Pedal to the metal
“Iron Man 2” does nothing new, but it does everything right.
Robert Downey Jr., who was already comfortable outside the metallic suit as billionaire playboy Tony Stark, welcomes a few new players to the game, and further fans out the Marvel comic universe.
And judging from “Iron Man 2”, that universe holds much promise.
Ditching the brooding of the “Batman” franchise, the “Iron Man” sequel is perhaps even lighter on its toes than the first. Stark’s now more confident than ever, despite some minor daddy issues (which come and go quite quickly). He’s living comfortably out of the costumed closet and loving the glitz and glamour that comes along with his newfound star status.
In fact, he’s so busy partying like a rock star, he names his gal Friday, Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), CEO of Stark Industries so he can play.
Deep in the heart of Russia, though, Ivan Banko (played by Mickey Rourke) is stewing over the fact his father died virtually neglected by Stark Industries, following years of service. He devises his own mechanically modified supersuit in an attempt to knock Tony down a notch or two. His allegiance with a Tony’s hotshot competitor, Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell) allows Banko to complete his transformation to Whiplash.
The film springs between action sequences, introducing new characters and broadening the returning ones.
Where Christopher Nolan, director of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” decided to burrow beneath the surface and explore basic human flaws, “Iron Man’s” director Jon Favreau merely polishes his hero’s surface. It’s a smart turn, given the lead character’s shallow tendencies.
Entering Tony’s world this go-round is his pal Lt. Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, with Don Cheadle lock-stepping into the proceedings in the role Terrence Howard played in the first. Scarlett Johansson slinks aboard as a Stark Industry employee who can push around more than just papers. Johansson has never made much of an impression on me in prior performances, but I now welcome her return to future instalments. And not just because she wears a leather jumpsuit well, but that does not hurt.
And Samuel L. Jackson returns as the too-cool-for-school Nick Fury, the head of a group of super-secret superheroes who are quietly coalescing. Here, Fury is given more space to grow and share his master plan, whetting the appetite for a Grand Guignol of comic book adaptations, “The Avengers.”
As the velvet-smooth Hammer, series newcomer Rockwell has some of the best throwaway lines, but it is once again Downey who owns the picture. His mouth is the motor for ‘Iron Man 2.’ Furiously firing off one-liners, non sequiturs, and able-bodied sight gags, it’s easy to see how so many are magnetically drawn to this man behind the metal. But he also skilfully handles the random drips of drama the seep into the picture, giving him just enough nuance beyond the bravado.
If there were any spots of rust on the franchise, it would be with its villains. With actors such as Jeff Bridges (as the original’s Obadiah Stane) and Rourke, their marks on the franchise should be indelible. But despite their ability to make many things go boom, there are little aftershocks felt.
It’s a small complaint with a film this fun.
And speaking of fun, don’t think that the end credits signify all “Iron Man” has to offer its devoted fans. For those who have not seen the tease on the internet yet, do yourself a favor and sit tight for a peek at what’s to come.
Along with “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man 2” is proof that “sequel” does not have to be a four-letter word.