Returning to open the summer movie season of 2010 is Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire playboy/superhero Tony Stark. Stark runs a company that was founded by his father, and he uses reason and creativity – not superpowers – to fight off evil. Sound familiar?
The background story of Iron Man is just like that of Batman. Iron Man is essentially Marvel Comics’ version of Batman. And it is very subtle, but you can see how the movie version of Iron Man, especially this sequel, is just like a version of Batman.
“Iron Man 2” begins where the last movie ends: Tony Stark announced to the world that he was Iron Man. What follows is a worldwide outbreak of peace. No armies or governments want to attack because they fear Iron Man’s power.
But there is one major problem: Tony is dying. The power source used to keep Tony’s heart beating, and the one that powers the Iron Man suit, is poisoning his body.
Stark gets hauled up before Congress and told he must turn over the Iron Man suit to the government. The logic is that it is an unregistered weapon and should not be in the hands of a civilian. Stark refuses and walks out of the hearing.
With the 24-hour news cycle, no item goes unnoticed. The hearing was televised around the world, and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) was watching. Ivan is the son of a former partner with Tony Stark’s father. Ivan has it in for Tony; he creates a suit that projects plasma whips that can cut through any metal.
Joining the action is a cast of characters including Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony’s trusty assistant; Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony’s industrial rival; and Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Tony’s friend.
“Iron Man 2” is good but not great. It doesn’t meet the original’s standards, but it does shine because of its actors – more than anything else. And this collection of actors is having fun in this movie; you can see it.
That is due in large part to the direction of Jon Favreau, who directed the original. He allows these actors the freedom to do pretty much what they want, and he has assembled a group that can spit out enjoyable dialogue. But that freedom comes with a cost.
This movie is like the “Batman” TV series of the ’60s. It borders on campiness, with a bunch of set pieces where the actors are allowed to do and say whatever comes to mind. If it’s funny, it plays.
Why this criticism? This movie is part of a larger franchise. Marvel Comics is using this movie to set up another series based on The Avengers comics, and “Iron Man 2” is one of many to come, like “Thor” and “Captain America.” With all this riding on the back of this movie, it is important to note how the tone of this movie will affect the others.
Warner Brothers had a huge franchise with Batman. Tim Burton made the first two movies in the franchise, and within the space of four movies the franchise died. Why? Because the movies grew campier, just jokey versions of themselves. Villains grew bigger and louder, and even the bad guys became nothing more than gags.
Every sequel generally gets a bit worse than the last movie, and I would hate to see this happen here. I’m a huge fan of Marvel and its characters. I have a rooting interest for these comics-based movies to succeed, but I worry for this franchise going forward.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Cast: Robert Downey Jr.: Tony Stark/Iron Man; Gwyneth Paltrow: Pepper Potts; Sam Rockwell: Justin Hammer; Mickey Rourke: Ivan Vanko/Whiplash; Don Cheadle: Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/ War Machine; Scarlett Johansson: Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff; Samuel L. Jackson: Nick Fury.
The movie’s Web site is here.