"I am Iron Man." With those four words, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) changed his life forever. No longer just a malcontent billionaire munitions-manufacturer , after a harrowing near-death experience that left a piece of dangerous shrapnel embedded in his chest, he has made it his life's mission to vanquish evil in all of its forms, all the while wearing a cool, handsome, gold-and-red robotish suit.
Just two years later (think about what a staggeringly huge production this is and how quickly it had to gear up and get done), we're now greeted with 'Iron Man 2.' And, sad to report, it's already feeling a bit same old-same old. Some of that has to do with the ever-increasing slate of superhero movies that have popped up in between the first and second movies, but most of it has to do with the interference of Marvel Entertainment, a corporate entity that seems more interested in setting up a future franchise than actually telling a workable, stand-alone story (more on this in a bit).
'Iron Man 2' opens in Russia, where an old man, a former collaborator with Tony Stark's father, dies in poverty. His son, Anton Vanko (Mickey Rourke), vows revenge against Stark, who has just unmasked himself on television. Vanko, a skilled technician, goes about building his own version of the Iron Man get-up, although this one is fairly low-rent and features electrified tentacles that he can bandy about like whips. We then zoom ahead six months. Iron Man, in full-suited armor, jets into an arena, part of a World's Fair-esque technology showcase that Tony has put on under the demurely heading of Stark Expo.
This Stark Expo, with its glittery EPCOT Center futurism, is just one of a handful of subplots that litter the story line. Sometimes they smash together and cause a kind of narrative pile-up, sometimes they bleed together nicely, and sometimes they just stick out like some kind of vestigial limb. Since there's no way to really describe the "plot" of 'Iron Man 2,' let's just rundown the sub-plots, shall we?
Well, Tony is being investigated by the justice department (led by a lugubrious senator played by Garry Shandling) because they want to use the technology for the government; Tony Stark's bro-mance with Rhodey (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) has soured, and Rhodey has gotten his hands on an earlier Iron Man suit, which he formats to become new hero War Machine; Stark's megalomaniacal rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) teams up with Vanko to take down Iron Man; Tony is dying from the Iron Man doo-dad in his chest (which coincides nicely with his long dormant issues with his father, played by Roger Sterling himself John Slattery); and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) wants Tony to help him with his "Avengers Initiative," which includes double agent Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). I'm sure I’m missing something. Oh right, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is now running Tony's company, which includes overseeing the Expo.
Just reading that paragraph should tell you how much of a mess 'Iron Man 2' really, truly is. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, the whole thing seems a bit hurried and dashed-off and somewhat half-assed. But this is also betraying that there are some genuinely wild, genuinely weird moments in the movie (like Sam Rockwell's orange palms - more on that in a minute), and I would be lying if I didn't find it to be a mostly enjoyable diversion. Part of that enjoyment comes from the commitment of the cast, which was wonderfully chosen and just as game (particularly Rourke), part of it is the shaggy dog way that Jon Favreau puts scenes together, with dialogue that seems at least half-improvised and action sequences that, while well choreographed, are far from show-stopping.
If you liked the first one, you'll probably enjoy 'Iron Man 2.' There isn't a whole lot that's new, or even improved, in the sequel, but it is bigger, louder, noisier, more scattered, and less enjoyable than the first one, but I'm not sure if this is such a terrible thing. There seem to have been too many cooks in the kitchen for this one, and you can feel the oppressive hand of Marvel in almost every scene, but it's still a lot of fun. Just don't expect 'The Dark Knight,' mostly because there isn't much on 'Iron Man 2's' mind besides how cool robots look smashing into other robots.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Iron Man 2' comes in a handsome package - two 50GB Blu-ray discs (one for movie, one for special features) and one DVD (which includes digital copy). It is Region A locked, plays automatically but halts at the main menu, and, well, that's about it. Excelsior!
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1) is absolutely incredible. As far as new movies heading straight to high definition goes, this is cream of the crop stuff.
In fact, this transfer is so good you wonder why every new, big budget movie can't get this kind of treatment on Blu-ray. Colors are vivid and pop with all the gusto you'd expect from a superhero movie; detail is rich and strong, particularly the various costumes and in the sharpness of the Stark Expo; black levels are deep and inky; and the visual effects, of which there are many, look gorgeous and fully realized and, unlike some Blu-ray transfers, the high definition transfer doesn't make the effects look any more phony.
While there isn't a single speck of grain, the transfer has a wonderfully lush, film-like appearance, thanks largely to the sleek and layered cinematography by Matthew Libatique. Atmospheric effects like dust, sparks, holographic schematics and flying debris look wonderful and add a lot to the overall feeling of the transfer.
To tell you the truth, there isn't a lot in the "minus" column. There aren't any glitchy technical snafus, either, to speak of. This is just a really strong, really wonderful done transfer that I can't say enough good things about. When people buy their Blu-ray player and buy 'Iron Man 2' along with it to test out their new hardware, they won't be disappointed. Not in the slightest. Demo all the way.
But before I give too much love to the video side of this disc, let me toss some adoration in the direction of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, the mightiness of which probably pissed off many of my neighbors with its sheer, bass-rattling awesomeness.
Action movie mixes don't get much better than this. I've watched the disc a couple of times since getting my review copy, and every time I watch it I'm taken aback by slightly different things: the little whoomp that the drones make when landing around our cornered heroes; the sonic blast that War Machine produces when he buzzes the Air Force tower a la 'Top Gun;' the way the cars collide into each other in the race track sequence; and the delicate way that the dialogue gymnastics between Robert Downey Jr. and anybody else he chooses to talk to.
And that's the beauty of this audio mix, and why I was so impressed with it: it's not just the big bang explosion stuff that will absolutely light up your surround sound unit, but the dialogue sequences as well. When Sam Rockwell rips into Mickey Rourke towards the end of the film, the dialogue is so well-prioritized and crisply rendered that it dazzled me just as much as Iron Man flying through a cloud of exploding fireworks.
Your surround channels will get a work out, the dialogue sounds wonderful, and everything is in its right place. Like the pristine transfer, there really isn't any reason that other big budget Hollywood movies can't sound this good when released on Blu-ray. It's just wonderful.
Additionally, there are French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options, as well as an "English Audio Description," which is basically someone verbally describing the action on screen, which is more than a little weird. The subtitles that are included on the disc are English, English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Paramount and Marvel have stacked the 'Iron Man 2' Blu-ray with a whole bunch of worthwhile special features (many of them in HD and just-as-many of them worth watching). Most of the special features presented here are also on the DVD 2-disc set, although there are a couple of Blu-ray specific joints as well. In the concerted effort to get through all of this stuff in a timely fashion, I've gone and made note of things that have several sections, where you have the option of watching the different segment separately, as one whole shebang. This is how I watched them, so this is how I'll review them. But I'll make note of what those features are, and that you don't have to swallow them down in one big gulp like I did.
'Iron Man 2' is wonky kind of sequel: at times slavishly indebted to his predecessor and yet devianting wildly in some very weird ways. Overall, it's fun and entertaining and diverting enough, but it doesn't build in the ways you'd expect it to, besides laying the groundwork for future Marvel films. This disc is everything you could want (besides that deleted scene where Mickey Rourke kills the bird, and a definitive explanation for Sam Rockwell's orange palms), with absolutely brilliant audio and video and a whole host of extras. This release comes highly recommended, even if the movie is something less than super.