OK, I’m just going to cut to the chase. This movie is amazingly entertaining, genuinely engaging and above all awesome.

There I said it.

And man do I feel better.

“Iron Man 2,” directed by Marvel movie master Jon Favreau, is the first true blockbuster of this summer season. With most of the original cast back in the armor, this film hits on all cylinders. In fact, I am pretty sure that I will run out of positive adjectives to describe my utter happiness with this film before I end. Be warned.

Anyway, back in full narcissistic, boy billionaire form is Robert Downey, Jr. as everyone’s favorite genuine genius Tony Stark. Just a refresher course for those who missed the boat the first time around – Stark makes weapons. Stark is nabbed by some terrorist baddies. Stark makes giant suit of armor using a power source that is also keeping him alive. Stark becomes Iron Man. Stark finds out he was betrayed by his father’s partner. Stark wins. Stark tells the world “I am Iron Man.”

OK, it’s way better than what I described, but now that everyone’s up-to-date, let’s continue.

Beginning right at the end of the first film, “Iron Man 2” shows us another perspective of the press conference where Stark reveals he is the armored do-gooder. Across the globe in Russia, a dying man painfully is making his exit while his son Ivan Vanko (a frighteningly disturbing Mickey Rourke) watches in sadness. It seems these guys aren’t what they seem. In their shambled apartment, lies the litter of industrial intellectualism and it has Stark written all over it. Revenge seems to be in the equation.

Flash forward some time and Iron Man is now the man. Everyone loves him, but as the hero basks in the limelight, the man has a hidden dark secret.

And that’s all I’m going to give you.

The overall story this time around is anything but formula and while some events are regular hero fodder, you never feel shortchanged, bored or feeling as if you have something better to do. In fact, while most filmmakers (especially those working in the world of heroes and villains, i.e., Bay, Schumacher, and well … Bay) have a tendency to throw too much into their second and third episodes of their franchise, not Favreau. While there is quite a bit more including action, characters and effects – Favreau has been able to craft an overall narrative that balances everyone nicely into what they are supposed to do – allowing each actor to do what they do best – make some good movie minutes. At the same time, similar to the first film, there are some nice nuggets of comic book gold scattered throughout the film making every fanboy in the audience (including me) squeal with excitement (and yes, I did that too.) All I will say is pay attention and stay till the end of the credits for a special treat of what’s next.

There are a few things that you could be nitpicky about – Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha (Black Widow) Romanoff doesn’t have the accent and oddly there is a “Wonder Twins” moment between Iron Man and War Machine – but nothing that ever distracts from the overall experience and excitement the audience gets. One thing I appreciated most is that this story did not fall directly into the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline that everyone expected. At its bare bones, the movie is about addiction – either to heroism or revenge, but not in the way you think.

In terms of the acting … it’s good. Downey Jr. is, as usual, wonderful to watch. He just captivates the audience so well and honestly it’s hard not to take your eyes off his performance. He’s confident and he knows it and makes darn sure that everyone in the audience knows it too. As the baddie Ivan Vanko, Mickey Rourke is wonderful. Reserved with not a great deal of dialogue, Rourke lets his physical presence and meticulous planning do the talking, giving our hero one heck of an opponent to deal with. Along with that, Rourke never really allows his revenge reasoning get too cliché which allows the story to continue easily with little clunkiness.

In terms of the supporting cast, Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow are exceptional. Filling the shoes of Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, (played by Terrence Howard in the first film) Cheadle plays the proud soldier very well. Torn between the duty to his country and his friendship to Stark, Cheadle gives a nuanced performance that adds to the overall story and makes sense when he is able to wear and use the Mark 1 or War Machine armor. On the flipside, Paltrow’s performance this time around is vastly improved. While I think she did well in the first film, here we get a look at a true, confident female leader … and me likey. Not to be pigeon-holed into the damsel in distress part, Pepper Potts shows her corporate prowess and lets the world know that while she may have been just an assistant to a playboy before, she learned from the best and knows how to be a lioness of industry.

But, with all that being said, there are two performances that I think stand out from the crowd – Sam Rockwell as rival weaponeer Justin Hammer and Garry Shandling as Senator Stern. While Rockwell is not the older, more refined version of Hammer I remember from the comics, his acting ability shines and he makes a wonderful second best to Stark’s first. As the senator whose main desire is getting the Iron Man weapon under the control of the United States government, Shandling is experienced enough to handle the snarkiness of Stark, but still holds the presence of a political powerhouse. These two are the guys you love to hate.
The only part that I am on the fence about is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. While I love the idea of using Jackson for the part (especially with him looking exactly like the Nick Fury from “Ultimates” universe) it just feels like he is playing the part too loosely. Maybe I need to see him under the eye patch a little more, but in a hero story set in our world, he looks like the only person in costume and, at least for me, it seemed a little silly at parts. I guess time will tell on this one.

Now, usually, when I review blockbusters, I get really into talking about the visual effects. I mean, for the most part, that’s what they are all about, right? The bigger budget means bigger explosions and more realistic battles, etc., etc. But reread above. The acting performances are so good and the story is so strong that you forget that the effects are supposed to be top of mind. Don’t get me wrong, people pay to see Iron Man looking sexy in high resolution, computer generated goodness and he does – but everything is well balanced around the effects that they are truly part of the experience and not just the experience.

Overall, “Iron Man 2” is everything it needs to be – action packed, hilarious and full of hero. This film is a great addition to the Iron Man library and an exceptional stepping-stone toward continuing the momentum that the Marvel universe is building in film. Go see this film. Nuff said.

5 out 5 Ironettes Dancing at the Stark Expo

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