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Iron Man 2
Genre Action
Year: 2010

Iron Man set the bar high with a well-balanced action adventure about an unlikely self-made superhero in Tony Stark. The classic character discovery is a strong platform for any film to form a foundation and Iron Man played it like it was second nature, drawing audiences in against the terrorists and then swiveling the enemy right back on itself, while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek character at the helm and a majestic performance from Robert Downey Jr. Well, for the most part... nothing's changed. The production values are just as high as the first installation, Tony Stark is still the self-made superhero of the story, the character development is there as Stark grapples with the thought of death and the myriad of enemies encroach, while maintaining the same tongue-in-cheek tone.

Make no mistake, Iron Man 2 is a solid sequel... emulating the original, bolstering the cast and boosting the special effects up a notch. However, it also bears the trappings of a sequel... supporting a burgeoning cast and trying to keep all the flaming hoops in the air at once. The powerhouse of Mickey Rourke has been added to the mix, bringing a serious vendetta and Ivan Vanko onto the scene. Sam Rockwell delivers a beautifully insecure performance as No. 2, Justin Hammer in a younger, funnier rendition of the shrewd comic book character. Scarlett Johansson adds her star power and beauty to counterbalance a predominantly male cast in Iron Man. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as "Rhodey", Stark's right-hand man. While Samuel L. Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise their roles as Nick Fury and Pepper Potts.

Stark is the kingpin... arriving at his Expo to dance on-stage in his Iron Man armour suit to the sound of AC/DC's 'Shoot to Thrill'. This should have been the first cue as to the spirit of the sequel... dancing girls, the star-spangled banner and Stark's massive ego. Iron Man 2 is wildly entertaining, pushing off all its new characters as it parallels Stark's toxicity levels with Peter Parker's dark spiral of self-doubt in Spider-Man 2. Then an evil scientist Ivan Vanko (a Crimson Dynamo/Whiplash hybrid) mirrors Doc Ock with his plot to thwart the title superhero in his darkest hour in a revenge plot. The introspective journey is a good bet for a superhero sequel as the audience get more intimate with the protagonist in his vulnerable state.

Downey Jr. taps into an aspect of himself with the billionaire genius as his sharp wit, dexterity and intellect contrast sharply against the brawn of the Iron Man suit. Adding another spin is "Rhodey's" protective betrayal of Stark as he relieves him of War Machine after increased pressure from the military as an over-reliance on Iron Man sends the media scuttling, as his privatized peace-keeping decisions get second-guessed. Iron Man's impending fate also puts him on edge as he drops his guard with some spontaneous high risk plays in the face of death.

There's so much happening that Iron Man 2 demands a second viewing. The 2-hour action adventure feels like an insert from a much bigger work. The story subplot strands run far and deep to the point that there's almost too much to relay to the audience in one sitting. The witty dialogue is rattled off in quick succession, only giving us a split-second to catch the gist of it amid intermittent bursts of laughter. The comedy in Iron Man 2 comes naturally to Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and Justin Theroux as the quips and one-liners attempt to dwarf the action set pieces.

The special effects are just as amazing as Iron Man with Jarvis's visual display panels and the dazzling Transformers-type skirmishes in the climax. The effects team make the technology seem like 5 or 10 years away from now... giving a nod to the robotics industry and a salute to modern military weaponry. This adds to the authenticity of Iron Man and heightens the realism. Every "superhero" or "supervillain" in Iron Man 2 is self-made and believable. There aren't any nuclear experiments gone wrong, alien powers or spider bites... it's more in line with The Dark Knight, relying on man-made science and technology.

There are moments when Marvel's no-sidekick policy come very close to the bone with War Machine's assists, but it's more a case of near-equals than a sidekick. The romance element seems a little tacked on for conclusions sake and the chemistry between Stark and the ladies in his life is more dubious than the amazing array of technology. Perhaps this simply feeds back to the notion that Stark is in love with himself. His massive ego does make way for some familial sharing of responsibility after a revelation about his father, but it diminishes the character's lovable flaws.

The overall feeling is that Iron Man 2 was trying to do too much with too many. If they'd delayed the S.H.I.E.L.D operatives for Iron Man 3, the film-makers would've been able to focus more on Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko's do-or-die revenge. Rockwell's performance was strong enough to counter-balance the Tony Stark dimension, while Mickey Rourke's complex take on Vanko deserved more screen time and a stronger threat to Iron Man. Playing everyone against Iron Man from every front just made Iron Man 2 seem like a vortex of vulnerability, yet he managed to nullify every attack like a series of mini-battles instead of an all-out war. The versus factor just wasn't strong enough from Whiplash and the conclusion conveniently left a handful of loose ends.

This is probably why the sequel didn't quite measure up to the novelty of Downey Jr. as a superhero, Favreau as a blockbuster director and Iron Man as a new superhero contender. Iron Man 2 still bristles with moments of brilliance in its tone and performances, but could have only done itself justice with less S.H.I.E.L.D and more intermittent skirmish action! It's one of the better sequels out there, despite its flaws and wide-ranging portfolio of villains. So if it's feel-good action, adventure and comedy you're after, you can't go wrong with Iron Man 2... the '2' stands for more of the same Iron Man action and a side-order of tongue-in-cheek fun.

The bottom line: Comic.

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