Iron Man 2

What score would you give the first Iron Man?  Prepare to give its successor the same exact score;  Iron Man 2 feels almost eerily similar to its forebear.  Of course, there’s something to be said for consistency, and if you liked the first installment, you’ll be pleased to discover that the sequel feels like a natural continuation of the storyline.  In fact, the cohesion of the two led me to wonder whether scribe Justin Theroux and director Jon Favreau (who brought us the already classic Elf) were drawing from a particular canon Iron Man storyline.

Surprisingly, the makeup of the script gives the word ‘eclectic’ new depth.  Characters and elements of storylines are pulled from all over the Iron Man timeline in order to crystalize the character’s key themes and motifs  in the span of a couple of movies.  This bold move apparently makes the best of a hero that, while popular, can lay claim to very few classic story arcs.  What Iron Man 2 does well, then, is continue to develop the character of Tony Stark.  In light of Marvel Entertainment’s movie strategy, this approach seems fitting.  However, let’s discuss what you won’t find in IM2: a famous and foreboding villain.  That’s not to say that the villains presented within the movie are half-baked; Theroux’s script makes better use of his characters in this second outing, but Iron Man fans looking to see a big name like Mandarin or Ultron will be disappointed.

See…Marvel is doing something pretty clever and innovative: the legendary comic book publisher is treating all of its superhero movies as though they occur within the same universe.  This isn’t new within the comic book world; events central to one character’s line of comic books are often alluded to in the books of other characters.  Yet applying this technique to the high-budget high-risk world of the silver-screen requires serious guts and vision.  Ultimately, the gambit will likely pay dividends.  Superhero movies are the new cash cow of the industry, and providing links between mostly unrelated stories will push people to see more of them.  The linchpin of Marvel’s strategy is the upcoming Avengers movie (2012), which will pull together several heroes after each has been developed via individual movies – look for Thor and Captain America blockbusters next summer.  I’m all for this strategy, even if it means that the films for the individual heroes walk the line between character study and high octane thrill-ride.

Anybody expecting War and Peace from Iron Man 2 will be left wanting for further nourishment.  Iron Man 2 is, of course, the cinematic equivalent of movie theater popcorn.  But Theroux keeps intact the trademark humor and cult of personality present in the original movie.  The movie veers into cheese territory here and there, but overall I appreciated the story being told, and I certainly never found the need to check my watch despite a runtime in excess of 2 hours.  Iron Man 2 is FUN.

I’ll say precious little about John Debney’s score.  It has the typical brassy bombast that you would expect from the summer’s first big budget heavyweight.  One cue, during the film’s sole montage (gotta have a montage), was particularly memorable and led me to the realization that I was having fun, but the rest was standard fare.

And the cast? OH…the cast.  Everybody and their uncle is in Iron Man 2: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mickey Rourke.  Whew!  To say that Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark might be a tad strong, but no other actor in Hollywood could fill the character’s shoes so ably.  Paltrow provides the same enjoyable performance as Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle does a remarkable job of taking over the role vacated by Terrence Howard.  I was a bit confused by Johansson’s performance.  She isn’t given a lot of room to maneuver in, but I never felt like her character came together.  She does, however, dominate one of the most stylish sequences in the film, which is something.  Jackson is Jackson…a flavor that never gets old for this reviewer.  And Rockwell (have you seen Moon?  You should.) and Rourke provide some much-needed texture to characters that would have collapsed in lesser hands.

The action in IM2 does marginally succeed in upping the ante over the first movie,  but because of its emphasis on character development, the sequel relies less on pyrotechnics than your average bigger, badder sequel.  Does that sound like fun?  The question isn’t rhetorical;  I’ve come back to the same question I started with- how much did you like Iron Man 1?  IM2’s action, acting, story, and pacing are all on par with the first outing.  Second verse same as the first.  For this guy, that means a solid 8/10.

The Round-Up
Not what I expected, but enjoyable nevertheless
Despite a stacked cast, Downey Jr. steals the show again.
Mostly adheres to familiar blockbuster conventions, but a few shots hint at the personality behind the camera
Unremarkable...move along
Good enough to make me anticipate further outings with the ol' tin head

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