Available on DVD this week, “Iron Man 2” is that rare bird, a sequel which is nearly an equal to the original movie. The legions of viewers who made “Iron Man” a huge hit in 2008 were pleased to see Robert Downey, Jr., reprise the title role, further strengthening his grip on a certain kind of wiseguy/hero. (Think “Sherlock Holmes.”) He gets some good support from a number of actors and a small army of computer technicians who create the visual effects that constitute much of the movie’s appeal.
The story—I’m not sure I can call it a plot—opens with the admitted narcissist Tony Stark celebrating himself in grand style. Arriving with flair at “Stark Expo” in his weapon/suit, he takes credit for ushering in a long period of world peace, mostly because there’s nobody man enough to go toe-to-toe with him. He even defies Congress, in the person of a senator (Gary Shandling) who demands that he give the suit to the military. Stark wittily ripostes that he and the suit are one, so giving them over to his country would constitute slavery.
But that unworthy opponent quickly gives way to a more sinister bad guy, who has nursed a grudge against Stark and his father for decades. Believing that his own father was cheated out of the money and fame while he worked with Stark, Sr., he now seeks revenge, beginning with an attack on car enthusiast Tony during the Grand Prix de Monaco. As Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, in full freak mode) strides up the track brandishing electric whips, the movie’s real duel is set.
Though he doesn’t succeed in his first attack, Vanko (whom we are asked to believe is a physicist!) gets some much-needed backing by a Stark rival, weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer, played with delightful smarm by Sam Rockwell. Tony’s erstwhile secretary, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), becomes Hammer’s corporate counterpart when Stark cedes all control over his business empire to her, preferring to spend his time in the lab with his robo-valet, Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany). Part of his reason, we learn, is that Tony’s nuclear heart is slowly poisoning him. Screenwriter Justin Theroux thus provides a double tension—Tony’s love for Pepper and the threat to his continued existence—which plays out amidst the action sequences that come to dominate the movie’s latter third, climaxing in a man-to-robot battle between Tony, his sidekick (Don Cheadle) and a bunch of “Hammer ‘Roids” (pun intended).
If I have a quibble with this installment in what is clearly projected as a series, it’s that the action sequences occasionally replace the wit. I especially enjoy the exchanges between Tony and Pepper, where director Jon Favreau—who also gives himself a minor comedic role—consistently has the actors walk on each other’s lines, dramatizing their relationship.
The various fight/battle scenes are slickly choreographed and edited, satisfying the target audience of this “PG-13” movie, which have likely gone out and bought the video game. Somewhat older crocks such as yours truly, will likely enjoy it, too. “Iron Man 2” was the best of last summer’s blockbusters: enjoy it again as fall approaches.