Thursday, May 13, 2010

Iron Man 2: Justin Hammer Time

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This was probably my most anticipated movie of the year so far.  Not only was I a fan of the original Iron Man, but I was excited to see two of my favorite actors- Sam Rockwell and Robert Downey Jr.- face off against each other in a movie.  In this second installment of the Iron Man series, billionaire playboy/ superhero Tony Stark finds himself facing a whole bunch of new obstacles.  After outing himself as Iron Man, Tony has become a major celebrity, but not all of the attention he is receiving is positive.  His rival defense contractor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), and a sleazy senator (Gary Shandling) are putting pressure on him to turn over the Iron Man suits due to fears that other countries might replicate the equipment.  Meanwhile in Russia, disgruntled physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) begins working on his own pseudo-Iron Man suit so he can attack Tony.  It seems Howard Stark (Tony's dad, played by Mad Men's John Slattery) and Ivan's dad, Anton, had worked together previously and had a falling out.  Also, Tony discovers that the arc reactor acting as his heart is starting to poison him.  So many problems and all Tony wants to do is check out Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) hot new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson)!

The plot of Iron Man 2 is a little overstuffed and the action sequences are fun, but less exciting than the original.  However, the performances and funny dialogue make this an enjoyable film. Downey Jr. is excellent at playing charming jerks like Tony Stark, who has become even more self-indulgent and egotistical than in the first film. One of the elements that I really like about both movies is Tony's relationship with his assistant (now promoted to Stark Industries CEO) Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), which has a screwball romance vibe to it.  Pepper is an intelligent, capable, Kate Hepburn-esque woman and a good foil for Tony's bad boy ways.  Paltrow gives a charming performance as Pepper.  Mickey Rourke is dark and menacing as Ivan Vanko, a villian with a strange affinity for cockatoos.  Vanko is a sympathetic bad guy; his father and he have lived a tough life, possible due to some shady business on the part of Howard Stark. 

My absolute favorite performance, however, belongs to Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.  Hammer is sort of an ersatz Tony Stark.  Like Tony, he is a well-dressed, narcissistic weapons dealer, but he's also a dorky and hapless guy with self-tanned hands.  None of the weapons made by Hammer Industries work particularly well.  Rockwell and Downey Jr. have a lot of similarities, including their ages, charisma, acting styles, and even height; so the rivalry between Stark and Hammer is very convincing.  Rockwell's Hammer is equal parts smarmy, nerdy and clueless.  Hammer is utterly convinced of his awesomeness, even in the face of his many shortcomings, making him one of the funniest characters in the film. The highpoint of the film for me is when Hammer dances across the stage at the Stark Expo.  It's worth seeing the movie for that scene alone.  Justin Hammer is definitely the most enjoyable adversary for Iron Man thus far in the series.  Iron Man 2 may not be quite as good as the original, but it's miles ahead of most action movies.

Before you watch the sequel, you might want to re-watch the first movie.
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