Iron Man 2’ a superhero flick with real character
Iron Man 2’ a superhero flick with real character

Summer is here. Oh sure, the concretes at Ted Drewes have only just begun to thaw, the outdoor pools won’t open for a couple more weeks and Cubs fans still think they’ve got a chance to win the division; but as far as Hollywood is concerned, the solstice has arrived.

This is because the first big-freakin’-deal-event-movie of the season has landed in the form of “Iron Man 2.” The first “Iron Man” was rightfully lauded for not only being fun and serviceable superhero flick but for rejuvenating the career of the supremely talented Robert Downey Jr.

Downey seemed born to play Tony Stark, the arrogantly brilliant military industrialist who discovers he has a heart and a purpose after escaping the clutches of terrorists by building an impervious, high-tech suit of armor that allows him to do many a good deed.

Downey is in great form once again, picking right up where he left off in “Iron Man 2,” a sequel that is light on plot but soars thanks to some nifty action and a tremendous cast that is given enough space to actually let their characters develop amidst all the booms and blasts.

Stark is a flawed hero, a man so overconfident that he doesn’t even bother with a secret identity, leave that for pansies like Batman and Superman.

In spite of his noble inclinations, being the savior of the world unsurprisingly goes right to Tony’s head. The main thrust of the story involves the U.S. government trying to get Stark to turn over his Iron Man suit, which he flatly refuses proclaiming “I have single-handedly privatized world peace!” The guy makes Bono look like Greta Garbo.

In addition to struggling under the weight of his oversized ego, Tony has to worry about other countries and weapons manufacturers trying to build their own suits.

Director Jon Favreau, who also plays Tony’s bodyguard in the film, continues to prove as he did in the first movie that even though he is more than capable of delivering the goods when it comes to spectacle and action, he is first and foremost an actor’s director.

First, he brilliantly cast the movie from top to bottom and then he allowed the actors the freedom to ad-lib and enough room to develop believable chemistry that makes the movie a joy to watch even when things aren’t blowing up.

Returning from the first movie is Gwyneth Paltro as Tony’s right-hand woman and potential love interest Pepper Potts. Pepper is perhaps the only person in the world that believes that deep down Tony is a decent human being and Paltro brings the perfect mix of affection and exasperation to the role, along with the presence to more than hold her own on-screen with Downey.

Also returning is the character of Rhodey Rhodes, who is really the only other friend Tony has. Rhodes was played in the first “Iron Man” by Terrence Howard but got replaced thanks to some lousy contract negotiating by Don Cheadle. No offense to Howard, but Cheadle is a major upgrade as he is able to develop a much stronger give-and-take with Downey.

Along for the ride is Tony’s new assistant, complete with her own murky motivations, Natalie Rushman. Natalie is played by the curvaceous Scarlett Johansson, whose acting talents are a little underutilized as she is really only asked to look good in tight spandex. At the end of the day, I am totally OK with this.

There are some heavy-hitters in the adversary department as well. Mickey Rourke plays a revenge-driven Russian physicist who sports menacing tattoos and does his best to crank bad-ass up to 11. (That may be the first time the words “physicist” and “bad-ass” have ever appeared in the same sentence.)

Funding Rourke’s path of destruction is rival weapon manufacturer Justin Hammer, played by the motor-mouthed Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is the perfect anti-Tony Stark, complete with rapid-fire delivery and quick retorts, but he harbors just enough insecurity which clearly makes him the lesser man. There are a couple of times Rockwell nearly manages to steal the movie.

But you can have this movie when you pry it from Downey’s cold, dead hands. He owns this franchise and takes his character to some pretty unlikable extremes before pulling him back into the light of redemption. I’ll let other armchair psychologists draw parallels between Tony’s journey in this film and Downey’s real-life trials and tribulations and only say that this is some daring character work for a summer blockbuster.

“Iron Man 2” isn’t quite as tight from a plotting and pacing standpoint as was its predecessor, but it is every bit as enjoyable.

Not resting on his laurels, Iron Man is already gearing up for another appearance in the upcoming movie “The Avengers,” which is about the formation of a superhero all-star team that gets set up a bit in this movie. You should stick around after the credits for a tease involving one of Iron Man’s future partners.

But enough about the future, this is all about Summer 2010, and “Iron Man 2” has ushered it in in style. Break out the sunscreen.

“Iron Man 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

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