Some dude in Russia, Anton Vanko, sees the disclosure on the news that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man. He starts building his own arc reactor, which is the thing that powers the Iron Man suit, so he can prove that Iron Man isn’t invincible.
Back in the US, Stark grows despondent and reckless when he realizes that he is dying because the reactor in his suit is poisoning him. He hands his massive company over to his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and he starts having wild parties and doing stupid(er) things. He even decides to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix. During that race, however, he gets attacked by Vanko. Stark defeats Vanko, but Vanko attracts the attention of Stark’s rival Justin Hammer, who breaks Vanko out of jail so he can build a line of armored suits for his company.
Soon, Stark cures the problem of the arc reactor poisoning him. He then learns that Hammer has created heavily armed drones he intends to show off for the government, but Vanko arrives and they fight to end the movie.
Why I Liked This Movie
Hmm. Ok, stick with me. By and large, I’ve found that I like sequels better than originals in the “franchise” genre, i.e. the genre where “properties” are put on film with the hope of being able to milk an existing fan base through three or four movies and some spin-offs. The reason is simple. The first film in every franchise series is invariably an origin story, especially in the comic book universe, and origin stories suck. It’s in the sequel that the writers normally first get the chance to offer real stories.
What’s more, the Marvel universe is much more prone to interesting movies than the regular comic book fare because Marvel likes to delve into the heroes in the story and what makes them tick. That shifts a significant portion of the screen time from seeing useless CGI punches being tossed to seeing the writers make the characters interact. The end result of that is that the characters tend to be much more interesting, the dialog is less transactional (“I will stop you now”) and more about who these people are and how they interact, and you end up caring more for the characters.
Trust me, nothing spells “soul death” like watching Superman trade punches with another cardboard villain who can’t be harmed physically for forty f*cking minutes!!! Arggg! Fortunately, you will never find that in Marvel films (excluding the Hulk crapfests): “Hulk smash pixels until you slit your wrists with popcorn bucket!”
Paltrow is an excellent foil for Downey Jr. Cheadle evokes a lot of sympathy because you know he’s a good guy and he’s being held back by Downey’s irresponsibility. Johansson is hot... and is in this movie. Rockwell is slimy as Hammer and you really despise him. Even Vanko, who is rather clichéd, is enough of a brooding presence that you at least get a sense of menace whenever he is on screen – too often villains just prance around and act melodramatically; not so here.
All of this makes him a genuine contradiction and easily the most complex and unpredictable character ever written in the comic book film world... and Downey Jr. is 100% believable as him. In fact, thinking about it, I can’t imagine another actor who could handle this role. Most would try to hero-him-up and give him a secret pain which is keeping him from being perfect. Some would slacker him down into Van Wilder. Others simply would never present themselves as having a dark, a-hole side. And others would make him into manic depressive Batman who wants the world to die so its misery ends.
Only Downey Jr. can balance the good with the bad, the responsibility with the obnoxiousness, the self-pity with the nobility, and give us this unique Tony Stark. Only Downey Jr. revels in the complexity and doesn’t try to make Stark into a one-note antihero.
That is why I like this film.