“It’s good to be back!” Those are the first word uttered by Tony Stark, played with glee as ever by Robert Downey Jr., as he lands at Stark Expo after jumping from a plane, with AC/DC playing gloriously in the background. Man, what a great kickoff to the summer movie season.
This is indeed Iron Man 2 in the sense that this time around Tony will have to share the spotlight with a second man in an armoured suit in the shape of his best friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, stepping in for Terence Howard). The introduction of this second iron man, or War Machine, is one of the many sources of conflicts in the story since the government does not trust Mr. Stark when he tells the government that his technology cannot be reproduced, putting him at odds with a senator (Gary Shandling) who wants him to turn over the technology to the military, for whom Rhodes works.
Watching Tony bask in the glory of being a superhero is the movie’s main villain, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a brilliant Russian scientist who is also a criminal as clearly indicated by his multiple tattoos. Vanko has a personal grudge against Tony, who actually understands the villain’s point of view once he learns his family history. Thanks to his father’s past involvement in Tony’s company, Vanko is able to create his own special suit, this one equipped with electrified whips that he uses in a spectacular fight at a racetrack in Monaco. Rourke may not say much throughout the story, but he sure looks menacing. Even when he isn’t wearing an armoured suit he can kill a man with his bare hands and perform that classic scene we see in many action movies: calmly walk away while there is a bomb detonating in the background and not look back.
The fight at Monaco catches the eye of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) the CEO of a competing company who tries to be as egotistical and eccentric as Tony Stark, which proves to be difficult because, hey, it’s Tony freaking Stark. He aims to use Vanko’s expertise and hatred of Stark to build his own robot army and eventually get one big juicy contract with the Pentagon. His first mistake is thinking he can compete with Stark, his second is thinking that he can control a Russian badass who has a pet parakeet.
In the mist of all the fighting, Tony has to deal with his own personal problems, including his feelings for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) his secretary to whom he gives complete control of Stark Industries. In order to make this all legal Pepper calls in Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) a notary who is more than what she seems, which is obvious once she knocks out bodyguard and driver Happy Hogan (director Jon Favreau). Pepper isn’t so much worried about Rushman’s curious martial skills, but as whether or not she will press charges for sexual harassment because of the way Tony is looking at her. In Tony’s defence, that is one hot notary.
Those of you who stayed after the end credits of the first Iron Man movie will remember the final scene where we are introduced to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) director of S.H.I.E.LD, Marvel Comic’s answer to the C.I.A. Fury has more screen time as he tries to provide some much needed assistance to Tony while assessing whether or not he should be included in a special Avengers Initiative. Downey Jr. and Jackson have some fun scenes together as they both make some light fun Fury’s eye patch. “Remember, I am keeping my eye on you” says Fury as he leaves Tony under the guard of agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).
This makes for a lot of characters and a few subplots, but that doesn’t stop Iron Man 2 from being two hours of fun, not just because of amazing action scenes, but because of witty dialogue spoken by actors who are all perfectly cast. Downey Jr. owns this role while Paltrow plays a character that has a hard time keeping things under control while her boss is drunk and wearing a suit that could kill partygoers. She should probably take the company jet and take a few days off once all the explosions die off, at least until the inevitable sequel.
Speaking of which, there is a moment when agent Coulson has to leave California and head for New Mexico. Stay after the end credits to see details about his mission and you will get a glimpse at Marvel Studios next adaption of their large pantheon of heroes.