It’s got wit, it’s got personality, it’s got science and comic book references that the rest of us can understand, and let’s be honest….those eyes!
Robert Downey, Jr.‘s wildly successful Tony Stark is back, and you will be relieved to know that he is still brilliant, beautiful, and arrogant as hell (although why he was drawn to sport that facial hair, I’ll never understand).
During the first installment (check out the review by my colleague and pal Justin Morgan if you are in need of a humorous refresher), Stark was merely an uber-rich weapons developer who, while on top of his game, learned some lessons about how technology can be used to promote peace instead of war by creating a very useful full-body weapon that does all sorts of things. Decidedly unburdened by other superhero traits like humility, Stark doesn’t bother to live a double life, and instead delivers the famous “I am Iron Man” line to a hungry press in the first film’s refreshingly direct closing scene.
Two years later, the weapons developer and un-closeted superhero is in an odd place. While he’s still driving futuristic cars, still blowing wads of cash on glitzy public spectacles, and still able to bat his big brown eyes at the ladies with so much success that you gotta wonder if it gets boring, Stark has run into a couple of major roadblocks.
First, Icarus’s wing-wax is getting a mite soft, if you know what I mean. Since Stark finds no need to separate his Bruce Wayne from his Batman, the fun-loving party boy personality is also the one representing the United States around the world in various and vague peacekeeping missions. At the outset of Iron Man 2, Uncle Sam, as you might imagine, is starting to feel some beads of nervous perspiration around the band of his stripey hat. The government would feel more at ease if this kind of technology were in the hands of the military, but Stark insists that to turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn himself over, since the two are one and the same. Hardly mollified, that attitude is exactly what the United States has been fearing, and they’ve got a point. In Moscow, a guy named Ivan Vanko with a personal vendetta against Stark has already copied the technology. The secrets are leaking, other countries could get their own Iron Man…it’s a slippery slope, everyone. A slippery slope!
Since Stark is clearly the lovable one (Those wisecracks! Those eyes! I’ll stop there!) and we’re rooting for him over the reptilian Senator Stern (Garry Shandling*), the idea seems to be that we are all for this, as Stark himself puts it, “privatized peace.” For filmmakers Justin Theroux and Jon Favreau, that seems out of character: Hollywood isn’t exactly known for its Republican leanings. Sure, Tony gets taken down a peg and possibly learns a lesson or two, but you know it’s only temporary. The man is still Iron Man, property of Stark Enterprises and no one else. It’s an interesting point to ponder in this age of government bailouts and whatnot, but it won’t keep you up at night (not as much as Those Eyes! will, anyway).
Second (remember, we’re talking about Stark’s roadblocks, here), don’t be alarmed but SOMETHING in that THING IN HIS CHEST is DOING SOMETHING to his blood, and as a result, the world could very soon be deprived of Tony Stark! The science in Iron Man 2 is laughably shady, but maybe that’s the point. It’s funny that it’s so ridiculous! And let’s be honest, I’m sure it was dumbed down to the lowest common denominator (me) and I couldn’t even remember the words for the thing in his chest, yet I still vaguely followed what was going on. Poison! Danger! Gotta find solution! I’m with you, Iron Man! Building a particle collider in a couple of days in your home? Sure, what do I know? That can probably happen. I’m still with you, Iron Man! The process of finding a new element was kinda boring, but I can see that it’s definitely and absolutely new BECAUSE IT MAKES A NEW SHAPE ON HIS CHEST! Sold! I don’t know about you, but I call that a science for the masses success, and if they’d complicated it up even a hair more, I would have been lost forever. Sorry to disappoint anyone, but I am pretty much a science moron. And what’s worse, I don’t even try to rectify that situation. If this sounds familiar to you, you will appreciate the filmmakers’ charitable refusal to cater to the laws of chemistry.
I had my own personal roadblock as well in that my nerd levels do not reach the height at which I know much about the Avengers. From what I gather, it is a supergroup of heroes that I heretofore knew very little about and honestly wasn’t sure if their comics actually existed or if I just imagined them in a dream. I was surprised that I wasn’t given a little more information about the situation, especially since in this Iron Man installment Samuel L. Jackson takes up more screen time than I’d certainly give him (as is his wont), and we’re led to believe that he and his eyepatch will be back for the third one.
I guess I could do some research on this “Captain Fury” and “what appears to be a weak Justice League” (and the idea IS a little more appealing than looking up new elements and particle colliders), but I would rather focus on the elements of the film that I do understand, and the ones that make this film enjoyable even to the rest of us!
Second installments in trilogies, which I fervently hope this will become, as opposed to a drawn-out franchise, are often the best, as they don’t have to rush through introductions or conclusions and can instead slow down a little and draw out the good stuff. Theroux provides a snappy script (as usual) that doesn’t get bogged down in action, and though the casting got weird with Mickey Rourke as a Russian physicist, Sam Rockwell is predictably brilliant and pathetic as competing weapons guy Justin Hammer.** ScarJo seemed a little wasted on what amounted to a pretty face in tight outfits, but this film belonged to Gwyneth Paltrow as the adorably anxious and capable Pepper Potts and the prodigious and eye-batting talents of…well, you know. It’s an RDJ fest for those of us who appreciate those types of things, and even though it’s less satisfying to see Stark-in-the-Suit than it is Sherlock Holmes smacking his way around London,*** your Iron Man won’t disappoint you this time around.
*Here’s a serious question: If you were Garry Shandling, would you bother with plastic surgery? What is he hoping to accomplish??
**Which is also my new name for my colleague and pal, Justin Morgan.
***Look, I will stand by that statement any day of the week.