Iron Man 2
Released April 29
Tony Stark’s arrogant wisecracking millionaire is back, now with more characters and a nasty villain in the form of Mickey Rourke’s electrifying Whiplash. Stark’s Iron Man is no longer the only superhero in the ‘verse, with SHIELD’s eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) frequently citing the virtues of his superhero boy band (the film’s description, not mine), the Avengers. It’s exciting to know that this sequel to the 2008 surprise hit is part of a universe that also includes Thor and Captain America, even if doing so diffuses its impact as a stand-alone movie.
Screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) dispenses with the tight, traditional plotting of the original, but excels in charting our superhero’s rut of rebellious self-loathing. He also has a knack for the unrequited sexual tension between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, which both Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow expertly navigate like a snappy couple from a ’30s screwball comedy. They’re joined by an expanded cast which includes Sam Rockwell (Moon), Don Cheadle and Scarlett Johansson. Rockwell in particular excels as Justin Hammer, Stark’s industrious rival in the weapons manufacturing biz.
The story centres on Stark’s strained relationship with his adoring public and friends. This is partly due to his caustic personality being more visible – and receiving more screen time – than his metallic counterpart. Surprisingly, thanks to some cheeky dialogue and personal stakes (Stark’s arc reactor – the shiny, glowy orb in his chest keeping him alive – is failing), this is not to the films detriment. The action, when it does come, is as exciting as the first, especially in an exhilarating early scene at the Monaco Grand Prix where the wronged Whiplash slices’n’dices some vintage racers.
There’s a lot going on in Ironman 2, but director Jon Favreau infuses each sequence with enough wit, energy and flippancy (like the hysterical perpetual-motion desk toy that literally comes between Pepper and Stark), that he deftly prevents it from becoming like the overstuffed mess of Spiderman 3.