Sometimes when one sits down to write about a particular film, even if you’ve sat on your thoughts for a couple of days, it can be hard to keep yourself from popping open a thesaurus and stringing along as many accolades as possible. Coming up with a whole review and trying not to gush too much can be a tricky thing. But alas, here comes Iron Man 2 officially kicking the tires and lighting the fires of the summer movie season.
Last summer, mental and cerebral films of grandeur were few and far between. Oh sure, we did get our fair share of greatness or we wouldn’t have seen Star Trek, Up, District 9, and Inglourious Basterds. But if that was all that was great over the course of four months, that’s only an average of one per month. I think we’re a little more deserving than that even in the summer months. So thank you, Iron Man 2. Thank you for showing the rest of summer what they’re up against.
Beating everyone out of the gates was a very wise choice when J.J. Abrams did the same thing last year with his spectacular Star Trek reboot. And lest we forget, the original Iron Man did the same thing only one year before that back in 2008. My, how time flies. While it may have been two years ago, we finally get the chance to catch up with our beloved man of iron and his cohorts are back in tow along with some new faces and everyone gets their chance to shine.
In Moscow, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is watching Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) announce to the world that he is Iron Man. Ivan’s father Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev) lies dying in a bed and passes away leaving behind blueprints for the Stark Industries arc reactor which we learn Anton co-created with Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s father. Ivan clearly wants revenge for the shame and humiliation brought on by a falling out between Anton and Howard and Anton’s deportation after being arrested for selling plutonium. Hence, we get the opening credit sequence of Ivan constructing something based on the technology behind Tony’s arc reactor fueling his Iron Man suit.
Six months later, all seems to be better than ever for Tony Stark. The year-long Stark Expo has officially kicked off in New York; however, Senator Stern (a finally hilarious again Garry Shandling) demands Tony to turn over the Iron Man suit as he deems it a “specialized weapon” and the technology could fall into the wrong hands. Tony’s arch-nemesis Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants the suit turned over as well so that the U.S. military can use the design to form droids that can be sent into battle even though Tony has already personally privatized world peace.
Just when everyone thinks all is going better than ever, Tony attends a speed race in Monaco with right-hand woman Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and their new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) “from legal,” in tow. Without anyone knowing, Tony jumps behind the wheel of his own race car and speeds away. Along comes Ivan finally showing up with his own weapon of choice which is a set of electrically-charged whips strong enough to cut a car in two — or three or four. After Happy Hogan (director Jon Favreau) runs down Ivan and Pepper tosses Tony his Iron Man suit-in-a-suitcase, they manage to apprehend Ivan who gets tossed in jail. Hammer assists in faking Ivan’s death to proposition him into helping make the droids all that they can be.
To make a long story “short,” after the Monaco incident, Tony realizes he needs someone more stable to handle Stark Industries and makes Pepper Potts the new CEO. Tony and Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (now played by the far-better-than-Terrence-Howard Don Cheadle) get in a drunken birthday brawl and Rhodey flies off in his own Iron Man suit which gets turned over to the military and sold to Hammer giving him exactly what he needs to one up Tony but Ivan has ulterior motives for what he’s really doing with his droid programming. Oh, and did I mention that Natalie is really Natasha Romanoff, a double spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Nick Fury (returning Samuel L. Jackson) which was co-founded by Howard Stark and is looking to recruit Tony for something called the Avengers Initiative or that the reactor in Tony’s chest is slowly killing him and S.H.I.E.L.D. may have a cure?
Phew, talk about plot… But that’s the awesomeness that is Iron Man 2. With as much as there seems to be going on it never once gets bogged down by either too much talking or too much action. This is one of those rare sequels that outdoes the original. It enhances the first film – which, lets face it, was basically just an origin tale, but a damn good one at that – with more back-story while marching along to a new beat giving us bigger stunts, better visuals, funnier jokes, and yes, even more heart. The Tony Stark/Pepper Potts dynamic is a great piece of the glue that’s holding everything together.
Another thing holding everything together is probably the fact that while the original took four screenwriters to tell the tale of how Tony Stark began, this film took only one. Justin Theroux (also one of the co-writers of another 2008 classic, Tropic Thunder) has done a terrific job of giving the new characters life while keeping the main characters in focus. He also finds time for squeezing in a chance for Happy Hogan to give a beat down to a security guard in the Hammer foyer while Romanoff takes out a half-dozen herself in a spectacularly choreographed fight sequence.
As I said in the beginning, words cannot describe the level of awesome that we are treated to over the course of two hours. And boy, how those two hours just whiz on by. The film is not simply content with topping the original but proceeds to contend with itself in a game of one-upmanship with itself as it continues to build to the finale. But be sure to stick around for the post-credits sequence, it’s a doozey.
While I don’t know how much more enhanced this could possibly be on an IMAX screen I can tell you that it doesn’t need that kind of grandiosity. It already has all it needs in itself. This is going to be the summer movie to beat and to that I raise a glass of whiskey and wish the rest of summer the best of luck. It’s going to need it.
Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures