by Mel Valentin
If "Iron Man 2," the highly anticipated sequel to 2008’s "Iron Man," proves anything, it’s that there’s no problem that a carefully choreographed montage can’t fix, whether it’s a seemingly impossible problem for billionaire/playboy/inventor/CEO Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) or his new nemesis, Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). Unfortunately, a montage can’t fix "Iron Man 2’s" myriad story-related problems, problems that sink "Iron Man 2" into disappointing mediocrity. And that’s with another charismatic, engaging performance from Downey, Jr. as Stark/Iron Man. Without Downey, Jr. and a strong supporting cast, "Iron Man 2’s" deficiencies would have been all the more transparent and even more difficult to endure.Six months after declaring, "I am Iron Man!" at a press conference, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has become an A-list celebrity. Living like a rock-star, he arrives at the recently resurrected Stark Expo to the sights and sounds of fireworks and scantily clad cheerleaders. Not everyone, however, is happy with Stark’s decision to “privatize world peace.” The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Stern (Garry Shandling, heavily botoxed), demands Stark turn over the Iron Man technology to the U.S. government, but Stark refuses, mocking the grandstanding senator in front of television cameras. Stark’s friendship with Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terence Howard) has cooled over Stark’s refusal to cooperate with the federal government and his desire to go it along as a superhero.
"The summer blockbuster season begins with a whimper, not a bang."
No one knows, however, that the palladium powering the mini-arc reactor embedded in his chest has been poisoning Stark. Already a borderline alcoholic, Stark turns to the bottle to overcome his fears and anxieties about his imminent mortality (no, not the “Demon in the Bottle” storyline Iron Man fans have been anticipating since Marvel announced plans to make Iron Man) and behaves erratically. Mindful of his impending mortality, he makes Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the new CEO of Stark Industries. Stark get a new personal assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson). Along with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark’s driver and bodyguard, Potts, and Natasha, Stark flies to Monaco, supposedly to watch the Grand Prix, but once there, Stark decides to join the Grand Prix as a race driver at the last minute.
Vanko (Rourke), a tattooed Russian and ex-con who, for reasons left unexplained, can track Stark's every move, including Stark's seemingly spur-of-the-moment decision to race in the Grand Prix, appears on the racetrack wielding arc reactor-powered whips and attacks Stark. Vanko (Rourke) claims his late father co-created the arc reactor technology Stark’s father, Howard (John Slattery). A jealous business rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), eager to win a multi-billion dollar contract from the Department of Defense, testifies against Stark at the Senate committee hearings, but Stark exposes the shortcomings in Hammer’s armored suit prototype. Facing massive financial losses and eager to get revenge on Stark for publicly humiliating him, Hammer allies himself with Vanko.
Iron Man 2 gives Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), a semi-substantial role in Iron Man 2. Fury functions in Iron Man 2 as recruiter, mentor, therapist, and walking (and sitting) exposition device. Fury fills in Stark on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history and, when Stark’s at his lowest point, drops off a crate full of his father’s belongings. The belongings prove pivotal to Stark finding a new, poison-reversing power source that will extend his life.
Although necessary to Marvel Studios’ ambitious plan to link Iron Man to the wider Marvel Universe, the release of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger next year, and The Avengers the following summer, the addition of Nick Fury and Natasha Rushman (actually Romanoff) to Iron Man 2 is an object lesson on how conflicting dramatic and studio needs can lead to a clumsy, awkward fit between character and story. Fury isn't essential to Iron Man 2 (neither is Natasha). Fury’s presence also comes at the expense of Rhodes' screen time.
Fury’s role in Iron Man 2 raises more questions than it answers. He seems to know almost everything about Stark’s potentially fatal condition, yet waits until the toxicity levels in Stark’s blood are near critical before interceding with a pep talk and dropping off an exposition-filled crate that once belonged to Stark’s father. If Fury knows as much as he seems, why wait so long? Of course, interceding earlier would have removed one of, if not the, prime motivators for Stark’s reckless behavior (alcoholism was apparently considered too serious an issue for a superhero action film).
That, unfortunately, is just one example of where Favreau and Theroux go wrong. Splitting the villain role between Vanko and Hammer leaves Vanko either offscreen for long stretches of time or in passive mode, quietly working away in Hammer’s labs preparing the next generation of Hammer’s military drones. Vanko finally emerges from Hammer’s lab to challenge Stark only after a pointless (because the stakes involved approach zero [c.f. the Star Wars prequels]) battle between Hammer’s drones and Iron Man and War Machine (Rhodes). When Vanko does show up, it’s in an Iron Monger-style battle suit for a brief, underwritten, under-choreographed fight that lasts all of two minutes.
In addition, i]Iron Man 2 relegates Hammer to a comic relief/facilitator role. Since he’s not Stark’s intellectual or business equal, he’s perpetually playing catch-up and failing every time. His alliance with Vanko makes superficial sense (it’s a superhero/comic book adaptation, after all), but even taking his desperation into account, he's reckless and/or negligent in his dealings with the obviously unstable, sociopathic Vanko. How, given Hammer's general incompetence, he obtained a weapons contract with Department of Defense remains unexplained (because it can’t be).The result, a patchwork of promising ideas, obligatory set pieces (3 ˝ total, with Favreau saving the best for first, rather than last), and groundwork-setting scenes for subsequent entries in the Marvel Universe on film, with lackluster execution, may fill Marvel Studios’ (and now Disney’s) coffers, but it won’t be remembered (if it’s remembered at all) for multiple errors and missteps Marvel Studios made when it decided to rush an unfinished, unrefined screenplay into production to meet a predetermined release date.
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originally posted: 05/10/10 04:50:06