I told you, I don't want to join your super-secret boy band.
Tony Stark has told the world he is Iron Man, and Nick Fury warned him of the repercussions. Six months later, the US Government is doing all it can to legally possess the technology for the advancement of miltary purposes. Tony, on the other hand, is trying to make them understand that the Iron Man armor is a one-man army. On top of that, he is dealing with a very serious issue of the power core of his miniaturized ARC Reactor chest piece, palladium, which is quickly poisoning his bloodstream to near-fatal levels. United States Air Force Lt. Col. James Rhodes, a military weapons liaison to Stark Industries, is caught in the middle due to his loyalties to the USAF and his close friendship with Tony.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a man named Ivan Vanko has been replicating the miniature ARC Reactor chest piece, built freehand from old schematics designed by his father, Anton Vanko, and Tony's father, Howard Stark. Anton has died six months ago under his son's care while watching the news footage of Tony's press conference declaring himself as Iron Man to the entire world. The blueprints Ivan uses are of the large ARC Reactor, but we see that not unlike Tony, Ivan is also a brilliant engineer.
Pepper is in a state of frustration company-wise due to Tony's halting of the Weapons Division of Stark Industries, and the company being in a state of disarray. So much so that Tony has reopened the Stark Expo, which has not been in the public eye since his father ran the company decades ago. The Stark Expo is all year-round, and is a business and science convention where big names can unveil ideas for the company and showcase their talent, gaining worldwide exposure. Tony is distracted with the government on his tail and dealing with the growing possibility that the very thing which is saving his life - the palladium-powered mini ARC Reactor in his chest - may actually be killing him instead. Because of this he appoints Pepper as his successor, the new CEO of Stark Industries. His stance is that she pretty much manages his work and life anyways.
Pepper must now deal with issues relating solely to the company and the new assistant which Tony reluctantly hires, Natalie, who is damn good at what she does. Along the way, Rhodey is torn by Tony's out-of-control behavior, due to him keeping the secret that he may be dying, and therefore makes his decision: Tony is not as trusting as he used to be. He also does what he does so that the military doesn't come bursting through Tony's Malibu beach house and illegally confiscating the armor suits.
While Tony learns that a new threat has arrived in the form of Ivan Vanko (Whiplash, who is never called that on-screen), and rival industrialist Justin Hammer under contract by the Federal Government, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury also shows up to deliver some important information to Tony about his company's past that ties all this together. And while Fury always has many things on his plate to deal with at all times, he can't spend all his time in Tony's world, and leaves him to figure things out on his own. Tony also learns that Natalie is not who he thought she was.
Time is racing forward as Hammer and Vanko work together, Tony must solve his father's mystery before his time is up, and the ultimate showdown concludes with War Machine and new armored Hammer-drones out for Tony's blood. It's a battle to the finish that can't be missed. I thought all these storylines played well into each other, and tied together nicely. It's a few different side stories, but altogether it is really one big story that all ties into the big picture, until the epic, action-packed climax. One thing I feel they could have elaborated on more was the "new element."
Story: Comic Comparison
While the second installment of a trilogy is usually the darkest, and as most thought the sequel would be a mild adaptation of "Demon in a Bottle" - Iron Man's most famous story from the comics, it was more or less an adaptation from "Armor Wars." "Armor Wars" tells the events in which Justin Hammer steals Tony Stark's repulsor technology, and constructs armors for some of Iron Man's Rogues Gallery of villains. Stark then designs "Negator Packs" which disable the circuitry in these armors and renders them useless, so the technology could never be used for crimes against humanity. The story also includes, but is not limited to, armored S.H.I.E.L.D. drones called Mandroids, the Crimson Dynamo, and the Silver Centurion Iron Man armor. This all plays into "Iron Man 2," as Justin Hammer attempts to replicate the ARC Reactor/repulsor technology for the government, the armored drones (which at one point in the climax, Tony refers to as 'Hammeroids') come into play, and the amalgamation of Whiplash combined with Crimson Dynamo's family identity and makeshift armor in the climax for the character of Mickey Rourke's Whiplash. The Silver Centurion armor makes it into the film in the form of the Mark V suit, which was spun off from the idea of the portable briefcase armor from the comics. The "Demon in a Bottle" story from the comics (in which Tony's worst enemy is himself as he battles alcoholism), makes it into the film in a form of justification during one scene. When he goes overboard, Pepper and Rhodey look on in discontent. I was impressed how director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux took all these elements from the comic book and seamlessly tied them all together in one film, without it seeming jumbled.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man: Downey was a comedic relief as he was in the first film, and when it's time to be a serious character he does so while putting his own flavorful style on top. He definitely can portray the brilliant entrepreneurial genius of Stark well, and to that, I congratulate his efforts. He was the heart of the film, as he was in the first outing, and as I venture he will be in the third installment of this series.
