Thursday, May 27, 2010

'Iron Man 2' review

Ambition is a scarce commodity in the Hollywood of 2010. It seems half the output from Tinseltown, both real and rumored, is either a sequel, prequel, remake, or reboot, any or all of which may be unnecessarily filmed in stunning three-dimensional videography!
While Hollywood continues to swallow its own tail, comic book company/movie-maker Marvel Studios, purchased by Walt Disney Co. late last year for $4 billion, is taking some initiative with a planned crossover series of films culled from its expansive superhero universe, culminating in the spandex-saturated, multi-hero extravaganza “The Avengers” in 2012.
“The Avengers” shared world will likely include The Incredible Hulk, who had his own tepid cinematic reboot in 2008, as well as Thor and Captain America, both of whom have big budget biopics scheduled for next summer. Rounding out the marquee names of this super-powered posse will be Iron Man, the billionaire playboy industrialist turned heavily armored champion of world peace.
If it all sounds nerdishly complicated, it is. Interweaving a series of films together over the next two to three years is certainly bold, but Marvel and its Disney overlords must be careful to give each hero his own fleshed out franchise while simultaneously funneling the whole works into a big blowout Event Movie in 2012.
“Iron Man 2” is Marvel’s first official post-buyout salvo into “The Avengers” storyline, and it’s mostly a successful one. While not quite as good as the lively first film, the sequel delivers a solid, character-driven narrative as well as the requisite crunchy action scenes. Even with the inevitable “Avengers”-related proceedings making the film cumbersome and unfocused, these moments don’t do irreparable damage to what is a strong stand alone sequel.
In “Iron Man 2,” Tony Stark, who publicly outed his alter ago at the end of the first film, has used the Iron Man technology to foster a peace treaty between the major super powers. Stark’s celebrated peacemaker status comes with pressure from a slimy U.S. senator - played to the deliciously detestable hilt by Gary Shandling - to hand over his invention for military application.
The stress of the entrepreneurial rock star superhero lifestyle is exacerbated by a prison-tattooed Russian genius (Mickey Rourke) with a long-standing familial grudge against Stark, as well as a sorta-kinda budding romance with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and some increasingly worrisome health issues.
The story, even without the “Avengers” slant, is subplot-heavy and introduces a couple of new characters to an already well-stocked cast. Still, as long as director Jon Favreau is concentrating on his leading man’s troubles, the plot never feels cluttered in the overstuffed manner of numerous action sequels.
This is largely thanks to Robert Downey, Jr., who embodies Stark’s vulnerable brashness perfectly. Downey is fun to watch, even early on when he and Paltrow talk over each other’s lines in the queasily cute style of a ‘50s-era screwball comedy.
Somewhat less enjoyable is Samuel L. Jackson’s shoehorned appearance as the ominously eye-patched Nick Fury, who wants to recruit Iron Man for his anti-terrorist S.H.I.E.L.D. squad. The scenes between Jackson and Downey, while brief, have a dutiful feel about them; a “let’s-get-this-out-of-the-way” air that depletes some of the film’s early momentum.
That time may have been better spent fleshing out Rourke’s revenge-seeking Ivan Vanko. Besides a very cool action scene on a Monaco racetrack, Rourke isn’t given much to do besides look disturbing and mutter in Russian accent. Harnessing Rourke’s natural off-the-wallness with a bigger role would have made Vanko a far more affecting villain than he is here.
After the slog of the “Avengers”-themed middle half, however, “Iron Man 2” finds its bearings by returning to Stark’s strained relationships with Pepper and friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Downey’s chemistry with his co-stars carries the proceedings to the predictably action-heavy conclusion, including a bombastic battle alongside the newly super-suited Cheadle in a New York City botanical garden.
“Iron Man 2” is not as breezily enjoyable as its more tightly focused predecessor, but extraneous sequences aside, the film is not just a two-hour trailer for “The Avengers,” either.

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