Iron Man 2: Not Bad, But a Marvel Magagabag

iron-man-2vNot as good as its predecessor, Iron Man 2 was still thoroughly entertaining. The first installment of the Marvel franchise was one of the best comic book movies to hit theatres. Iron Man 2 continues in that tradition, even though it suffers from some of the usual pratfalls that plague sequels.

For starters, it had what I like to call “The Magagabag Syndrome.” What’s a “magagabag,” you ask? A “magagabag” is ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. Now, hold on. I’m not calling Iron Man 2 a bag of shit. Far from it. However, I did find that Iron Man 2 fell prey to the same thing that most comic book movie sequels do in trying to cram in so many elements of the comic into the film as a “shout out” to fans. As a comic book nerd, I appreciate the little nods to the Marvel mythos, however, a little more time could have been spent on character development and back-story with some of the new characters introduced in the film.

One of the film’s villains, Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke), was an amalgam of two of Iron Man’s comic book nemeses, Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. A big, beefy Russian who did 15 years in a Soviet prison for selling weapons to Pakistan, Vanko loves parrots, toothpicks, and DIY lightwhips. His dislikes include Tony Stark, being told what to do and people who mess with his family and pets. The viewer is given a very brief explanation that Vanko’s father collaborated with Tony Stark’s father on the technology that would inspire the Iron Man suit, only to be deported after the senior Stark deemed that the elder Vanko was in it solely for the money.

In spite of being heavily featured in the promos for the film, Rourke made the most of the role and the relatively short amount of screentime his character was given. His portrayal of Vanko was intriguing, and surprisingly subdued with Rourke researching the role in a Russian prison last year to help authenticate his character’s accent.

Sam Rockwell received a nice chunk of scenery-chewing screentime as Iron Man 2′s other villain: Stark’s high-tech weapons mogul rival, Justin Hammer. (Comic book nerd side note: The villain’s surname is a nod to “H.A.M.M.E.R.,” the rival organization of bad guys led by Norman Osborne — AKA – Green Goblin — and antithesis to the Stark/Nick Fury-helmed “S.H.I.E.L.D.” organization.) Rockwell’s portrayal of Hammer is manic and fun, playing upon the character’s ruthless capitalistic streak. Hammer desperately wants to be Tony Stark, as evidenced by his cheap knock off suits, feeble attempts at scoring with female journalists, bad dance moves, and (most importantly) his company’s inferior technology. Hammer concocts an elaborate plot to obtain the services of Ivan Vanko to help him create a counterpart to Stark Industries’ Iron Man suit.

Tony Stark, however, has even bigger fish to fry. For starters, the government is on his case, attempting to bogart the Iron Man suit, citing it as a weapon that would be much better off in the hands of the United States government. This alone is a pretty tough order, but even worse, Tony’s dying thanks to the very technology that sustains his life. The element used to keep the shrapnel from piercing his heart is now poisoning his bloodstream. He’s keeping this a secret from everyone around him, including his secretary, Pepper Potts, whom he makes CEO of Stark Industries. This affords Tony some time to tend to his own downward spiral, alternately racing against the clock to find a scientific cure for what’s killing him and simultaneously living out his Superhero Bucket List. (This includes a shout out to Tony Stark’s landmark bout with alcoholism from the comic. It’s played more for laughs than pathos in the film, with Tony getting good n’ liquored up and stumbling around in his suit.)

As always, Robert Downey Jr. owns the role of Tony Stark. He’s confident and snarky — exactly what a brainy, billionaire playboy superhero should be. Downey makes Stark supremely cocky, but equally likable, building off of the role from the first film and embellishing upon the flawed hero aspect of the character. His performance comes across as completely natural, even when he’s inside the big, metal suit.

As for other new additions to the film, Don Cheadle steps into the role vacated by Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Cheadle is good in the role, but seems to lack the chemistry that Howard had on-screen with Downey. This time around, Rhodey is a much sterner figure, a possible allusion to his alter ego in the Iron Man comic as War Machine.

Scarlett Johansson turns up as Natalie Rushman/Natalia Romanov — alias, Black Widow — an ass-kicking S.H.I.E.L.D. operative planted as Stark’s secretary to keep tabs on him for the organization. While Scar-Jo is some serious eye candy in her clingy jumpsuit and makes a smart Black Widow, the character or her backstory (fluency in multiple languages, very ethnic name in spite of no accent, fighting skills, etc.) are hardly explored. It’s a shame, considering Johansson’s capable performance served as a reminder that not all attractive, poofy-lipped starlets coast by solely on their looks.

Fan-favorite Samuel L. Jackson gets a much larger amount of screen time than he did in the first Iron Man as the eye patch-sporting head of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury. He’s crusty, yet likeable — particularly in a great scene with a fully-suited Iron Man in a donut shop. Even in a cartoonish, yellow-and-red greasy spoon, you know Nick Fury means business. Sure, he’s as typically Sam Jackson in the film as Robert Downey is typical Downey, but its the actors’ gift for mining their own mannerisms and channeling them into their characters to realistic effect.

The acting in Iron Man 2 is solid, but one of the more ham-fisted aspects of the film comes from the slapdash romance between Tony and Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow, giving a decent turn as Stark’s secretary-turned-CEO) lifted from the Moonlighting Handbook o’ Sexual Tension. The “will-they-or-won’t-they” romance between Tony and Pepper seemed more realistic in the first film. In Iron Man 2, it felt forced with neither party admitting their feelings, or really conveying them that well on camera. It didn’t translate into putting the viewers on pins and needles as to if they’d hook up, but more like a plot point that the writers felt they had to check off and insert into the film.

The effects were great (as usual). The technology was drool-worthy. And the costuming was top notch, helping to create the characters. Stark’s suits were impeccable. Hammer’s echoed Stark’s but in a much chintzier manner, marking the character as a knock-off snake oil salesman, even in appearance. Mickey Rourke looked like he brought his own wardrobe from home to help characterise the intellectual thug, Vanko. And the clean, sharp-yet-asymmetrical lines of Pepper and Black Widow’s business attire and dresses made me want to seek out those snazzy numbers on Ebay for my own collection. (Suck on that, Sex and the City 2!)

While Iron Man 2 definitely delivered considerable bang for box office buck, its structuring seemed to be a standard sort of format for the comic book movie. You know the credits will be rolling in about 15 minutes after the climactic “let’s blow stuff up” scene begins. (Speaking of the credits, hang around until the last Dolby logo fades off of the screen for a glimpse at Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, sitting out in the Arizona desert, hyping the next big Marvel film. Also keep an eye out during the film for an scene where Captain America’s shield helps to provide Tony Stark with some much needed “balance” and a moment of clarity, too!)

The resolutions to the film’s many plot points seemed hastily tied together. Everything gets resolved, but not with a lot of satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, Iron Man 2 was very entertaining and highly enjoyable, but if fewer plot points were included in the film and more fully explored, it could have been just as good as the first installment of the series. Overall, it’s worth a trip to the movies to check out on the big screen and a definite future addition to the DVD collection. Go see it!

Grade: B

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