By Colleen Glenn
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is back and as charming and sardonic as ever in the next installment of the Iron Man Marvel comic series, Iron Man 2.
Iron Man 2 picks up a few months after where the first film left off, with Stark having caused a tremendous media frenzy by revealing himself to be the Iron Man, the international peace-keeping/ass-whooping superhero in a suit. Stark has, by now, news coverage shows us, made several successful interventions around the globe and has used his armor to pressure the major superpowers of the world into negotiating a peace treaty. He has essentially become a one-man nuclear deterrent. As Stark himself puts it at the Senate Hearing, he has “successfully privatized world peace,” and refuses to relinquish his invention to the U.S. government.
Stark’s unwillingness to cooperate with the government results in a race by others, notably his evil weapons-manufacturer rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), to copy the technology of the Iron Man suit. Not only is the U.S. military frantic to get their hands on the technology, but so is the rest of the world. Footage shows Hammer, who also provides weapons for the U.S. military, testing out prototypes in Afghanistan, an illustration of Hammer’s shady dealings and shameless self-interest.
Despite Stark’s witty bravado in the face of the press and the politicians, we quickly learn that he has discovered that the palladium in the arc reactor that keeps his heart beating has begun to poison his body. He is slowly dying, and is unable to find an alternative element to feed the reactor. Frightened and weak, he appoints his long-time assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) CEO of Stark Industries, and hires Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who is actually an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (not that he knows this), to be his new assistant.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Stark, a man halfway around the world is dedicating all of his energy and resources into plotting Stark’s demise. Fueled by a mad desire for revenge, Russian Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has developed an arc reactor of his own, adding whips that attach to his arms that channel the deadly electrical energy. Tony eventually learns that Ivan is the son of a physicist who collaborated with Tony’s father on the original technology for the arc reactor years ago, but who never received proper credit. While Tony grew up a billionaire, Ivan grew up in poverty, watching his disgraced father drink himself to death.
When Hammer witnesses Vanko’s near-successful attempt to destroy Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix, he acts quickly to secure Vanko’s incredible technological expertise for his own purposes. But Vanko has plans of his own, and develops an army of superdrones that are under his control, much to Hammer’s surprise and disappointment when he unveils them at the Stark Expo. The drones and Vanko, in a super-weaponized version of the Iron Man suit, set out to fulfill their mission, to destroy Tony Stark forever.
Stark and long-time buddy, Lt. Col. James Rhodes, now War Machine (he has a suit of his own), destroy the drones and finally Vanko using the best of all possible weapons: teamwork. Stark races to rescue Pepper, and in the least romantic ending of an action film, kisses her for the first time as his best friend looks on. Informed by S.H.I.E.L.D. that he is unsuitable for service, Stark is invited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to be a consultant on the “Avengers Initiative.” By now, thankfully, Stark has discovered a substitute for the poisonous palladium, sporting a new triangle in his chest rather than the circular arc reactor. One can only hope that the more powerful reactor might enhance his and Pepper’s love life.
Director Jon Favreau assembled a truly solid cast of actors for Iron Man 2. But he failed to use them to their potential. Rourke as Ivan is captivating and interesting villain, one who is as smart as Stark but with nothing to lose, rendering him extremely dangerous. But the character is undeveloped and rather flat; the film misses its opportunity to capitalize on the acting chops of Rourke. Surprisingly, Rourke and Downey Jr. share little screen time, another missed opportunity in which we could have witnessed two heavyweight actors (with similar career paths, I might add) go head to head and bring out the best in each other’s performances.
Scarlett Johansson’s character also fails to elicit interest, other than amazement at how she fit into the black suit. She’s smokin’, but completely undeveloped (her character, that is). The same goes for Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, who was quite charming and spunky in Iron Man. Here, she has somehow strangely been robbed of any sex appeal, making Stark’s matter-of-fact love for her about as thrilling as the thought of two senior citizens getting handsy at Sunday night bingo.
Don Cheadle just doesn’t work in this role as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine. Though Cheadle is a terrific actor, the role seems unfit for him, prompting one to question why they thought it necessary to replace Terrence Howard, who played the role, quite well, in my opinion, in the first installment. Cheadle is rather dull in the role, to be blunt. Rumors abound that Howard was difficult to work with or didn’t meet Favreau’s expectations, but internet gossip aside, it’s hard to imagine that they found Cheadle to be a better Rhodes than Howard. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is, well, Samuel L. Jackson.
Sam Rockwell stole the show, delivering a fantastic performance as the slimy and pompous weapons entrepreneur. And long-time comedic actor Garry Shandling is simply perfect as Senator Stern, the disgruntled and snarky politician who interrogates Stark at the hearing and who is later forced to publicly thank Stark for his heroic achievements.
Though it’s not as good as Iron Man, Iron Man 2 still delivers as a fun summer action flick. Go see it, and stay until the VERY end, even after the credits roll: the good news for Marvel comic fans is that more installments are coming.
One word: Thor.
Iron Man 2 is currently playing at the Kentucky Theater.