Don Cheadle as James "Rhodey" Rhodes/War Machine: Famously replacing selfish actor Terrence Howard from the first installment, Don Cheadle, in my opinion, is a better actor and a lot more well-suited for the job (pun intended). His Rhodey is more sincere, more direct, and more the determined Army soldier archetype than his predecessor. Simply put, Cheadle gets more down to business than Howard ever did. And as was hinted at in "Iron Man", the "Next time, baby" quote while Rhodes eyes the heavy Mark II armor is honored in this one. He makes a much more believable War Machine as Iron Man's lieutanant than I ever thought Howard could pull off (without it coming off too cheesy with Howard's face and personality behind the helmet). He's a badass, and I'm glad he was the choice replacement. Also I like the one-liner he says during his first scene that addresses the replacement: "Look, it's me, I'm here, deal with it - let's move on."
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash: Rourke was a badass. What can I say? His presence on-screen was spine-tingling. His villain was a culmination of two characters from the comics with a spin: Blacklash (later known as Whiplash) and Crimson Dynamo. Here's the spin - his father, Anton Vanko, is essentially the alter ego of the Russian villain Crimson Dynamo in the comics. And while this is not true in the film, it certainly is interesting how this version of Whiplash's origins are presented. Mickey Rourke did an amazing job coveting the hatred he conveys for the Stark family name and heritage, and by just being a badass villain. He is also a brilliant scientific engineer, and the fact that his character focuses more on being smart and outwitting his foe with what he does in the film moreover than the battle scenes was a nice touch.
Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia "Pepper" Potts: Paltrow has become more recognized by guys everywhere ogling her after her stunning portrayal of Pepper in "Iron Man". For the sequel, she turns in yet another great performance and her sex appeal is heightened, as it seems her costumes only consist of tight dresses with high heels and form-fitting casual shirts. She makes a great 'yang' to Downey's 'yin' - their characters of Tony and Pepper are two sides of the same coin and it comes across great on-screen. The platonic relationship they share makes for a great love interest story, and this film advances it further than the last. In this installment she gets much more to do other than by asking Agent Coulson "is that like a little doohickey thing that will blow the lock off the door?" and giving Tony five lines about olives. Jokes aside, she was an important part of the first film's events, and she continues the role here with more responsibilities than Tony could muster before.
Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer: Rockwell did an amazing job as the CEO of Hammer Advanced Weapons Industries. He was the other source of comedy during the film, and I thought he brought some bright spots to a rather darker tone. While Hammer is an older man in the source material, his character was revamped for this film to be around Tony's age, to make the rival industrialists' competition more of a threat. He did a great job, and I can see him returning for the third one.
Scarlett Johansson as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Although her name is first alluded to as her undercover alias "Natalie Rushman," and the revamping of the character is no longer a native Russian, Scarlett's Agent Romanoff is beautiful, brainy, and bad. When you first meet her in the film you think she's beautiful, with those shapely slacks, tight white top, and delicious red permed hair and lipstick, all the while classy. But this is nothing compared to the short glance we see of her in the middle act with the costume and the entire climax, where the Black Widow finally displays her catlike abilities and why she is such an important asset to S.H.I.E.L.D. Scarlett went all for it, and she looked damn hot doing it. Comic book films need more heroines that don't fit the 'damsel-in-distress' archetype, and she left a jaw-dropping performance with the climax. She definitely made Black Widow her own. One thing I wish they would have kept about the character is her real name, Natalia Romonova, although that may have been too Russian a name for a revamped American, which is probably why they didn't use it.
Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury: In every film genre and just about every other movie that comes out these days, chances are Samuel L. Jackson is in it. This guy is either rivaling Will Smith as Hollywood's most successful actor or has already surpassed him. The man has appeared in over 100 movies to date and the list just keeps growing. In an unprecedented agreement with Marvel Studios, Sam Jackson will reprise his "Iron Man" post-credits 'Secret Scene' debut of Nick Fury in a whopping nine films: "Iron Man" Trilogy, "Thor" (supposedly not anymore - but we'll see), "Captain America: The First Avenger," "The Avengers" Trilogy, and finally "Nick Fury," his own film. While the character is originally a Caucasian World War II veteran, Marvel opted for the "Ultimate" comics version of the character, an African-American modeled after the man himself, Jackson. His appearance in the sequel honors him a total of two long-lasting scenes, but they are well worth it, and Fury divulges some delicate information crucial to the movie. Jackson's performance is as well as can be expected, although to be honest, I cannot tell a difference in his acting in any movie that he stars in. It's like he is Sam Jackson in every movie I have seen him in, albeit with a different character name each time, but the acting is always the same. He looks a little funny with the eye patch, but at least they put it over the correct eye (a nod to the comics about which eye it goes over).
Other stars include Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, who gives himself more scenes for comedic relief this time around; Paul Bettany once again as the voice of JARVIS; Garry Shandling as Senator Stern; Clark Gregg again as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson; John Slattery plays Tony's father, the young Howard Stark; Leslie Bibb returns as reporter Christine Everhart; Olivia Munn, who originally had scenes that were cut and will appear on the DVD, now appears as reporter Chess Roberts who covers the Stark Expo; Stan "The Man" Lee as a brief cameo of Larry King; and Blink 182's late great disc jockey DJ AM who plays himself, Adam Goldstein, in which the film is dedicated to. There are a few other cameos but all of these people did excellent and played their parts well in the film. I liked to see returning cast, like the reporter Christine who had a one-night stand with Tony in the first film. Great job on all accounts.
Jon Favreau returns to direct the second installment in his acclaimed Super Hero series that transitioned him from directing comedies to big-budget action blockbusters, and marked the triumphant comeback of previously troubled actor Robert Downey, Jr. This time around, Favreau and Marvel Studios trusted Downey's word on working with actor/writer Justin Theroux for the screenplay, after the two had a great time making Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder" in 2008. The formula largely works, and rarely disappoints if only at times. Jon Favreau works the angles and movie magic while getting the best performances out of his all-star cast, and I feel he did an excellent job.
The special effects were a delight, and only flawed during a few scenes, I noticed. For instance, the Monaco Gand Prix battle scene between Iron Man and Whiplash. When Whiplash is throwing Iron Man around with the electric whips, it looks a little fake and video-gameish. Especially when Iron Man is on the hood of the car and Whiplash throws him down to the ground with the whips. The part where Iron Man falls to the ground was not very well done, or not entirely completed, and I feel they should have spent some more time on that effect. However I was able to suspend my disbelief and bought in to pretty much all the other effects, with no problem. They really did a great job with War Machine.
In summary, the film was an action-packed thrill ride that didn't bore me for one second. It is a well-deserving sequel adventure to the now-classic "Iron Man." Critics were largely saying it didn't match up to the first in terms of how convoluted the story seemed, with many things happening during the film, but as I stated, I felt this was not the case. The stories all tied into the main story, and didn't feel unnecessary in any way. That makes for a more cerebral film, as far as making the viewer actually think about certain information regarding the plot, more complexity as compared to simplicity. I feel like the film wasted no time picking up from where the last one left off, skipped any unneeded re-explanations ('in case people missed the first film'), and kept you wondering what was going to happen next in every scene. The plot never let up throughout the entire film, and kept me interested and entertained at the same time. "Iron Man 2" is a popcorn summer blockbuster, that feels like the middle part of a complete story, but still stands on its own two feet, and ultimately takes the cake.
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