In 2005, director Christopher Nolan released “Batman Begins,” and a new film-making commandment was born: “Thou shalt not smile.” Whatever that film’s excellent points and gifts to the film canon (and believe me, there are many), it will forever be known as the picture that killed the fun in making a superhero movie. Producers, looking for their next cash cows, mined the DC and Marvel universes for their darkest, most nihilistic tales, and found actors who could deliver the best glower to be their protagonists.
Then came Jon Favreau, a man best known for following Vince Vaughn into a pit of sin in “Swingers.” He wanted to make “Iron Man.” But more than that, he wanted to make “Iron Man” what it should be: a comedy. And what do you know, it turns out American audiences also wanted to have a laugh.
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke
“Iron Man 2” is more of the same- a lot more. This episode has Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) fighting on several fronts: he’s battling the U.S. Government for control of his Iron Man suit, a rival businessman (Sam Rockwell) who’s trying to build his own suit and a crazed Russian physicist who’s trying to avenge his father’s ruined career. It’s a crowded docket.
There’s no great changes to film culture, no Oscar-winning performances, or fascinating forays into psychology. Stark is a manic, self-serving and self-destructive billionaire playboy. He has a giant suit that fights evil, usually by blowing shit up. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. And it’s awesome.
It’s major gift, of course, is the cast. Downey, reprising his role as the crusader, puts on all of his performances like a well-tailored suit- he always looks good, but it’s never like he’s trying to hard. He’s there, first and foremost, to have a good time. Don Cheadle makes a good replacement for Terrance Howard as Lt. Col. Rhodes, and even Scarlett Johansson, who I usually barely tolerate, is likable (probably because she’s best in films where all she has to do is look hot and try not to talk too much.) And Mickey Rourke, enjoying an actor’s second summer, is terrific as Ivan Vanko, the Russian who might just be smarter than Stark. Rourke, of course, is best when he’s just playing himself. He may not be a physicist (or Russian, for that matter), but he is a hulking, intimidating form, which belies unexpected intelligence. I simply enjoyed watching Rourke move throughout this film, striding confidently through a laboratory wearing a sleeveless shirt that exposes his many worn tattoos along with a snappy pair of spectacles.
Writer Justin Theroux and Favreau both wanted to create something driven by good styling and a sense of fun. One could read into the plot lines- the private business owner versus Big Government, the nature of war in the modern age, blah, blah, blah. Lame, and done before. But you know what is entertaining? A ten-minute long scene where Col. Rhodes and Stark, both in Iron Man suits, gratuitously destroy Stark’s fabulous home in Malibu.
Favfreau’s not a great director, but he is one who delivers on his promises, which is almost as important. He promised us a spicy, funny action flick with nerdy in-jokes, sexy women in catsuits and tons of Shit Blowing Up. He lets “Iron Man” be what’s it’s supposed to be. These days, that’s an art form in itself.