There are several ways to tell that summer is on its way. Indiana’s weather gets just a little stranger; students start looking more glassy-eyed than usual; and superhero movies start showing in the movie theaters. This month’s release of Iron Man 2 was a welcome start to blockbuster season.
Picking up where Iron Man left off, Iron Man 2 features the further adventures of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius, billionaire arms inventor, and his latest creation—the Iron Man suit. After six months, ever-humble, he’s boasting that the world is enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted peace. Stark, however, has at least three major problems. 1) The element that powers the arc reactor that is keeping Iron Man and, more importantly, his heart running is killing him. He has to find a new fuel source fast. 2) The government wants him to hand the Iron Man suit over to the military in the interest of national security, causing problems not only for Stark, but also for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his assistant who he promoted to CEO, and Lt. Col. James Rhoades (Don Cheadle), his friend in the military. 3) There are several people trying to create knock-offs of the Iron Man suit, including rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), terrorists across the globe, and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian physicist and ex-con who believes that his father was wronged by Stark’s father when the two were partners. Meanwhile, Stark is busy getting used to a mysterious new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), and dealing with surprise visits from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who may just hold the key to all the solutions.
What I find most interesting about the Iron Man movies is the way they engage with moral questions about war, peace, weaponry, and business. Without falling into pedantry about the business of war, the movie draws attention to the uncomfortable fact that without the threat of war, a lot of people could be out of jobs. As entertained as I am by how Tony Stark negotiates the problems of creating the Iron Man suit and basically running his heart on a high-tech battery, I’m equally intrigued by how he deals with the consequences of his business as an arms inventor/manufacturer, trying to find a way to create a more peaceful legacy.
As Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. often seems to just be playing himself. The character’s high-strung, reckless energy is well suited to Downey Jr.’s off-screen persona. I think what makes his performance really work, however, is the contrast he brings to Stark’s behavior as the public figurehead of his company, Stark as Iron Man, and Stark as a friend. While he acts like a hyperactive playboy in public, as Iron Man there’s often an intense focus in the performance. Then, when interacting with Pepper, he shows a labored, awkward sensitivity. In little ways, Downey Jr. brings complexity to the character.
As Hammer, Sam Rockwell is brilliant in that he appears to be trying to be more manic than Robert Downey Jr. His performance reminded me quite a bit of his work in Matchstick Men (2003), but I think it worked well for this movie. I couldn’t understand about 70% of what Mickey Rourke said. It was perfect for his character, really. As Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow is charming—awkward without being unnatural—and a wonderful counter-balance to the hectic energy that fills much of the movie. Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan brings an extra touch of comedy. I have just one question for Scarlett Johansson: Why take down your hair when you’re about to get into a huge fight? We know you’re beautiful; you can stop leading with your sex appeal any time now, please.
Of the action-adventure movies I’ve been to in the last month or so (Date Night, The Losers), Iron Man 2 was by far the most enjoyable. There were some pretty big holes in the plot and several moments that made me roll my eyes (mostly due to Johansson), but for two hours I really enjoyed myself. Tony Stark is really a nerdy kids’ dream because not only is he awesome at physics, he gets to act like Bruce Wayne, but with even better gadgets. The pseudo-science in the movie, I think, makes it feel smarter than it really is. Then again, maybe that’s just because I’m an English major. Either way, I recommend Iron Man 2 and rate it 4/5 stars.
Iron Man 2 is directed by Jon Favreau, based upon the Marvel comic by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It runs 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.