Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

‘Iron Man 2’ Explores the Lighter Side of Being a Celebrity Superhero

Tony Stark may be self-obsessed and troubled by mortal thoughts – rightly so, considering the mechanical heart that’s keeping him alive is slowly polluting his body with lethal toxins – but he’s no Bruce Wayne. As played by Robert Downey Jr., he combines a sly sense of humor with natural showmanship. He enjoys being a superhero, and soaks up the spotlight with a narcissist’s glee.

It’s refreshing. Stark has a dark side, well-watered with cocktails, but he is hardly morose. He is intoxicated by the adoration of his fans, and tickled by the trappings of fame and obscene wealth. And he’s not afraid to toot his own horn. As he brags to a less-than-smitten Senate committee, “I have successfully privatized world peace.”

Well, almost. The rise of Iron Man and his famously flamboyant alter ego seems to have neutralized global tensions, but one man – Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a revenge-minded Russian physicist who blames the Stark family for his father’s forced stay in Siberia – isn’t celebrating. A man of few words (grunts, really) and dozens of tattoos, Vanko wants to make Iron Man bleed on the grandest of stages, for all the world to witness.

Vanko is high on Tony’s list of concerns, but not alone. There’s a rival entrepreneur, the hapless Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who is willing to kill for valuable defense contracts; the crime-fighting super spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who toys with the idea of adding Iron Man to his Avengers posse; the formidable shadow cast by Stark’s late father (John Slattery, of TV’s Mad Men); and the temptation presented by a ravishing legal aide (Scarlett Johansson), whose talents include martial arts and mixing a stiff martini.

That’s to say nothing of Tony’s feud with longtime Army pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) that begins as a drunken argument and escalates into a small-scale war. Indeed, Iron Man 2 packs plenty of plot into two solidly entertaining hours, and though some might question its pacing – it’s neither as lean nor as action-driven as its more focused predecessor – Jon Favreau’s follow-up rides a wave of unhurried momentum.

Those anticipating a deliciously deviant turn from Rourke might be disappointed. Vanko, his broad shoulders and muscular arms partially obscured by a deadly suit of electrified armor, looks the part of a worthy adversary, but the role is underwritten compared to that of Rockwell’s ambitious but incompetent arms dealer.

There’s never any sense that either poses a serious threat to Tony or his empire, lovingly overseen by former assistant turned CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). If anything is capable of undoing Tony Stark, it is his personal demons, with which he struggles in self-imposed solitude before taking them public at an ill-fated birthday bash. Certainly his viability as centerpiece of a Hollywood franchise isn’t damaged by Iron Man 2, a winking sequel, with a hard-rocking soundtrack, that relishes Iron Man’s misadventures as much as he does.