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Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (PG-13)

“Iron Man 2” Flies First Class

By Roxana Hadadi

It’s an expected reality that most superhero sequels follow a specific formula: Guy thought the world would be better with him; realizes that might not be the case; probably loses his girl; possibly loses the adoring public. “Spider-Man 2” went down that road, with Peter Parker flunking out of school and missing the love of Mary Jane, and “The Dark Knight” was somewhat similar, with Bruce Wayne attempting to give up crime-fighting so that he could finally be with childhood friend Rachel Dawes but realizing Gotham City might just crumble without his help – even though its citizens didn’t want it. However, let this be clear: “The Dark Knight” > any movie in the “Spider-Man” franchise.

But while “Iron Man 2” isn’t similar to either of those movies in tone or atmosphere – not goofy enough to be like “Spider-Man,” not morose enough to be like “The Dark Knight” – it still abides by those same guidelines. And man, did Jon Favreau and co. do it well.

Back in 2008, “Iron Man” was an absurdly successful summer blockbuster, whipping fans into a frenzy – the film made more than $585 million internationally – and greatly pleasing critics, who gave the film a 93 percent approval rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone loved the modernization of the comic book story (director Favreau updated it to a present day, post-Sept. 11, 2001, world), as well as the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the rich heir to the Stark Industries military contracting fortune and a physics genius in his own right. His glib one-liners and kind-of-obnoxious, kind-of-charming confidence – the man oozed it – helped the film become more than just your typical action flick, escaping the kind of tedium that permeated both “Transformers” and its sequel, “Revenge of the Fallen.”

And thankfully, those exact same qualities – Favreau’s intriguing choices for cinematography, Downey’s appeal and righteously awesome action scenes – are what give “Iron Man 2” such strength. Set six months after the first film, it focuses on Stark’s struggle to stay healthy since the electromagnet embedded in his chest may be poisoning him; his volatile relationship with secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who rebuffed his romantic advances in the first film; and his insistence that his Iron Man persona is maintaining world peace.

But while the past six months have been conflict-free, U.S. Sen. Stern (Garry Shandling) has his doubts, launching a hearing that attempts to discredit Stark and demanding he turn over the Iron Man suit to the U.S. military. But as Stark vehemently insists that he and the suit are one – and that giving it to the authorities would amount to “prostitution” – he also ridicules rival military contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who has been trying to create his own version of the suit to then sell in order for a huge profit. According to Stark, though, technology similar to his suit is five, 10, even 20 years away, and there’s no reason to worry about any bad guys popping up – as he boasts to adoring followers, he’s “successfully privatized world peace.” Modesty isn’t really Stark’s thing.

Yet it’s all about to come crashing down (duh), as one thing after another begin nudging Stark toward his own personal hell. First, his blood toxicity level is rising rapidly, forcing him to acknowledge that the palladium core in his electromagnet is causing him to slowly die. Then he gives up his company, promoting Potts to CEO; his relationship with her, however, takes a hit when she hires an attractive new girl, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who keeps catching his eye. (The sultriness is mainly implied, though – Johansson’s character is only topless for one scene, and even then she’s wearing a full-coverage bra.)

And when a rival, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), shows up at a racing event in Monaco with a similar suit to Stark’s, creating a chaotic emergency by slashing apart cars with what look like electrified whips, the idea of “privatized world peace” is suddenly shattered. Looks like it’s up to Stark to pick up all the pieces – from his relationship with Potts and friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (recast from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle) to the threat posed by Vanko and Hammer, who illicitly team up to bring Iron Man down.

What makes the film work so well is Favreau’s mix of action and character development, and Downey’s ability to deftly handle both. When he’s snarky and self-assured, Downey is a lovable rogue (even though, much like Batman, it’s kind of weird that he has to suit up to deal with his daddy issues); when he’s conflicted and questioning himself, his downfall is emotionally affecting. Sure, he gets drunk at his own birthday party, smashes DJ AM’s stand (the film is dedicated to the late Adam Goldstein) and gets in a catastrophic fight with Rhodes, but it’s all so he can build himself back up again, becoming the man his father hoped he would be.

That man, of course, is also plenty awesome when it comes to kicking butt – from the first showdown with Vanko, whose slice-and-dice weaponry is horrifying in its precision, to the climactic final fight that takes place all over Manhattan’s skyline, each scene is electrifyingly thrilling and refreshingly believable. There’s no obvious, off-putting CGI here – and surprisingly, almost no gore; though the fights are intense, there’s barely any blood, just lots of explosions. And for fans of the original comic books, the appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “Astro Boy”) and the hints toward the film versions of “Thor” and “The Avengers” are undeniably great.

So take your significant other, take your kids, take your neighbors, take your strangers, take whoever. “Iron Man 2” deserves all the eyes it can get.


Also out this week is the documentary “Babies.”

Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Furry Vengeance.”

Looking to get out of the theater? Find local family events here.



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