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   Movie Reviews: Ironman 2
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Studio:
     Marvel Studios
Plot:
     Billionaire Tony Stark must contend with deadly issues involving the government, his own friends, as well as new enemies due to his superhero alter ego Iron Man.
Cast:
     Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson
Rating:
     PG-13
Bottom Line:
     ****

Coverage:
by
Jonathan McMillan

You shouldn’t have to be a fan of comic books to enjoy a certain type of movie, but rather a good movie like “Iron Man 2” can make you a fan of the source material.

I’ll let you in on a little secret - I’m a com-bo fanboy. For those who don’t know what that means; comic books are my guilty pleasure. From my pre-teens to my mid-twenties I collected various comics like The X-Men, The Avengers and Spider-Man. I’m a regular visitor to Marvel.com and keep up with the current comic storylines by reading Wikipedia and various websites dedicated to the events and happenings of the comic book world.

So with all that said, let me tell you, I loathe most live-action adaptations of comic book series.' Just a couple of recent examples off of a long list of what I consider bastardized film versions of graphic novels would be the entire “X-Men” franchise and the “Superman Returns” movie from a few years ago.

There are a couple of inherent problems with making a first-rate movie based on any major comic book that few studios or directors take time to solve. If they attempt to cut corners and not address these issues, the movie will ultimately fail. However, a quality movie that appeals to both diehard comic book fans and casual movie goers can be made without butchering the source material. As with any film, the right combination of writing, direction and acting can keep a movie from being pigeonholed the into direct-to-video category and move it into summer blockbuster fare like the 2008 movies “Iron Man” and Christopher Nolan’s hugely successful “The Dark Knight.”

As with most pieces of literature (comics or otherwise) that are adapted for film, Hollywood usually dumbs down the subject matter in hopes of drawing in a wide range of movie goers and huge box office returns.

The other unavoidable problem with making a successful film based on long running, iconic comic book characters and or groups like “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Uncanny X-Men” The “Invincible Iron Man” is how do you condense 40 plus years of storylines and character development into a simple but comprehensive and contemporary piece of entertainment that’s only 90 minutes (or so) long in a way that is pleasing to both diehard long term fans and the broader audience which is just looking for a good movie? Just writing that sentence suggests how complicated the question is.

The solution to both of theses problems is first finding a studio that is understanding of the intricacies and complexities of making a comic book movie to finance the film, like Marvel Comic’s own Marvel Entertainment Inc. and recruiting skilled screenwriters to adapt the source material and putting an accomplished director in charge who understands both his subject matter and it’s fans, plus the general entertainment needs of those not so devoted to the com-bo subculture. 

These are the resources who know the most successful comics are ones that are more about the humanity of the people behind the masks rather than the actual super-powered persona that is known to the world. “Spider-Man” comics are more about Peter Parker and his struggles to fit into the world at large and “Batman” stories are really about Bruce Wayne, a man who has some serious issues since his parents were murdered. In the same vein, “Iron Man” is really about a man struggling with his physical weaknesses and emotional demons and the toll that fight has on his life outside the armor.

Based off his success with “Iron Man” in 2008, Jon Favreau is thankfully, again the man at the helm of the sequel. The Hollywood vet has succeeded where most directors who tackle the comic book genre fail. Having played a supporting role in the financially successful but publicly lambasted comic book based movie “Daredevil” Favreau understands the difficulty of pleasing both fanboys and the public-at-large with the same movie. In an interview with comicbookbin.com, Favreau said “I think Daredevil—a lot of effort was put into keeping it true to the books—and I think tonally it never broke to the next level of success. It was certainly a successful film but I think it could have done better if the audience was broader for it.”

With both “Iron Man” films Favreau and the screenwriters including actor Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) have successfully navigated the choppy waters of “keeping true to the books” by piecing relevant and compelling plot lines from 47 years that the “Iron Man” character has been published into an very entertaining motion picture.

