Despite boasting its fair share of explosions, superhero egotism and fanciful use of CGI, “Iron Man 2” inconveniently has a disarray of new characters and subplots that take away from the focus of Marvel Studios’ newest blockbuster.
In the first “Iron Man,” industrialist Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. (“Sherlock Holmes,” 2009) creates a jet-propelled battle suit and is dubbed the Iron Man. The sequel, also starring Downey, begins as a continuation from the first, where Stark revealed to the world that he is the man behind the iron mask. Six months later he is the planet’s biggest celebrity, and has therefore doubled his ever-flamboyant self-indulgence with statements like, “I have successfully privatized world peace!”
Unlike previous Marvel Comic characters like Spiderman and the X-Men who have inherited great power, Stark does not take it upon himself to match it with “great responsibility.” This is surprisingly refreshing in that “Iron Man 2” does not become just another superhero movie where Stark is a choir boy looking to save damsels in distress. Stark’s over-the-top hauteur, in fact, is the basis of which the storyline progresses.
Golden Globe Award winner Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler,” 2008) masterfully plays Ivan Vanko, a long-haired, gold-toothed Russian with more tattoos than an L.A. gangbanger. Vanko claims his father’s technology was stolen by Tony’s father, Howard Stark, and seeks revenge by constructing his own battle-suit equipped with electrical whips. The hardcore Marvel fan-boys would realize that Vanko is based on the comic book villain “Whiplash,” although he is never called that in the movie.
Meanwhile, Stark refuses to hand his Iron Man project over to the government despite persistent pressure. He claims that the technology he created is so advanced that he should be the only one to have access to it. Refuting this is Stark’s corporate nemesis, the loathsome yet charming Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell (“Moon,” 2009), who desperately wants to outdo Stark’s Iron Man technology.
After an epic battle in which Vanko is subdued and eventually imprisoned by Iron Man, Hammer breaks Vanko out of jail and recruits him at an attempt to create drones that will outperform Iron Man.
This is where things get tricky. Characters and subplots are seemingly thrown at the audience all at once. In the first movie, Stark’s narcissistic personality dominated the storyline, but in “Iron Man 2,” it competes with more than a half a dozen eccentric characters that seem to be irrelevant to the action taking place. It takes away from marvelous performances by the likes of Don Cheadle (“Brooklyn’s Finest,” 2009), Samuel L. Jackson (“Lakeview Terrace,” 2008), Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man,” 2008) and the stunning Scarlett Johansson (“He’s Just Not That Into You,” 2009).
While the focus stays on Stark’s ego, the storyline unnecessarily branches out and each vie for the viewer’s attention, which causes disorder. Stark’s best friend Colonel James Rhodes, (Cheadle), takes Stark’s alternate Iron Man suit and later on emerges as the “War Machine” to aid the Iron Man. Natalie Rushman (Johansson) is a triple agent working with Nick Fury (Jackson), who doesn’t appear until the halfway point of the movie. The two recruit Stark to join their S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, an espionage and law-enforcement agency, something the movie could have done without.
Pepper Potts (Paltrow), is Stark’s secretary and love interest who throughout the whole movie struggles to keep up with Stark’s rollercoaster journey into maturity. All the while, there is still the villain Vanko to take care of. Audiences, especially those who are not familiar with the Marvel saga and its characters, might acquire the “am I missing something?” syndrome.
Luckily for “Iron Man 2,” an excessive storyline was saved by first-rate acting by a loaded A-list cast. Viewers may be quick to forget about the useless subplots and minimal narrative after the climactic battle scenes, or just seeing Iron Man and War Machine on-screen. The CGI work and detailing is just that good.
There could not have been anyone better to play such an obnoxiously snobbish character than Robert Downey Jr., and Mickey Rourke looks like he had a blast on this big budget production after starring in low-budget films like “The Wrestler.”
Despite being what seems just like a stepping stone to future Marvel Comic blockbusters, “Iron Man 2” is still enjoyable for fan-boys and casual viewers alike.
“Iron Man 2” has a runtime of 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some strong language.
My Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.