May 6, 2010

Ebert reviews Iron Man 2

"Iron Man 2" is a polished, high-ozone sequel, not as good as the original but building once again on a quirky performance by Robert Downey Jr. The superhero genre doesn't necessarily require good acting, but when it's there (as in "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight"), that takes it up a level. Downey here gives us a Tony Stark who is cockier and more egotistical than ever. Or, and here's the key, he seems to be.

All heroes have a fatal flaw. That's one of the rules of the road in fiction. Tony Stark's flaw is that he is dying. The megalomaniac act comes naturally, but now it's useful as a cover-up. His chest-mounted battery pack, or life source, or whatever it is, is running low and poisoning his blood. It works by using the rarest element in the periodic table, and to renew it would require discovering or inventing a new element. Not easy.

So Tony stands aside at big events and uses a little blood monitor--helpfully named the "Stark Blood Monitor," in case anybody sees it--that tells him his Blood Toxicity is relentlessly climbing toward death. This is his private fear, not even shared with the loyal Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is running his company.

Stark is sponsoring a Stark Expo at the site of the New York Worlds' Fair, and he flies in for an appearance in the Iron Man suit and promises world peace. The arena is thronged with adoring fans. Imagine Steve Jobs announcing iPad 3. But trouble is brewing. His arch-rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) plans an army of rival iron suits. A Congressional committee headed by the fatuous Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) wants Stark to make Iron Man the exclusive property of the Defense Department. And in Russia, the bitter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) believes Stark's father stole the Iron Man secrets from his own father.

Hammer hires Vanko to design a better suit than Stark's, the two suit designs go to war, we get half an hour of sensational special effects, and Bob's your uncle. But you also have a niece, sexy martial arts expert played by Scarlett Johansson, who may be more than she seems. The character was named Black Widow in the comic books, never a good sign. Fighting at Stark's side is his comrade Lt. Col. "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle); while rocketing through a blizzard of enemy missiles, the two find time to talk. How slow must a missile be moving if your buddy has time to warn you to dodge it?

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