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May 28, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

I might have gotten ahead of myself with my excitement for "Iron Man 2" and the list of Marvel Studios movies coming out in the next few years. Part of the problem is that every superhero movie since "The Dark Knight" has had to suffer being compared to a landmark film that set the bar way too high for movies in general. After seeing how dark, dramatic and somewhat realistic superhero movies can be, it's hard to believe in things like superpowers and the idea that these guys don't die from all the things they put themselves through. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Iron Man come dangerously close to playing themselves off as a joke.

The first few scenes of a movie can tell you a lot. "Iron Man 2" leads off with Tony Stark's public announcement that he is Iron Man from the end of the first film. However, we're seeing it from a small t.v. screen somewhere in Russia. Enter Mickey Rourke ("Sin City," "The Wrestler") as Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist who looks more like a biker turned convicted felon who screams with anger in possibly the worst acting I've seen in a long time. Vanko has reasons for revenge against Tony Stark, or more so, the Stark family. We jump six months to the Stark Expo, an on-going conference of technological inventions and presentations, where Iron Man makes an appearance complete with dancers. Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is cocky, comical and a bit obnoxious. Part of the plot centers around the governments desire to seize Stark's Iron Man suit and the technology around it saying a civilian should not possess such weaponry, and that they are concerned enemies of the U.S. have begun to attempt to replicate the technology. Stark Industries' rival weapons maker Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell ("Choke," "Moon"), who serves as a great counterpart to Stark, is trying to convince the government to take Stark's suit while slowly developing the technology himself. After Vanko attacks Stark, Hammer recruits him to build suits similar to that of Iron Man's to sell to the government. Vanko's plans of revenge, however, outweigh his agreement with Hammer.

Meanwhile, Stark is trying to deal with the way the suit is affecting his health and the pressure being put on him by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., who we met in the teaser scene at the end of "Iron Man." Fury is trying to help Stark get control of his suit while evaluating whether or not he is what they're looking for to be a part of the Avenger Initiative. On top of all of this, Stark's relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is strained, and his friendship with Rhodey escalates over Rhodey's allegiance to the military.

It's almost too much to keep straight. In addition to all of Stark's growing problems, he continues to out-do technology (or even realistic ideas or what's possible, like creating new undiscovered elements) and keep throwing one-liners at the other characters, who can't seem to find it funny anymore. Rhodey has been re-cast in this sequel by Don Cheadle ("Crash," the "Ocean's" films), and he serves as a good compliment to Downey Jr.'s Stark. Scarlett Johansson ("The Other Boleyn Girl," "Vicki Christina Barcelona") is intriguing as Stark's new assistant, and a character the comics would know as Black Widow, though this name is never mentioned in the film. Black Widow will reportedly be appearing is several other upcoming Marvel Studios movies. Interviews with Rourke revealed that he didn't even read the entire script, but just his parts. Not surprising, as his acting reflected a lack of interest in the entire film. In the few instances when his character speaks, he barely speaks any lines of English.

Here's how this film fits into the Marvel Universe of upcoming and past superhero films. At the end of 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," which was released just weeks after "Iron Man," we see Tony Stark in a teaser scene where he confronts General Ross on his "problem" with the Hulk. He then mentions that "we" are getting a special team together. "We" implies that after meeting with Nick Fury at the end of "Iron Man" that Tony Stark is part of the Avenger Initiative Fury mentioned. In "Iron Man 2," he's being evaluated on whether or not he could be a part of this initiative. Also, at a point when Stark meets with Fury, you can see in the background that the college campus scene from "The Incredible Hulk" is being reported on the news (I didn't notice that myself, I read it online). So perhaps the events of "The Incredible Hulk" were actually happening after the events of "Iron Man 2." Also, several references were made to Captain America, who has his own film planned for next summer. Also, the teaser trailer at the end. I'll tell you right now it's not worth waiting past all of the credits for, but in case you want to be surprised, skip the next paragraph.

The scene at the end of "Iron Man 2" shows Agent Coulson arriving in New Mexico, which he mentions several times throughout the film. There, we see a giant crater in the ground, and at the very last second we see what is supposed to be Thor's hammer in the crater. That's it. There is no surprise here. "Thor" is being released next summer and he will eventually be in "The Avengers," set for summer 2012 with Iron Man, War Machine, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury and most likely The Hulk. There is no shock here. All we see is a hole in the ground and a glimpse of a hammer. Filming for "Thor" has already begun, so couldn't they have thrown a glimpse of him in there? I think that would have been very doable. It's not the worst teaser, just not worth waiting around for. I already knew all of that.

So "Iron Man 2" doesn't really live up to its predecessor, and hopefully it isn't a strong indication of upcoming Marvel movies. It's still a fun and enjoyable film, but you'll probably enjoy it more if you're a superhero fan and especially if you're trying to follow this massive Marvel plan to bring all these movies together. If you're not particularly in to this stuff, then you can probably skip it, or wait until it's out on video.

"I'd love to leave my door unlocked at night, but this ain't Canada."


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