Monday, May 17, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Middle movies are tricky business, especially the ones with a big budget. They are, first and foremost, movies that are a bridge between two movies and therefore, fundamentally, destined to be incomplete as stories. There will be plot lines which will not be concluded, loose ends left deliberately untied. And yet, they must provide a fulfilling motion picture experience to cash in at the box office and keep the franchise alive. Finally, no matter how good or bad they are on their own, their true value will only be determined on the basis of the conclusion of the series. Therefore, you may have a good middle movie like Matrix Reloaded, the impact of which is considerably lessened after seeing Matrix Revolutions. And then there are the bad middle movies that just leave you unsatisfied, either due to lack of action (that means you, Quantum of Solace) or lack of plot (Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest). And rarely, very rarely, there are the great middle movies which look even better after the conclusion of the series (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).

Within this context, Iron Man 2 is close to a great middle film. Sure, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson do not get enough screen time. There are loose ends in the plot. That would also lead many to complain that there isn’t enough of a plot. However, there is indeed a plot that, though basic, not only sets up the premise for the subsequent films in the Avengers series but also on its own provides for dollops of entertainment. The story takes up immediately where the first movie left off. The world knows that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man and the government is desperate to get its hands on the suit. The world is enjoying an unprecedented level of peace thanks to the Iron Man and Stark Industries’ stocks are through the roof. However, Iron Man is having personal issues and matters get complicated when the technology is replicated by Ivan Vanco (Mickey Rourke) who is out for vengeance against the Stark family. He finds an ally in Stark’s competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and all hell breaks loose.

There are two things about Iron Man that fundamentally set him apart from other superheroes. First, Iron Man is just a suit. It is the man behind the suit who is the real reason why we love Iron Man. Anyone could wear the suit and do cool things but when Tony Stark does it, he brings a distinct personality to Iron Man. So, here, unlike Spiderman or Superman, it is not the superpowers that make the hero cool but the hero who does it for the superpowers. Iron Man would be nothing without Stark’s narcissism, ego and arrogance. Secondly, unlike Spiderman and Superman, there are no ridiculous attempts to hide his identity. The world knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. That makes the whole premise infinitely more interesting from other movies in this genre.

The film is embellished with great action sequences, both big and small. No expense is spared in the production and it shows. From the Grand Prix in Monaco to the visualisation of the Stark Expo, the film is grandiose in its ambitions. At the same time, the screenplay is embellished with brilliant one-liners that are absolutely hilarious. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that this is one of the funniest superhero movies I have ever seen. These, together with a brisk pace and solid performances, make up for the average plot and provide for some excellent entertainment.

Just like Iron Man would be just an iron suit without Tony Stark, the film would be impotent without Robert Downey Jr. He is the soul of this film and is an embodiment of the cockiness and arrogance that is Stark. He is mean, rude and really funny with his deadpan dialogue delivery. Most actors in superhero movies are replaceable. But nobody but Downey could pull off a character like this.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle lend solid support. Mickey Rourke is menacing as Vanco and Rockwell is bankable as always. It is Scarlett Johansson, however, who is the other star of the movie. She looks ravishing as Natalie Rushman a.k.a. Agent Romanov or the Black Widow. The movie made me realise that she is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. She manages to makes Paltrow look positively unattractive. Like a few shots of neat vodka, with barely 15 minutes of screen time, she has you drunk on her beauty.

Coming to the point where I started, Iron Man 2 is ultimately, a middle movie. There will be more movies from Marvel studios to tie up the loose ends created here. Nevertheless, it is a worthy sequel with just enough material to stand on its own. The magnetic charm of Robert Downey Jr. elevates the movie close to greatness. Within the boundaries of conventions, Iron Man 2 is about as good as it gets in the superhero genre. This one is well worth your time and money!

P.S.: Do not leave the movie as the end credits roll. There is a scene after which you don’t want to miss.

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