Summer Movie Showdown: "Iron Man 2" Review

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In the second Iron Man movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has revealed his identity and is refusing to hand over his technology to the United States government. What's worse, a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has duplicated his work and built weapons of his own. Also starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson.
3.5

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Summer Movie Showdown: "Iron Man 2" Review

Rating: PG 13 (for some language and moments of intense sci-fi violence and action)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: May 7, 2010
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Genre: Sci-fi, Action, Adventure

It's easy for production companies to get lazy when the first installment in a movie series grosses over $585 million worldwide. Fortunately, for fans of Marvel's cocky and egotistical superhero, Tony Stark, "Iron Man 2" delivers saucier performances and more amplified action sequences than the series opener. Robert Downey Jr. returns as the title character, showing audiences the wounded and hopeless side of the carefree playboy. The first film ended with Tony Stark publicly owning up to his superhero identity, and the sequel's first scenes show the unsavory aftermath of his thoughtless actions. 

Stark's conceit is boosted by his newfound popularity, and the boastful billionaire credits himself with creating a "peaceful" political climate across the globe. On the other hand, the same invention that saved his life is slowly poisoning his body, despite Stark's efforts to find an alternative power core. Meanwhile, the U.S. government views the Iron Man suit as a threatening weapon and tries to force Stark to surrender his property. In faraway Russia, Ivan Vanko lives in a small, murky room with his dying father Anton, a man who once helped Tony Stark's father develop a power source known as the arc reactor. Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke, also knows how to build and harness the arc reactor and sets off a plan of revenge in hopes of destroying the legacy of Stark Industries.

Much like the first film, the plot is directly driven by America's long history of shaky foreign relations. "Iron Man" highlighted fears of terrorism and advanced weaponry in the Middle East. "Iron Man 2" borrows from the past and revives the anxieties of the Cold War arms race. At one point, a panel of military officials views footage of foreign nations as they try unsuccessfully to copy the Iron Man suit. Property and public safety are the big issues moviegoers are asked to ponder this time around. Stark rejects the government's attempts to violate his personal rights and seize private property, especially knowing his invention will be used for the military's own destructive purposes.

Members of the Department of Defense may not be fans of this movie as the government presence is portrayed as a group of whiny bunglers who have either selfish motivations or a painfully slim grasp of military technology. Gary Shandling's familiar nasally voice is a brilliant choice to deliver the government's nagging demands as Senator Stern. Sam Rockwell joins the cast as Justin Hammer, a rival weapons developer who teams up with Ivan Vanko to destroy Stark's company. In the most polite words, Hammer can still be described as a pompous prick who desperately tries to remain relevant alongside the flashy and attractive image of Tony Stark.

Hammer unwisely puts the deceitful Vanko in charge of completing his company's military suits, leading to one of the film's most explosive action sequences. Rourke's lines are scarce and mumbled in a questionable Russian accent, but the performance works well for this smug and vengeful character. Vanko blames the Stark family for ruining his father's career, and Rourke effectively portrays him as a man who downplays his abilities and awareness to manipulate anyone who threatens him. And unlike Tony Stark, it's immediately obvious he doesn't fear death or public disapproval. Vanko's past is known to few; he seeks to create a new identity for himself by putting a spotlight on the flaws of the Stark family. 

And of course, there's a love story. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Stark's longtime assistant, Pepper Pots. The prospect of death proves to be a major emotional strain for Stark, who impulsively names Pepper the new CEO of Stark Industries. Pepper moves from the background to the forefront, displaying a more assertive edge that perfectly contrasts with Stark's increasing loss of control. As always, pride also gets in the way. After putting all of his faith in the arc reactor and the Iron Man suit, Stark finds it difficult to admit he needs help. As a man who never runs out of solutions, the riddle of saving his own life leads Stark to behave destructively and damage many of his reliable relationships.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Stark's close friend James Rhodes, a lieutenant colonel caught between personal loyalties and patriotic duty. Cheadle is a better match for Downey than his predecessor. He convincingly shifts between a dutiful voice of reason, a proactive battle-ready soldier, and a witty companion who can keep up with Stark's eternal youthfulness. Die-hard fans will love the movie's tie-ins with the Marvel Universe when characters like Nick Fury and Black Widow drop in to keep an eye on Stark's progress in finding a cure. 

Yet, the real star of "Iron Man 2" is the technology. Tony Stark effortlessly shuffles through futuristic virtual projections while jesting with his intelligent computer system, JARVIS. With one touch, Stark's suitcase transforms into the Iron Man suit in the middle of a battle with Vanko. As fanciful and dubious as the science might be, "Iron Man 2" is a film for sci-fi dreamers who look to a time when a man in a soaring metal suit won't just exist in comic books. 

Rating 3.5 out of 5