By Dave Campbell | May 7, 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany (voice)
Iron Man 2 picks up six months after Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealed to the world “I am Iron Man”. After maintaining world peace, he opens the Stark Expo to continue the family legacy started by his father Howard Stark (John Slattery). Since openly outing himself, the United States Government has become very interested in the Iron Man technology. Led by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) in a committee hearing, they demand that Stark release the Iron Man suit to the U.S. military. Tony refuses as his school days rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) appears on the scene and is working under contract with the military to provide a reversed engineered alternative.
Tony has become fairly self-destructive after realizing that the palladium in his chest arc reactor (which keeps him alive) is slowly killing him by poisoning his blood. With no suitable element substitute, Tony appoints former assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as the new CEO of Stark Industries who brings in the curvaceous Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) as her replacement.
At the same time in Russia we meet Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of Howard Stark’s old business partner, disgraced and deported Russian physicist Anton Vanko who co-developed the arc reactor and now lays on his deathbed. Anton raised Ivan to believe that the Stark family betrayed the Vankos, and that it should be Ivan who is getting all of the success and fame. Upon his death Anton passes the technology on to Ivan. Driven by revenge Ivan develops his own arc reactor suit which includes the personal addition of menacing electro-whips. Intrigued by Vanko’s intellect and hate for Tony Stark, Justin Hammer lends his resources to Ivan, so in turn he can finish a line of armored combat suits he will use to overshadow Stark at his very own Expo…but Vanko has other plans.
Not only does Tony have to worry about dealing with Vanko and Hammer, but his best friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes or “Rhodey” (Don Cheadle) takes the Mark II Iron Man suit in order to control Tony’s destructive behavior, and then delivers it into the hands of the U.S. Air Force. Stark is then once again faced with S.H.I.E.L.D, when director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) show up to reveal Natalie Rushman as their undercover agent Black Widow placed there to keep an eye on him.
The greatest asset the Iron Man franchise has is it’s amazing cast, which continue to shine. There isn’t a more “suit-able” (pun intended) actor than Robert Downey Jr. to pull off the character of Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Who else in the business shares RDJ’s level of charisma, confidence, and engaging qualities? Mickey Rourke who was championed by Downy to play Whiplash, was an excellent choice as the yang to his yin; I just wish we had more time to spend with him. Don Cheadle picks up the slack replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodey, and reins in the character with more purpose and balance. Gwyneth Paltrow elegantly reprises her role as the independent and driven Pepper Potts, with graceful leadership and maternal instincts. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have a huge role in this chapter which means a lack of dialogue, but she still manages to make a huge dent in the story by kicking some major ass. I’m sure we’ll get to see more of her in the rest of the Avenger series from Marvel. The under appreciated Sam Rockwell also adds another flavor to the mix by brilliantly embodying the ass-y and generic Tony Stark wanna be Justin Hammer, while Samuel L. Jackson continues to expand Nick Fury out of what has previously only been a cameo. With Jackson’s 9 picture deal to portray Fury, expect to see his character expand much further.
Where Iron Man 2 seems to fall a little is in the almost anti-climatic…climax, which was also one of my minor complaints with Iron Man. It’s not as if they are bad, but that they just feel less eventful or a little inadequate in reflection to the rest of the film. Iron Man may be up against multiple protagonists this time around, but the film doesn’t suffer from the same fate as Spider-Man 3 or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The simple reasons for this are story and character development. Justin Theroux’s writing expands the already established faces, while bringing in new characters that are mostly allowed to ripen within the narrative. Iron Man 2 achieves in being satisfyingly equivalent to it’s predecessor and proves that there is plenty of story left to tell in the franchise. John Favreau continues the same cadence and pitch that he successfully captured with Iron Man, and runs with a story driven plot that leads to action, rather than one where action eclipses the story.
P.S. Stick around through the credits for another peek at the ongoing Marvel Universe; this time brought to you by the Gods.