MOVIE REVIEW: Iron Man 2

IRON MAN 2-- 3 STARS

Know before I even get into this review, that I come into this as former comic book geek, which probably makes me biased. I haven't bought a comic in over a decade, but loved growing up with all of those characters, Marvel or DC. However, I am not one of those picky comic book geeks who throws his arms and nose in the air in disgust and disappointment when the movies based on comics make cinematic changes that are necessary for either look, budget, plausibility, or time. I'm just happy that I get to see those pencils, inks, colors, pages, and panels I grew up with come to life. You really have to screw up the movie for me to not feel like I am getting to live out a childhood dream coming true in front me.

If you're picky and want the real thing, stick with the books, which is the same argument I give every Harry Potter, Twilight, and book-is-better-than-the-movie moviegoer. Of course, the books are better. They have more space and time to tell their good stories. The books will always win. Just take the movies for the diversions and entertainment that they are.

For that very reason, Iron Man 2 is exactly what's it's supposed to be. It's a glossy big-budget sequel that delivers a continuing post-origin story. While it's not chapter-and-verse based on any comic story and takes a lot of liberties, Iron Man 2 is an undeniably fun piece of comic and summer entertainment.

At the end of the first film, we last left billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark (brilliant Oscar nominee Robert Downey, Jr.) outing himself as the armor-clad Iron Man to the world. The sequel picks up right where it left off with Tony in personal battles on several fronts. He's in a fight with the government led by smarmy Senator (played with gusto by Garry Shandling) who thinks his suit is a weapon and wants to take it away from him. He's trying to keep his company moving ahead with his Stark Expo vision and fend off competitors, like fellow weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Choke and Moon's Sam Rockwell) who want to see him fail. Spending his narcissistic time as a superhero has also strained his relationships with his trusted assistant Pepper Potts (Oscar winner Gwenyth Paltrow) and his only buddy, Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Ocean's 11 trilogy vet Don Cheadle, replacing Terrance Howard from the first movie).

Lastly, Tony (and probably Downey, Jr. himself for that matter) is always in a battle with his own manic self, whether it's the effect of being in the suit or his own wild and vain sense of fun. Throw in an equally armored and powerful villain (recently resurrected Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke, hiding behind a thick accent and a lot of tattoos) with electric whips and a family grudge, and you've got a comic book party. Even the trusty S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, surprisingly not wasted just for her looks like she normally is) get in on the fun.

Watching a comic book movie without "secret identities" and the dramatic irony moments of storytelling that come with that is unabashedly refreshing and Robert Downey, Jr. runs with it. Like his character says in the film, he and the suit are one and, Downey, Jr. and this Tony Stark character are one as well. Like the first one, his performance is the reason to watch the movie and the action is second. He's the anti-Christian Bale and anti-Bruce Wayne. Even when he's down, he's going to go out like only he can, with true flair in everything he does.

You can tell from the opening scenes and beyond that the budget bar was raised quite a bit for this sequel and what's on screen does not disappoint. The money was well spent and it shows. The returning director, Jon Favreau, known more for his Vince Vaughn sidekick roles as an actor than his directing, crafts a well-paced and energetic show where everything is bigger than the first film, including his own part as assistant Happy Hogan. He brought over Topic Thunder screenwriter Justin Theroux this time around to showcase Downey, Jr. and it's his show 100%. Even the whoa-moment of Rhodey and the War Machine armor can't upstage the force of nature that is Tony Stark.

Finally, as the former comic geek, I have to say that I love where Marvel Comics is going with connecting their movies. It's a shame their early-1990's bankruptcy forced them to sell and scatter their character properties (Spider-Man and Ghost Rider to Sony, Hulk to Universal, X-Men, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four to Fox) across Hollywood where this could have been done sooner. Since stabilizing and beginning to bankroll their own characters and films with the first Iron Man two years ago, the tantalizing goal of an Avengers super-team movie is on track. The great sight cameos, the cross-appearances of Tony Stark, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and the always-worth-staying post-credits surprise scenes (including one here) all add to the smart planning and giddy excitement, especially now that Disney has bought Marvel which will only add more muscle to all of this. Warner Brothers and DC Comics need to take a page or two from their playbook. Hopefully, next summer's Green Lantern can get things started for them.

LESSON #1: DELEGATE YOUR STRESSES BECAUSE YOU CAN-- As I described, Tony Stark has lot on his plate and isn't very good about accepting help or delegating authority when he really should. Sure, he signs over the company to Pepper Potts to be CEO, but still doesn't take her help and advice. He avoids his father's encouragement, even beyond the grave. James Rhodes would love nothing more than to help his friend comply with the government and even throw another armor suit on, but they clash. Accept help from your friends, everyone. Give them something to do. You trust them for a reason.

LESSON #2: NARCISSISM MAY BE FUN, BUT IT ALIENATES OTHERS-- Much like the last lesson, one of Tony's flaws is narcissism, and even he knows it. Still, he rubs everyone the wrong way. He's full of himself and it just causes trouble. Tony "privatizes world peace," steal race cars for fun, and can't express his feelings to his closest friends and even the woman he loves. Those he alienates, under different circumstances, would probably be allies instead of a rivals, especially when he might blow his superhero Avengers chance with Samuel L. and S.H.I.E.L.D. too.

LESSON #3: BE A TEAM PLAYER-- At every turn, Tony thinks he can handle everything himself and doesn't delegate.  His hero work is contrary to the government, his partnership with the military, and screwing up the goals of his own company.  Tony needs to be a team player.  He needs to get on board and support the whole and not himself.  We all have that co-worker that isn't on board.  It's worse when that co-worker is your billionaire boss and resident superhero.