There's nothing like that first kiss, yeah, and so even though IRON MAN 2 comes out and unleashes its share of awesomeness, even though it is very much worth a look, the mystery is gone, the expectations met, we've, er, already copped that feel. IRON MAN 2, good as it is, doesn't drop on us like lightning in a bottle, and so it isn't quite as exhilarating. What it does give us is more of that good Robert Downey, Jr.
The guy has made the Invincible Iron Man into his own, and I can't see anyone else now as Tony Stark, and I'm betting you can't, either. Downey brings the same devilish, bigger-than-life charisma, that same brash "I'm Tony Stark! Who the eff are you?!" swagger. Tony Stark is brilliant and ego-centric, but he's got good intentions. His heart's in the right place, and so we forgive the rampant narcissism. Plus, he's a fun dude to be around.
IRON MAN 2 chronicles Tony's fall from grace and his redemption. Six months ago Tony Stark told the world that he was Iron Man. But has fame and success gone to his head? He's been more eccentric lately, indulging even more in hedonism lately, and he's conducting the Stark Expo like it's a rock concert (which is actually bloody cool). Certain parties are worried. Iron Man's arrival had gone a ways into ensuring global peace or at least global detente. But six months later, the American government - as embodied in the person of the slimy Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) - is itching to get its paws on the Iron Man tech and, so, Tony has to attend senate hearings. Stark, in his own inimitable manner, blows the hearings out of the water.
There's a fatal flaw in the schematics, a gremlin in the wires. Carefree on the outside, on the inside Tony is very concerned. The palladium element in the arc reactor in his chest is gradually poisoning him, and each use of the Iron Man armor accelerates the condition. But he keeps up the pretense, having informed no one of his impending death. Maybe you can't blame the guy for carrying on so.
I actually expected this movie to delve into Tony's alcoholism (from the classic story arc in the comics), but we only get a peek at the man's fondness for booze. We do get moments when we see the flamboyant playboy take a sippy, as well as one epic drunken binge at a party (while in armor, no less). This public eff-up sends Tony's credibility plummeting, and that slimy senator's smirk just got even smirkier.
Rival industrialist Justin Hammer isn't the Big Bad of the movie, but Sam Rockwell supplies him with a pronounced air of unctuousness, and you hate him. Hammer, fed up with languishing in Stark's shadow, hires a crazed and tattooed Russian physicist to craft his own arsenal of armored suits, and a Russian physicist played by the menacing Mickey Rourke probably would have no choice but to be crazed and tattooed. They don't call Rourke's character by his supervillain code name, but it's Whiplash (with a smidge of Crimson Dynamo thrown in). He nurses a serious grudge against Tony and Tony's father, Howard Stark, who had a falling out with Whiplash's own inventor father. But how does Rourke get away with chewing a toothpick all the time?
IRON MAN 2 isn't magic like the first movie and that initial sense of novelty has worn off, but it's still terrific and the scale is bigger. Downey's presence drives the thing, and the fact that we don't mind that Tony Stark is onscreen more than Iron Man says something about the skills set Downey brings to the party. We still get that good banter between him and Gwyneth Paltrow. Don Cheadle takes over from Terrence Howard, and it's like he's always been on board as Rhodey. The f/x is flawless state of the art stuff; there's nothing like heavy metal clashing resoundingly. If you've at all seen the posters and the trailer, then you already know War Machine would make his debut, and he may not be as impressive as the ol' shellhead but, damn, he's got all those big mounted guns. And, for dessert, curvy Scarlett Johansson steps into the franchise as the smoking hot Black Widow and she demonstrates high levels of kickassery. And oh that sexy black leather....
I only wish Pepper Potts were given more stuff to do.
Jon Favreau features himself more as Happy Hogan, a chauffer in this incarnation, and I'm not mad at Favreau. What's the point of being director if you can't call your own number once in a while? Meanwhile, IRON MAN 2, in a scene here and there, gets us another step closer to that Avengers movie. Somewhere, executives from DC Comics must be gnashing their teeth, late to the game, lagging behind. The Green Lantern movie had better be something.
And, as become a habit with Marvel Studios flicks, stick around until after the closing credits, yeah? Nerd nirvana awaits.