Harry says IRON MAN 2 hits the sweet spot over and over again!
IRON MAN was a damn good first foray into the character of Tony Stark & IRON MAN - but I think just about everybody was a tad disappointed in the Iron Monger. That last act just wasn't quite as super-awesome as the first two-thirds. In IRON MAN 2 - it kicks it up several notches across the board.
For the first time, we really get a glimpse at the self-destructive Tony Stark - not the Demon in the Bottle storyline we all cherish, but something equally strong. Tony is addicted to being IRON MAN - the rush and thrill of being in that armor and knowing there's nothing on the planet that can even come close. He's cocky, but he has a secret that is killing him, literally. The palladium he uses to help power that awesome bit of tech in his chest is slowly, but surely poisoning his system and will result in his death. In addition - the various mods he's done to the IRON MAN armor is eating through the palladium batteries in an increasingly quickening pace.
He's been working on trying to come up with another power source, but he's continually thwarted.
Meanwhile - all at the same time we're introduced to Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash. He's the son of a brilliant physicist that worked with Tony's father in designing the large version of what's in Tony's chest. Ivan's father has raised Mickey with a hatred for the Stark family, which he blames for the ruin of his life - he's become a ruined drunken shell of the man he should have been. The genius that worked in the shadow of the figurehead - at least, that's how Ivan sees it.
Once he sees Iron Man in action - he begins to work on his own miniaturization and being brilliant - he gets it up and running and creates the Whiplash outfit to take out Tony.
All at the same time - we're also introduced to Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer - who is kinda like a Michael Dell to Tony Stark's Steve Jobs. He struggles to project an image that is to Tony, second nature. Justin rather desperately wants to be Tony Stark - he wants Tony's genius, his women, his fame and adulation. But he's just not quite that good. He can't quite crack the magic 8% of Tony's brain that gives him a decade's edge on everyone else.
The scenes with Tony and Justin are classic. The dialogue is so sharp, so incredibly well delivered between Rockwell and Downey - that I really do think that it can't get better. And yet it does.
Garry Shandling's Senator Stern is just an incredible ass. And he plays it effortlessly. His last scene of the film is particularly awesome. He's somebody that looks at the IRON MAN tech and gets wet just thinking about an army of IRON MEN serving the interests of the United States. Frankly, the thought kinda scares the shit out of me... while also thinking that'd be cool.
But the thing that is just fucking outstanding about the film is that every single character has motivations and I understand where they're coming from.
It is impossible to watch Downey's Tony Stark and not be quite a bit concerned about the direction he could take. Here's a man that has "privatized world peace" - snuffing out the problems of the world unilaterally. We hear that he kicked ass in Darfur, put down terrorist cells, basically - if there's been a place where trouble has sprung up - he's taken care of it - and without taxpayers fitting a single bill. Without a single American life being taken. BUT - he's also a crazy womanizing philanderer - who will recklessly put himself in a Formula One Racing Car in Monaco - without any prior notice... What happens if something goes wrong, suddenly we're back to the way things were.
That's where Don Cheadle's Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes comes in. He's Tony's best friend, but even he realizes that this is too much power for good, to be squandered upon someone that just isn't a responsible adult, much less the sort of Hero that he has been trained to be.
I love that.
Then there's Scarlett Johansson's Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow - She comes into this as a preternaturally fucking goddess that steps in to fill Pepper Potts shoes as Tony's assistant - as Pepper gets appointed to fill Tony's position as head of STARK INTERNATIONAL.
Now - as you can see - there's a ton going on. Every character has a reason for being, a reason to be exactly where they are. Take for example Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan. I don't know about you, but I was kind of embarrassed by how little Hogan had to do in the first IRON MAN. Here. Here, he's not only the driver and the bodyguard - but he's got the ever so slight goofy wannabe badass, that Hogan never was. BUT - once Whiplash shows up in Monaco - just fucking watch Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. These are the comic characters in full bloom. I REALLY LOVE THEM.
