Warning: this is going to contain plot spoilers. If you want see the movie fresh, don’t read this.
I took Gar to see Iron Man II last night. I admit, I was never a huge fan of Iron Man or the Avengers in my comic reading phase as a youngster. I doubt I even read one Iron Man comic book. But, having read a few Avengers now and then, one can’t get away from the basic story of Mr. Tony Stark and his many problems, pitfalls, and tragedies. One of the hallmarks of Marvel comics (back in the day at least) was the way they treated character development. Marvel characters weren’t perfect– it seems as if they were all dysfunctional at some level. Peter Parker lives in poverty, his girlfriend gets killed, etc. Captain America can’t fit into a 21st century world and is always experiencing culture clash problems. And Tony Stark? Well, that guy was lucky to be alive.. a heart that is replaced by a small nuclear reactor. Drug and Booze dependency. Erratic personality problems. Casting Robert Downey Jr. in the role, well, that was sheer casting genius. An actor of considerable talent, Downey had his own personal demons to exorcise, and he certainly can bring that to the screen performance of Stark. I don’t catch every comic book movie– but I catch a lot of them, having kids. I did see Iron Man I and as far as comic book movies go, it’s one of the better ones.. although that’s not a high bar to jump over most times. Iron Man I had a good story, an engaging hero who wasn’t perfect (and thus, somewhat easier to grasp), and a strong good-versus-evil plot. I liked it. It ranked right up there with the first Spiderman movie in “good movies made out of comic book material” for me.
Iron Man II takes up where the first movie leaves off.. it’s not said how much later, but one gets the impression of about a year from various events in the film. The Government (Uncle Sam) is a bit pissed off about being upstaged by a guy in a metal suit. They want to take over the Iron Man “weapon” and (one assumes) create a legion of Iron Men soldiers to go and kick ass in foreign places. Stark doesn’t want this to happen, citing his intellectual property rights (in a comically oblique fashion) during senatorial hearings. This introduces Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, who wants to see his own fortunes increase by getting his hand on the Iron Man suit– we see a humorous sequence of various countries and their efforts to build their version of an Iron Man suit (including Hammer’s embarrassing attempts). Rockwell is a great actor (see in him MOON sometime, you won’t regret it) and he gives this character a sort of “sad sack, yet cheerfully malevolent” air that I though brought an edge to the story.
Then we add Ivan Vanko to the equation. He’s the son of a guy who once worked with Tony Stark’s dad, and not a particularly nice guy. He IS driven by revenge– Stark’s dad apparently took a design for an arc reactor (the glowing energy thing in Iron Man’s chest) which both of them worked on, and made it work, but had Ivan’s dad deported. Or that’s the way Ivan sees it. Ivan clearly has been to jail from his general look … so he’s no angel either. Apparently (from Wikipedia) he’s a re-envisioning of a few characters– the Crimson Dynamo and the first Whiplash, who was into S&M gear. Mickey Rourke is another fine under-appreciated actor who has had his personal demons to chase. I loved him THE WRESTLER, and he brings some of that here, but he’s just not on screen enough– although the iconic Monaco sequence (which we have all seen on TV) is magnificent. Ivan’s defeated (as he has to be) but makes a surprisingly cogent point when Stark visits him in prison– “Am I defeated? When you make a god bleed, you open the eyes of everyone else” He has a point, as Vanko did nearly kick Iron Man’s butt. Hammer and the Government take notice.. and, of course.. Vanko gets sprung in a very clever sequence, for the inevitable next step, to help build a series of big Soldier Suit things (actually they are drones, not iron men knockoffs).
It’s here that the movie dragged.. a lot, for me. Suddenly, we have to get all self-destructive. Suddenly, Stark has Daddy Abandonment Issues. Suddenly, he’s losing control of his empire, and the woman he loves hates him and blah de blahdy blah. Where have we seen this stuff before? Oh yeah, in a million other movies. Of course, it all gets sorted out in time for a seriously butt-kicking finale, which did not feature enough of Vanko for my liking, but it did introduce (rather nicely) the character of WarMachine, Tony Stark’s buddy Jim Rhodes flying a previous variant of the Iron Man Mark I, all pimped up with external weaponry (including a chain gun). Unlike many another SECOND super hero movie “Sophomore Slump” Iron Man II does NOT spend overly long chunks of movie time introducing new characters– WarMachine, Black Widow (although they don’t call her that), Justin Hammer and Whiplash all come into the movie without taking twenty minutes each establishing their backgrounds. This is a good thing– that sort of plotting can ruin a sequel, as Tim Burton can tell you.
And thus we arrive at the conclusion.. WarMachine established, bad guy beaten and killed (too bad! I liked him). Of course, we get the now iconic after-the-credits tease for the next big thing, which appears to be a THOR Movie. That should be a challenge. I hope they bring some talent to the table for that one– Thor in a modern age will be.. interesting.
So to sum up.. far better a sequel than many superhero from comic book flicks. A bit draggy in the middle for my tastes. Could have done without the weepy mopey parts, but I guess they were needed to move the plot along. I’d give it a solid middle of the grade B.. not the A- of Iron Man, but not the grade D- of Daredevil either. A very worthy effort, and watchable.