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In Association with
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Director: Jon Favreau

review by J.C. Hartley

Leaving the cinema after a fairly enjoyable afternoon, my daughter opined that Iron Man 2 felt a bit like an 'origins story', which hit the nail on the shell-head. And yet Favreau, and Robert Downey Jr, et al, had already done the origins story so well in the first one, Iron Man. So what happened?

Tony Stark (Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes) having owned up to being Iron Man, is facing a senate committee, chaired by Garry Shandling's Senator Stern, claiming the armour for the US Military on account of Stark's wayward character. Stark's business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, Moon) is brought in to give evidence and cites advances in armour technology in support of the Senate's case. Stark is able to prove that his rivals are some 20 to 30 years behind him, and to rapturous applause he claims that the armour in his control is guaranteeing world peace.

Meanwhile in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, Sin City), is bequeathed plans for arc reactor technology by his dying father Anton. Vanko Jr sees Tony Stark on TV and realises that the Iron Man power source is based upon work that Ivan Vanko did with Stark's father Howard. He constructs his own reactor, and energy whips, and organises a trip to the west.

Stark's arc reactor, which powers his injured heart using radioactive palladium, is also killing him. Thrill-seeking, he drives the Stark Industries car at a race in Monaco, where he is attacked by Vanko. Aided by his bodyguard/ chauffeur 'Happy' Hogan (Favreau, expanding his own part), and his new CEO 'Pepper' Potts (an increasingly annoying and miscast Gywneth Paltrow), Stark as Iron Man defeats this new enemy 'Whiplash'.

With his erratic behaviour increasing, Stark hosts a birthday party in his Iron Man armour. While there doesn't appear to be that many guests, Stark does a stint as DJ, staggers about drunk, and ends up using the armour's repulsor rays to shoot jugs of champagne, tossed in the air by girls with enormous melons, and melons, tossed in the air by girls with enormous jugs (sorry, irresistible). Stark's Air Force buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle) commandeers a suit of armour, and the two men fight, with the result that Rhodes flies off in a suit that, when 'weaponised' (their word not mine) by Justin Hammer, will become War Machine.

Meanwhile Hammer has sprung Vanko from prison and set him to work on his own armour. Vanko insists that the weapon-suits will work better as drones rather than as armour for living soldiers and Hammer concedes. A chastened Stark is confronted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, The Spirit) of SHIELD, who gives him a trunk containing his father Howard Stark's research. It is confirmed that Vanko's father worked on arc reactor tech with Stark senior, before the former's deportation. Howard Stark's legacy enables Tony to synthesise a new element to replace the deadly palladium. Vanko's drones prove to be an army of destruction under his control, as does the War Machine armour piloted by Rhodes. Vanko has also perfected his own Whiplash weaponry for an explosive finale against Iron Man.

Some niggles. Despite a pantheon, to use Favreau's term (pandemonium surely, Milton), of villains to choose from, the writers and filmmakers chose to invent an opponent for Iron Man, with Whiplash being given retrospective authenticity by the Marvel Comic Group. With the Mandarin seen as 'too far-fetched' (good grief, man in a flying suit of armour), but surely also triggering worries about upsetting China (Iron Man 2 with its Russian villain did great business in, yes Russia), maybe they struggled to come up with someone of sufficient stature to go toe-to-toe.

There was an argument against using the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man, as pitching a guy in an armoured suit against this Iron Man would be very like the previous film with its ironmonger villain. However, Whiplash pretty much ends up being a guy in an armoured suit. Whiplash's drone army are more armoured suits, rather like that staple of Marvel comics the Mandroids, or even Jack Kirby's OMAC as redesigned by Greg Rucka for DC's 'The OMAC Project'. There is a nod to the Crimson Dynamo as the original occupant of that particular suit was rogue scientist Anton Vanko.

Downey Jr and Paltrow's rapid-fire cross-talk, which was quite cute in a not-quite-convincing-as-improvisation way, is here just plain irritating. Scarlett Johansson, while being a bonny girl, adds nothing to the story as SHIELD agent Natalie Rushman alias Natasha Romanoff, the ersatz Black Widow. Maybe the problem is the armour. The first Iron Man got over the problem of the hero being encased in a metal suit wonderfully well. The suit doesn't make an appearance in the sequel for a long time, perhaps in acknowledgement that people don't really want to watch expressionless CGI. Armour can't act.

There are some joys. Captain America's shield appears, Stark uses it to prop up his home-made particle accelerator. The film is pretty good in fits and starts, the senate committee, the Russian scenes, although if one more director uses the death of a character to have another character raise their arms to heaven and scream 'NNNooooo!' I'll go crazy. This trite nonsense has gone beyond irony into stupidity. The battle in Monaco is pretty good too. Downey Jr, as ever is the film's heart, although at times even he appears to be going through the motions.

Don Cheadle does little with the part of James Rhodes, which suggests that Terrence Howard's wooden turn in the first film wasn't entirely his own fault. The character in the comic is pretty good. Paltrow and Johansson's heels make them walk as if they have double incontinence, or are victims of Japanese foot-binding; this is not an attractive look. Mickey Rourke is very good, very convincing. Sam Rockwell is very good too, although at times he appears to be channelling Owen Wilson.

Stark ends up being offered the role of advisor to the SHIELD super-team, the as-yet-to-be-formed Avengers, which suggests there may be a role for a James Rhodes Iron Man. The post-credits sequence, which I never stay for, features the discovery of Thor's hammer in an impact crater in New Mexico. One assumes Thor is wandering around in his Don Blake persona unaware that he is the God of Thunder. So, 'Thor' and 'Captain America' to come, followed by 'The Avengers' movie. 'Iron Man 3' will apparently feature a re-imagined Mandarin. Please let him keep his power-rings, it's not Bergman, it's the comics for goodness sake!

Iron Man 2 promo

Iron Man 2 poster

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