
Opening May 7


Tony Stark is an obsessive/compulsive narcissist with abandonment issues and a penchant for reckless rock-star showmanship. He's also handsome, charming, and filthy rich, with a vulnerable streak that runs smack through the middle of his palladium-powered artificial heart. Mmm, I never realized all I lacked was a pile of money and a cool red suit that flies and shoots pulse bolts and I could be a superhero, too.

Iron Man 2 is the sequel to the 2008 surprise megahit Iron Man, which cast the unlikely Robert Downey, Jr. as the Marvel Comics superhero. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau return as sidekick secretary Pepper Potts and right-hand man chauffeur Happy Hogan (it seems Stan Lee really likes alliterative names).

Terrence Howard is out as Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes due to either his enormous ego or the utter lack of an ethical center by Marvel execs, you choose (I figure both are probably true). Don Cheadle signs on to replace him, and we all love Cheadle because he makes it look so easy.

As the film opens, Stark has "come out" as Iron Man only to become a rock star superhero complete with over-produced appearances sporting fireworks and the bikini-clad Iron Man dancers. Meanwhile, in a squalid Siberian flat, a Russian dude dies in the arms of his rather pissed-off son, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke returns, again). Ivan blames the Stark clan for daddy's demise and a superhero villain is born.

The bad news: Iron Man 2 is not as much fun as the original. The good news: That still leaves room for a terrific summer movie that's driven as much by old-fashioned Hollywood star power as it is by outrageous special effects, furious pacing, and/or an engaging story.

That star power starts with Downey, Jr. in the title role. We all like a good comeback story, and Downey certainly has one (also keep an eye out for Lindsay Lohan in the Robert Rodriguez flick Machete, due out in late summer 2010). Downey's take on Stark is adorable and arrogant and vulnerable and foolish. It's a tough character to make likeable, but somehow he gets it done. They've also backed off the eyeliner this time around, thank goodness.

Paltrow's Pepper Potts is revamped for round two, too, and to good effect. This Pepper is sexy and spicy, more habanero than banana. Paltrow goes toe-to-toe with Downey, and the chemistry that was oddly lacking between them in the 2008 film sizzles in 2010. I'm also convinced that you could put Paltrow in a burlap sack and a bucket hat and she'd make it work.

Iron Man 2's villainy is spun by another comeback kid: Rourke. Rourke stunned in the Aronofsky-helmed The Wrestler in 2008, copping an Oscar nod and losing (in public opinion, at least) only to Heath Ledger. He turns in the most nuanced villain I've ever seen in a blockbuster based on a comic book. Rourke may be a little loony and have terrible taste in accessories - whether we're talking sunglasses or dogs - but he obviously took this role seriously and the result shows it. I wouldn't mind seeing another Oscar nod go his way; that's how good he is.

Sam Rockwell, one of the most interesting actors working today, is Justin Hammer, the smarmy head of Hammer Industries, a main competitor to Stark Industries in the weapons field. Rockwell gesticulates and tantrums his way through as the brat who always comes in second to suave Stark's first.

Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Clark Gregg are all along for the ride. Their main function is to introduce their characters for the upcoming onslaught of Marvel Studios films due over the next few years, including movies based on Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers. Also, watch for Garry Shandling, who steals scenes as Senator Stern.

Iron Man 2 isn't as good as the first film, but that doesn't mean it isn't one dope ride, and serious gamers will love Vanko's video-game control of dozens of arc-powered drones chasing Iron Man and Rhodey around Queens while blowing up everything in sight. With a new villain and the Pepper Potts reboot, there's plenty of reason to let Iron Man 2 kick off your summer blockbuster viewing schedule.

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