By Clint Morris

Looking at the cast-list for ”Iron Man 2”, one could be mistaken for assuming the modern-day superhero movie is the new Betty Ford Clinic – the place where fallen stars go to prove they’ve got what it takes to cope ‘out there’ (in this case, in movie-land) again.

And if that’s the case, then someone get Charlie Sheen, ‘The Hoff’, and Lindsay Lohan a superhero-flick pronto… because the program’s done wonders for ”Iron Man 2”’s Robert Downey Jr and Mickey Rourke! Funny costumes and all, these [allegedly] clean comeback kids still know how to bring it!

But ya know what? the actors haven’t been the only ones smoking some strange stuff the past couple of decades, seems so has Hollywood – and thank god they’ve removed their lips from the mouthpiece, because they’re no longer blinded to the fact that the always-popular superhero genre doesn’t have to be so Wham, Bam, The End.

Until a couple of years back, a superhero movie had never really been considered a platform for any type of half-decent actor. Not to discount Christopher Reeve (Superman) or Michael Keaton (Batman) or even Eric Bana (Hulk), but these movies had always been about the effects, costumes, gadgets, goodies and stunts. The actors in these movies, no matter how hard they tried, would always be overshadowed by a giant prop or unremitting smoke machine. But then Batman Begins came along, and the landscape suddenly changed. It was then, with Christopher Nolan making sure the performances of his cast were just as crucial, if not more so, than the film’s effects and plotting, that Hollywood changed its ways. Suddenly, a comic-book movie was playing with the big boys – and they have been ever since (especially with Heath Ledger winning an Oscar for a performance in one, 2008’s ”The Dark Knight”).

Had ”Batman Begins” (2005) not came along, and proved audiences could remember a star turn over a special-effect or stunt, then an ‘artiste’ like Robert Downey Jr might never have been interested in playing Iron Man – after all, what kind of actor would want to go from playing Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest and most legendary actors of our time, to, well, a strongman wearing a metal mask? But the superhero film of 2010 is a lot different to even the superhero movie of 2000. And thank god Downey realized that because, with an actor of his caliber in the saddle, Iron Man became much more than a ‘superhero’ movie – it became an actor’s showcase.

Continuing with the theme, ”Iron Man 2” director Jon Favreau has recruited fellow Oscar Nominee (and fellow former bad boy) Mickey Rourke to play the sequel’s villain. Chewing up the scenery, pushing dialogue out of his mouth like the words are attached to a ticking time-bomb, and really bringing it in his scenes with the equally-talented Downey, it’s the comic-book movie world’s latest of the greatest performances (but quite frankly, this film is full of ‘em – after all, it’s cast includes such acclaimed thespians as Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Don Cheadle!)

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has revealed to the world that he’s indeed Iron Man – and he loves the extra attention that blowing his cover has brought. But a few parties – namely the government (Garry Shandling plays a senator) & Stark Industries’ competitor Justin Hammer (the terrific Sam Rockwell) – think the Iron Man suit should be taken away from Stark and put in the hands of the people. With his trademark charisma and unforeseen astuteness, Stark for the interim wins the right to hang onto the suit….Just as well too, because Russian convict Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has a score to settle with Stark (and Stark’s late father, played in flashbacks by Mad Men’s John Slattery), and he plans on giving the alcoholic billionaire a [literal] whipping!

Aerial dog-fights, race-track scuffles, in-house robot wars, and whip-lashing’s ensue.

In addition to the already-impressive line-up, there’s Don Cheadle as Stark’s friend and military man James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (played in the first film by Terrence Howard), Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s long-suffering assistant ‘Pepper’ Potts, [Director] Jon Favreau as Stark’s limo-driver and sparring partner Happy Hogan, Samuel L.Jackson (reprising his after-credits part from the original film) as [another comic book character] Nick Fury, and the alluring Scarlett Johansson as undercover S.H.I.E.L.D agent Natasha Romanoff (aka ‘Black Widow’). Yep, more stars here than a hurricane telethon!

What can be said about ”Iron Man 2” other than… wow! What a fantastically-fab and fun time this is! And not to scare away the littlies with all this talk of ‘performance’, let me just emphasis how much action this thing packs into its 124 minutes! You’ll have been thrown, smashed, whirled and whisked around the theatre so much you’ll need an Advil half-way thru – – and then come back for more.

It’s not going to change the film industry as we know it, nor is it going to win any awards (though those special effects did look very impressive), but as a tentpole blockbuster ”Iron Man 2” flies circles around the competition – as evidenced by the fact that it doesn’t need a cheapening 3D overlay to give it some kind of appeal [like *cough* ”Clash of the Titans” *cough*]. Nope, this is just classic Saturday-Matinee fun that, from the memory it was convinced as a film, embodied a sense of fun and adventure. Sure, it has its ups and downs – Mickey Rourke doesn’t have a lot of screen time, and we don’t learn much about his character, and, unlike say ”The Dark Knight”, there’s nothing deep or earth-shattering about the script – but so does a rollercoaster, and that’s still fun.

Like 2009’s ”The Dark Knight”, ”Iron Man 2” isn’t just a big, fat fluffy, overpriced superhero movie – it’s also a captivating, immaculately-performed (Downey Jr is so good in this part you’ll likely forget everything else about the movie, in fact), expertly-directed, astonishingly-engrossing motion picture. Big fat tick in the box!

Blu-Ray Details and Extras

This is one heck of a release, I tell ya! The Blu-Ray (1080p/5.1) comes complete with a DVD copy of the film plus a digital copy of the film, which you can upload to your ipod, laptop… what have you. An excellent idea.

But, of course, the real goods lie within the release’s extras component… hope you’ve got a few hours to spare?

There’s commentary from the always-insightful Jon Favreau; numerous featurettes (covering every aspect of the film’s conception and execution (Separate featurettes on all the main characters; special effects featurettes; a tribute to the late DJ AM); Deleted Scenes (with commentary from Favreau); Concept Art; Trailers; the rockin’ music video by AC/DC; and more.

Previous articleLife As We Know It
Next articleSpider-Man Vs…. Spike!?
Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole. Loves David Lynch, David Fincher... actually, any filmmaker by the name of David.