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Iron Man 2

Dir. Jon Favreau

Rating: 4.0/ 5.0

Paramount Pictures

124 Minutes

When Jon Favreau was first announced as the director of the Iron Man franchise, the collective response was a humorless balk… until the finished product rolled off the assembly line. Having both audiences and critics in his pocket, Favreau set out to create a sequel that would surpass the previous model and has done so in spades.

The film finds the world dealing with the fallout of the previous installment: Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has admitted he is Iron Man, and he is now the world’s most famous man. He is facing turmoil on all sides- the US Military is demanding he surrender his technology, his health is failing him and his business is under attack by a vicious and jealous rival. To add insult to injury, his best friend, Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, taking over for Terrence Howard), believes he is acting irresponsibly, and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his usual rock, is swamped dealing with the responsibility of running the day-to-day at Stark Industries.

Iron Man 2 is like a Robert Altman directed superhero film- it features witty, cacophonous conversations, especially in scenes involving Stark and Justin Hammer (the effervescent Sam Rockwell, who comes close to stealing the show with the best name in the history of fiction.) Hammer is an inferior, bitter Stark knock-off, clearly picking up Stark’s sloppy seconds, from dating his ex to upgrading a stolen Iron Man prototype; it is clear he cannot measure up to the man. He teams with the crazed Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of Howard Stark’s former business partner. Ivan blamed Stark for having his father deported, and has sworn revenge on the Stark lineage.

Legacy is a large portion of the movie’s theme- Stark is concerned with what the future holds, Hammer wants to eclipse his rival and Vanko wants to avenge his family’s besmirched name. A brilliant scene in which Stark connects with his father through old film reels creates a genuine moment of tenderness and establishes some important backstory without resorting to cheesy flashbacks. Even the fights feel sloppy and brutal- like real people would react in situations of violence.

The film also does carry a heavy dose of cynicism, as Stark’s world is collapsing around him. Senator Stern (the ever-smug Garry Shandling) is a wonderful addition to the cast. What could have been a throwaway cameo role is instead filled out to be another prime antagonist. Acting as a representative of the military, Stern also represents in some ways Stark’s own father, challenging his notions of legacy and quick to reprimand Tony. As an active officer, even Rhodes is swallowed into this nemesis, putting Tony into a darker place than ever.

A summer-movie called Iron Man 2 can’t only rely on character development, and thankfully it doesn’t. There is plenty of robot killing, punch-smashing and explosions to satiate. The difference between those tropes in this film and something hollow like Terminator Salvation is the attention that’s paid to the other parts in the sum. The film ups the ante from Iron Man, featuring tons more action and SFX shots, whose sparse usage in the first film was denigrated. Whiplash/Vanko’s attack on Stark is a delightful and tense orgy of slow-mo violence, and the final action set piece is one of the most quick, slick and exciting in recent memory. As Stark and Rhodes battle a series of drones among a crowd of innocents, the fight spills into the air, around the expo and into a remote valley without missing a beat. It’s an exercise in metered escalation, and a breathtaking capstone to a movie that starts at off redlining and doesn’t look back. Iron Man 2 is leaps and bounds more intense, action-oriented, and character driven than the original- it’s one hell of an upgrade.

by Rafael Gaitan
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