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Despite Some Superfluous Story, ‘Iron Man 2’ Delivers Hollywood Oomph

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CHICAGO – “Iron Man 2” with returner Robert Downey Jr. and newcomer Scarlett Johansson does what it can within the confines of what it has to do. The Hollywood machine has trained us to have certain expectations for blockbuster sequels and “Iron Man 2” neither deviates nor blazes new territory.

The first “Iron Man” film, which was released almost exactly two years ago on May 2, 2008, has profitably generated $585 million in worldwide box-office receipts on a production budget of $140 million. That Jon Favreau-directed film earned $98 million in its opening weekend.

Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2
Natalie Rushman or Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in “Iron Man 2”.
Image credit: Francois Duhamel

While Favreau (“Elf”) returns to direct the sequel, Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”; see our Theroux interview on “Iron Man 2” here) interestingly nabs the solo screenplay credit in “Iron Man 2”. The first film was inked by a foursome including Mark Fergus (“Children of Men”), Hawk Ostby (“Children of Men”), Art Marcum (“Punisher: War Zone”) and Matt Holloway (“Punisher: War Zone”).

“Iron Man 2” again stars Robert Downey Jr. as the title Iron Man character, but Favreau and Paramount Pictures know the No. 1 requirement of follow-up blockbuster film is kicking things up lots of notches on the bedpost.

That’s the sole reason behind the casting decision of Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson. Beauty and brains aside, “Iron Man 2” decides to primarily flaunt her brawn. Despite that respectable choice, the problem is they forget to actually write her into the story.

Despite a climactic, “The Matrix”-style fight scene where the character Natalie Rushman (who is doubly known as Natasha Romanoff) kicks some serious ass and takes countless names (while Jon Favreau comically dilly dallies around with a single thug), the entire Johansson sequence is pointless to the central theme of the story. It doesn’t even have a subtheme.

Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2
Mysterious Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) in “Iron Man 2”.
Image credit: Francois Duhamel

Once you stop undressing her with your eyes and come back to reality from the instant gratification of her big “Iron Man 2” moment, you’re anti-climactically left offended that you’ve just enjoyed her otherwise meaningless thematic masturbation.

On the other hand, while Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is scripted as a character you love to hate, he again steals the show in a supporting role with his every frame opportunity. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is forgettable while Don Cheadle as Lt. Col. James Rhodes is importantly ingrained into this film such that it wouldn’t be the same without him.

Gwyneth Paltrow as the critical Pepper Potts gives you just what you’d expect. John Slattery at Howard Stark peeps in with archival footage so the film does what so many other superhero films do: gives Tony Stark his daddy complex.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2
Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in “Iron Man 2”.
Image credit: Francois Duhamel

The obnoxious but entertaining arrogance in Robert Downey Jr.’s character as Tony Stark is especially brought to center stage at a hearing before the government. While the U.S. government thinks the Iron Man armor is a weapon that’s a threat to national security, Stark assures the world he has it under control and has effectively privatized world peace.

Not so, of course, thanks to the film’s flawless introduction of Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko.

Rourke is again on fire here following his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Wrestler”. He’s weaved seamlessly into this new story. In a film that’s essentially a repeat of the first but with a new bad guy and new Iron Man armor, Rourke refreshingly plays a sinister, mysterious Russian tech expert with arm extensions like lightning bolts.

Rourke says he struggled to learn Russian for the role. He worked with a teacher five days a week for three hours a day over the course of three months. Even though Rourke predictably plays the “new bad guy,” he nails it with just the right fear and intrigue a good villain needs to be great.

The Mark II armor suit in Iron Man 2
The Mark II armor suit in “Iron Man 2”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures/Marvel/ILM

On the whole, “Iron Man 2” is a mix of strong character performances and weak ones along with perfectly executed story elements and lacking ones. But what’s always most important in a film like this is its overall entertainment value. Aside from the mega paychecks to big-name stars, the other major line item on this film’s balance sheet will always be its special effects.

There, “Iron Man 2” delivers just the right Hollywood oomph to temporarily satiate your moviegoing senses. Still, unlike the revolutionary elements in films like “The Matrix,” “Iron Man 2” neglects to do anything technologically novel.

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On the “new scale,” we most appreciate Tony Stark’s “suitcase armor”. When he needs Iron Man in a bind, this small suitcase unravels itself like a scene from “Transformers” and perfectly attaches to his body. If this film delivers to the blockbuster piggy bank, we’ll need more of the revolutionary and less of the evolutionary in its trilogy.

“Iron Man 2” stars Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany, Leslie Bibb and Garry Shandling from director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux. The film, which was a running time of 124 minutes, opened everyone on May 7, 2010. “Iron Man 2” is rated “PG-13” for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some language.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief and publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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