Race cars. One-liners galore. Hammeroids (wait for it…). Attitude out the wazoo. Blissful amounts of sci-fi action. Iron Man 2 is here, it’s smooth, it’s slick, and it’s got everything a red-blooded boy could want. Which is spectacular news for those of us who’re still boys at heart.
Taking its cue straight from the first movie, Iron Man 2 spins a light-hearted and action-filled yarn set firmly in an impressively believable hybrid of the Marvel Universe and the real world. It’s quite a balancing act between the comic book elements and entirely new ideas, and it’s a balancing act that gets the movie safely and triumphantly across the ravine into which bad movies plummet.
There are so many things to like here that I don’t know where to begin. There’s no way I can cover it all. Since I am a comic book reader (or used to be, back when superhero comics were still good), let me start with one or two references to the material on which the movie is ultimately based. One of the best Iron Man stories is Armor Wars, which ran in Iron Man vol. 1 #225-232 (1987-88). In this story Tony Stark discovers that his Iron Man technology has been stolen years ago and sold to all and sundry, which entails components of it having been used in all sorts of super-villain suits. He is understandably furious that his tech has been used to kill people, and he goes on a rampage to destroy all the super-villain suits (usually with the super-villains inside them) that have used his components. This rampage gets Iron Man into considerable trouble with S.H.I.E.L.D., for several reasons (such as the fact that the government soldier corps The Guardsmen are some of the ones illicitly using his tech).
In this movie they have used a similar plot, but made it a lot more realistic: Stark’s technology is quickly being copied all around the world. Several countries are only five or ten years behind Stark’s designs. A new arms race has seen the light of day. And the first target is of course Iron Man himself – the standard against which all knock-offs must be pitted in order to see if they measure up. Which in turns forces Stark to be on his technological toes and keep inventing new bits and gadgets for his armor. The comics never had a properly pressing reason for Stark to endlessly upgrade his armor – but this movie does. And, realistically, S.H.I.E.L.D. is there throughout the ride to make sure Stark doesn’t “lose the faith”, in all senses of the term. Nick Fury is keeping his eye on Iron Man!
Thanks to events a bit too complex (but logical and interesting) to get into here, one of Stark’s rival industrialists, Justin Hammer, is the first to create armored battle drones based on the Iron Man design. The movie is – among other things – spent creating them, so a small army of them are ready for the climax at the end. Being androids made by Hammer, Stark dubs these drones “Hammeroids” – a word which is funny enough to justify this entire plotline!
But that’s only one of several plotlines. A lot is going on here. Quite a few bits from the comics, including the old first appearance of the Crimson Dynamo (Anton Danko) back in Tales of Suspense #46 (1963), and also a few bits from the alternate universe Ultimate Iron Man (written by Orson Scott Card), are used to build the movie’s story. A core plot point is Tony Stark’s father having left Tony a technological secret for a fabulous energy source which couldn’t be realized thirty years ago, but can now. And he hid it in a model of a futuristic city, basing the design of the city on the composition of a new artificial chemical element. The creation of this element requires a particle accelerator, and instead of buying time at Fermilab, Tony just assembles his father’s thirty-year-old home version in his workshop. Y’know, if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself! One of the many cool aspects of this is that it just might be a veiled reference to a funny moment in Iron Man #250, where Iron Man visits the future and marvels at “a pocket cyclotron, marketed as a toy”! I love that!
The dynamic between the characters works really well. I had several reservations about the first movie (like Gwyneth Paltrow’s part being too paltry), but they’ve retained and boosted all the best aspects for the sequel, and there simply isn’t much to find fault with here. In fact, they crammed so many things into this movie that I could go on for pages and pages about the story’s references and implications and complications, and how effectively it all coheres. Hollywood often simplifies and simplifies, because the average movie-goer apparently doesn’t want anything too “convoluted”. Well, guys, this movie *is* convoluted, and from where I’m squatting that’s a mighty good thing! It gives you some stuff to sink your teeth into. It turns a mindless action movie into a good movie. Smashing job, Marvel Studios – I hope you keep it up!
This movie’s got nearly everything. It’s got great dialogue, full of effective and disarming one-liners. It’s funny, but unlike Fantastic Four 2, it’s not so comical that the entire premise suffers. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but manages to be serious and relevant anyway. It is not entirely perfect. Some of the characters are perhaps not done full justice, and maybe one or two minor plot points could have been better handled, but we can’t have everything. This side of Watchmen, Iron Man 2 is about as good a superhero movie as you’re gonna get. Don’t even think about missing it!