“Iron Man 2” picks up where the first movie left off, with Tony Stark (again played by Robert Downey Jr.) announcing to the world that he is Iron Man. With the obligatory fame that has come with that announcement, Stark is now an even bigger superstar than he was before practically oozing cockiness. The only thing bigger than his bank account is his ego, which understandably is inflated because all the good the hero has accomplished. Since his unmasking, the world has experienced the longest uninterrupted period of peace ever recorded. Furthering his public interest and possibly his sense of self-worth, he fulfills his fathers dream by opening a multi-acre, 12 month long technology showcase called Stark Expo.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of Stark and his suit. The US government lead by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling of the “Larry Sanders’ Show”) wants him to turn the suit over to the military as they consider it a weapon, which they, of course, would like to capitalize upon. Stark Industries rival and competitor, weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell from “The Green Mile”) and other contractors have been trying to develop their own versions of the suit with embarrassing results which Stark is quick to display.

Also rooting for Stark’s downfall is Ivan Vanko(“The Wrestler”’s Mickey Rourke) the son of Anton Vanko, a disgraced scientist and former partner of Tony Stark’s father. For fellow comic enthusiast like me, you’ll recognize the younger Vanko as an amalgamation of two villains from Iron Man’s rouge gallery; Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. The banished father and son watch TV and see Iron Man showboat at the Stark Expo. Anton’s dying words to his son: “That should’ve been you.” fuel Ivan’s vendetta. Using blueprints that their fathers drew up while they were still partners, Vanko successfully replicates the arc reactor technology (that both powers the Iron Man suit and keeps Tony Stark alive) and builds his own super suit of sorts with whip-like attachments harnessing the electrical energy.

Forming a perfect storm of enemies, Hammer, Vanko and the US government conspire against Stark to cripple his reputation, company and superhero status. Meanwhile, paladium, a chemical byproduct of the technology that is keeping Stark alive, is poisoning him, killing him slowly although faster each time he suits up. His impending death literally weighing heavy on his heart, Stark begins to succumb to alcoholism, a storyline that was a pivotal to the character development of Tony Stark, in the “Iron Man” comic book canon.

Despite all the serious subject matter, “IM2” provides plenty of humorous moments with plenty of funny and witty dialogue between Downey and almost anyone he shares as scene with. And Rockwell’s understated comedic rendition of Justin Hammer is at times the best non-computer generated onscreen performance but legendary comedian Gary Shandling is also amusing or the few minutes he’s onscreen as the pompous senator out to nail Stark.

Reprising and expanding on their roles from the first “Iron Man” movie is the director himself, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, Stark’s bodyguard and chauffeur and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Pepper Potts, Stark’s budding love interest and the newly appointed C.E.O. of Stark Industries. Both players do a splendid job supporting the plot and making their character’s thread essential to the story’s advancement especially in a high powered action scene where the pair come to Stark’s rescue by driving a Rolls Royce against the high speed traffic flow of a Formula 1 race.

Replacing Terrence Howard as Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, is the skilled actor Don Cheadle (“Brooklyn’s Finest”) who gets to make good on the character’s promise of “next time” in the first film bringing the character “War Machine” to life as both an adversary and ally to Iron Man in this film.

Those who saw the original know the computer generated imagery was some of the best ever viewed before “Avatar” and in this sequel, the special effects are nothing short of spectacular making the armored suits and battle drones featured in the films climatic battle scenes believable and dare I say, realistic?

A few years ago Marvel Comics took full creative control over their movie franchise by forming Marvel Entertainment Inc. The company is now overseeing production of several motion pictures over the next few years, many which include a crossing over of characters including Tony Stark/Iron Man from one film to another ultimately leading up to a 2012 movie about a team of superheroes called “The Avengers.” 

Foreshadowing this crossover event in a special post-credit scene in the original “Iron Man” was Samuel Jackson who is leads that effort reprising and upgrading his cameo as Col. Nick Fury from the original to a more supporting role in “Iron Man 2.”  Working with Fury and the counter-terrorism organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is Scarlett Johansson (“The Wolfman”) as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff, a super sexy spy posing as Stark’s new personal assistant.

Favreau said in an interview that he “learned that if you make a movie, make it something that you don’t have to be a comic book fan to enjoy.” He obviously learned his lesson well because “Iron Man 2” is a completely engaging and entertaining film for all audiences. Not to be confused with a stand-alone piece, this PG-13 movie is at the least, part two of a trilogy so those who haven’t seen the first movie should put it in their Netflix queue before going out and getting a kick out of this sequel.

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