He's the "Man"

May 10, 2010, 12:59 a.m. | By Ava Wallace | 10 years, 11 months ago

The "Iron Man" franchise stays strong with a worthy sequel

As calendars everywhere flip to the month of May, film companies start rolling out sequels, trilogies and prequels and every movie seems to be "the first summer blockbuster of the year!" But in a divergent yet enjoyable twist on the quintessential superhero sequel, "Iron Man 2" has all of the ingredients to be this summer's superhero of choice.

The first installment in the planned "Iron Man" trilogy debuted two years ago, and returning director Jon Favreau picks up exactly where the first film left off. "Iron Man 2" opens with a scene in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) reveals that he is Iron Man. Stark is now living lavishly and loving the extra fame that being a superhero garners, but the millionaire has multiple obstacles to face. Not only does he have a new competitor in the world of technology and weapons by the name of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), but Stark is also fighting for every breath as the palladium arc reactor in his chest – installed to keep him alive and power his super suit – poisons him. Stark also has to worry about Ivan Venko, a malicious, revenge-seeking Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who's out to kill him.

The movie undoubtedly has the trademarks of a summer hit. It's heavy on the action sequences, focuses less on plot and offers a plethora of quotable phrases from Stark's friend-turned-allied superhero, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle seamlessly replaces Terrence Howard, who played Rhodes in the first installment). "Iron Man 2" is also a quintessential superhero-sequel – think Spider Man 2 and The Dark Knight – that may surpass its predecessor in terms of entertainment.

One of the things that makes "Iron Man 2" better than the original is the casting. Paltrow and Downey return for roles that seem tailor-made for them, but are joined by exciting newcomers to the franchise. Cheadle and Scarlett Johansson, who plays Stark's alluring new assistant, both know their limits as supporting actors well; they add drama and action to the story without dragging the audience down in their plot lines. Johansson avoids falling into the stereotypical "girl who kicks butt" role and is refreshingly likeable. Rockwell's Hammer is also familiar and easily accessible without being hackneyed.

But it's Rourke as Ivan Venko, known in the comic book version of "Iron Man" as Whiplash, who stands above the rest of his co-stars. Rourke is a fantastic combination of sinister and intelligent as Venko; he sidesteps being the usual overdone and somewhat dumb villains in superhero worlds. Venko and his character quirks are so entertaining that the audience ends up halfway rooting for him by the end of the film. It helps that Rourke also naturally looks like a superhero villain.

The soundtrack is another one of the movie's great qualities. In addition to a traditional score composed by John Debney, the movie features classic rock by AC/DC, Queen and The Clash as well as rap by the Beastie Boys and 2Pac. In essence, all of the music in the movie is quality energetic, pump-up music that only makes the audiences more invested in the action.

And the action in the movie is deserving of attention. Unlike many summer blockbusters, none of the action sequences are unnecessary, and all are entertaining and thrilling. The technology in the movie is equally as awesome and well incorporated – the special effects of the film are one of the main distinctions between "Iron Man" and its sequel. The latter movie improves drastically technologically.

Though the action is definitely prominent throughout the movie, the plot isn't completely forgotten. Stark's storyline has dramatic elements without being too drastic – there is a sense of urgency over his condition, but the film maintains a lighthearted, enjoyable tone. The story is also original and has many twists and turns. The only downfall with "Iron Man 2" is that Favreau doesn't spend time explaining things that the audience may have forgotten from the first film. Yet while it's best that the original "Iron Man" plot be fresh in your memory, audience members won't be totally lost by any means.

"Iron Man 2" is tougher than any man of steel when it comes to beating stereotypes. The film could have been a typical superhero sequel or action-packed thriller with plot holes, but Favreau and his cast expertly steer clear of any clichés. The movie engages the audience with well-developed and interesting characters, an enjoyable plot and riveting action and special effects. So grab your sunscreen and put on some shorts, because "Iron Man 2" – in all of its action-packed, rock n' roll, superhero glory – kicks off the summer movie season in earnest.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language

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