Everything leading up to the MONACO sequence is wonderful setup. Seriously Once Whiplash appears and the world watches the first SuperVillain vs the first Superhero - and it is a brutal fight. There is significant doubt that Tony could survive what happens - and the world saw it live. It emboldens the U.S. military to take action, it super-charges Justin Hammer to do whatever it takes to close the gap. It motivates S.H.I.E.L.D. to take a more pro-active role in the life of Tony Stark - and it puts a kink in Tony - his blood poisoning is getting closer to terminal. He holes up in his house, trying to work on a solution, but his symptoms are fucking with him. He has a birthday, he gets trashed... while wearing the armor... and it is a very fun, yet sobering scene that follows... Most best friends have had a night like this with their best friends, but... well, you'll see.
So much of IRON MAN 2 is just effortlessly better than what came before, but the stuff that I loved at a level I wasn't really prepared to - was the scenes focusing on Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark played perfectly by MAD MEN's John Slattery. These scenes are not flashbacks, but 16mm footage of his Father - that he turns to as he's trying to solve the terminal problem facing him. I absolutely feel that these glimpses at Tony's father show us the beginning of the demon in the bottle that might come up later with Tony. Slattery's role is tiny, but he puts so much honest soul into the character that it informs and textures everything.
You can see the asshole in Howard Stark that created the monster that created Mickey's Ivan Vanko. You can also see how Tony didn't have a strong male role model, due to his Dad being obsessed with work that led to him being the superpowered BOY that Tony is.
I love that Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is overwhelmed by everything that Tony's putting on her plate. I love how Sam Jackson's Nick Fury grows colder on Tony - to drive Tony to do what Tony needs to do. I continue to love Paul Bettany's voice as Jarvis. Clark Gregg becomes even more fascinating as Agent Coulson.
AND MOST OF ALL...
I FUCKING LOVE THE ACTION of the film. I love that this is full on Marvel Science Fiction. The entire last act just fucking rocks balls! I was concerned as I watched the Monaco sequence, that this would not be topped for the rest of the film. It is awesome. If you've been watching the TV Spots - you see a bit of the actual Whiplash vs IRON MAN in Monaco sequence - but frankly, once IRON MAN shows up... your ass was already blown away by Happy Hogan versus Whiplash. No Shit! I'm telling you - AWESOMERY! Sure - there's a bit of Lucille Ball to Paltrow's Pepper Potts in the car - but I love that. She's freaking out. Fuck, given what's going on, I bet most of us would be freaking the fuck out. There's a crazy ass bastard with lightning whips just cutting through steel and concrete and it is scary and visceral as all hell.
And... it isn't the best sequence of the film.
IRON MAN 2 is comic movie crack! I remember how I was after I saw SPIDER-MAN 2. It felt like the world finally fucking got it. I thought we'd always have films increasingly badass from that point - and SPIDER-MAN 3 was not better. And I got a tad sad. When you see a comic book movie that is absolutely the best of what that character can be on screen - it is euphoric. Something to celebrate, to revel in. I've been a comic geek my entire life. I remember when Bob Layton really began blowing my mind with IRON MAN. This is that... but on film... with hundreds of talented awesome artists, technicians and craftsmen all supporting that vision.
We may not have a lot of Comic Book awesome coming this summer, but frankly - this is all I need. I'll be seeing this a bunch - and I can not wait to see this movie destroy my nephew's brain tomorrow night. Seriously - his 9 year old noggin just will not be able to process how great this is.
Every character is what it should be.
The only problem with IRON MAN 2 is this. It really does throw a challenge to Kenneth Branagh on THOR, to Joe Johnston on CAPTAIN AMERICA and Joss Whedon on THE AVENGERS. IRON MAN 2 is in the tradition of the great 2nd films in the series we love the second films from. You know the titles. This will be like those experiences... where you were scared that it was going to be watered down, you were worried that there was going to be too much to juggle, when you were terrified it was just going to pander to kids. No. IRON MAN 2 is made for us - all of us.
Now - I have a challenge for all of you. There's a moment in this film - that is a shot from behind of Gwyneth and Scarlett walking up some stairs. Scarlett is in a black dress. Try to see if you can even see Gwyneth in the shot. I know she was there - but all I could stare at was Scarlett's pendulum swinging back and forth up those stairs - and I was done hypnotized. I bet you will too. And btw... When she goes full Black Widow... you'll geek out pretty hard. I promise. She's perfect.