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Iron Man 2

The first Iron Man movie did a couple of things well. The first was raising a relatively obscure Marvel action hero into the public eye. Tony Stark/Iron Man prior to the first movie was pretty much known for a cool look suit and that was about it. The comic saavy amongst you could probably mention that he was the original leader of the Avengers or that Stark’s chief enemy was not the Mandarin or Communists (seriously) but alcoholism. Marvel comics always had a knack for tackling real issues waaaay before DC ever did. Primarily though, Iron Man was a B-Lister. Spiderman, X-Men, the Fantastic Four were the real stars of the Marvel Universe for a long time. Iron Man was always there, for sure, but he was more like the game Tetris, always there and somewhat reliable but not something you leave running on your computer.

The second was that it brought a reasonable ethical debate into the movie: the responsibility of weapon’s manufacturers and the deaths their products cause. What responsibility does Stark industries bear, or anyone for that matter that peddles a product that is dangerous? Is it always the fault of the user or can the provider be blamed as well?

What Iron Man did as well, was tell a coherent story and introduce the broader Marvel Universe without being cheesy about it. If you don’t care about S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers you can still enjoy it.

Iron Man 2 begins about two minutes before the first one ends and then it fast forwards a couple of years to a Congressional Hearing where the Congress demanding that Stark turn over the Iron Man suit to the U.S. government. This, in itself, prompts an interesting idea in these fictional universes occupied by super heroes. To what control must the superhero submit. Stark refuses to give up the technology saying that he has privatized world peace, he invented it, therefore the government has no right to it. The government’s claim is that the suit is too much power to be in the hands of one man. Both have compelling arguments, and in the hands of a drunken womanizer the suit may not be safe, but it is still his.

It brings the question that was asked when the superhero movie flood of a couple of years ago came out. What rights do citizens have against those that have already placed themselves above the law? Do I have a right of privacy or search and seizure against Superman’s X-Ray vision?

That aside the movie tip toes dangerously close to the pain threshold of villainy by giving us three antagonists but thankfully only one real villain. Ivan Vanko, whose father joined in the designing of the Arc Reactor with Stark’s father has a bone to pick. Like Nikolai Tesla’s complaint against Thomas Edison or Antonio Meucci’s against Alexander Graham Bell, Vanko claims that Howard Stark stole the design then exiled his father to Russia where he died in poverty. Vanko will be the slam bang bad guy in the movie, he develops whips fused with the power of the Arc Reactor and attacks Stark only to fail (why anyone didn’t just shoot the shirtless helmet-less Vanko is beyond me).

Then comes Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who rescues Vanko out of a French prison, and hires him to work on his own suit for a military contract. Rockwell hams it up good here as an inventor who is a rival with Stark but doesn’t possess the talent to stay in the game. Finally there is Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) who wants the suit resenting the power that Stark has privately.

The threshold for all Superhero movies is three, once three is established the franchise is dead. Spiderman 3, Batman and Robin, X-Men 3, etc. because the movies become too busy losing the normal character development time in order to cram in all of the fun stuff from comics (what exactly was Eddie Brock’s problem in the movie anyway…that he got fired?). Iron Man saves itself largely by preserving the first movie’s story line so that we don’t need a large introduction for Rhodes or the Arc Reactor. Other characters are side-lined for plot development and it isn’t missed because we can all anticipate a third movie so we can worry about them later. The editors of this movie made some phenomenal decisions and the movie is long without feeling long.

The moments with the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Espionage and Logistics Division (SHIELD) are done well but rather pointless. Fury (Sam Jackson) has implanted a spy, Natasha Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) to watch Stark for no apparent purpose other than to make sure that he is ok. The side story about Stark being poisoned by the Reactor seems only to serve the purpose of placing him in SHIELD’s debt.

I would like to have seen more of Johansson’s character (who in the comics is The Black Widow) but she seemed to exist only as a tease for much larger things to come (The Avenger movie in 2012). Rushman at first seems like a femme fatale being that she is from the legal department, then to be a bodyguard, but that isn’t it either. She’s a mystery.

In all the movie is a worthy sequel, being much more than the usual popcorn swill that is dumped on us like so many Transformers related media. If the thought provoking ideas aren’t your style the action sequences can keep anyone entertained.

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