By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

Ever since revealing his identity as Iron Man, Billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been living the life. He sees himself as a visionary who has finally brought peace to the world and is reluctant to share the toys that helped him do it. This reluctance is a constant source of irritation for the U.S Government, who feel entitled to Stark’s weapons technology. Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has the unenviable position of playing both chaperon to Tony and a liaison between him and the United States Military.

Meanwhile, the exclusivity of Stark technology is fading fast. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) constructs his own arc reactor and launches a violent campaign against Stark and his legacy. Rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) decides to recruit Vanko in hopes of beating Tony at his own game. As if that weren’t enough, General Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) agent of the omni powerful and super secret organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D, is keeping close tabs on Tony. His airborne suit of armor becomes a prison that protects him, but also draws out the wolves. Such is the life of a superhero.

Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man, was a joy to behold. A bit disjointed in terms of its overall structure, it propelled along with the force of an MX missile, using Robert Downey Jr’s delightfully snarky shtick as its fuel. Undoubtedly flawed and eccentric, yet possessing a flicker of conscience that endeared him to audiences. Favereau equipped him with the coolest toy imaginable and placed him in the middle of a story that required him to become a one man army. Though not as smooth or as wholly satisfying as the original, Iron Man 2 is an engaging entertainment in its own right.

As with the first, the suit itself is the ultimate “Boys Toy”. It’s easily the most captivating special effect in the film. The design has been tweaked a bit with colors that have the sleek sexiness of an ultra modern sports car. The way the film envisions and shows off the armor taps right into the fascination with technology and gadgetry that all men share. That Iron Man 2 basks so shamelessly in such imagery is key to the appeal of the franchise. It understands that side of its audience and sees nothing wrong with indulging that.

The action sequences revel in destruction and mayhem. Favareau shies away from over stylization and instead opts for record setting levels of property damage. The scenes play out like a more refined and controlled version of the nonsensically edited and shot set pieces in Michael Bay’s Transformer films. Favareau juices every punch and slam for maximum impact. All that’s missing is a play by play from sports commentators.

Robert Downey Jr. again provides us with an appealing yet human protagonist. His narcissism is played mostly for laughs, and it’s to Downey’s credit that this angle works so well. As Rhodes, Don Cheadle seems a bit muted. He’s not bad in the role, just incredibly stiff. Mickey Rourke is fascinating as Vanko, breathing life into what could have been a pile of cold war clichés. Sam Rockwell is great as the head of Hammer industries. He comes off as a less likable and less brilliant version of Tony.

The film is a bit too in love with itself, evidenced by the abundance of scenes that exist solely to allow the characters to toss witty banter off one another. As individual vignettes, these scenes work. When strung together in succession they become masturbatory and tiresome. At points, the film seems inflated with the same ego and narcissism as Tony himself. Such a flaw in a mass entertainment can prove fatal. Fortunately, the film also possesses Tony’s tenacity and refuses to buckle under the weight of its own shortcomings.

Iron Man 2 breaks the winning streak that superhero films have had with sophomore outings, but it still manages to maintain a considerable grade point average. The cast and crew are so good at what they do that we are willing to forgive the flaws and are thankful to simply be entertained. That being said, Jon Favareau should think about trimming the fat and getting a better script for shell heads next outing. The Iron Man franchise has charm to spare, but needs a bit more than that to sustain itself beyond two films. 3.75 out of 5

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