Most sequels lack the interest experienced in viewing the original film. This is not true in Jon Favreau's second volume of "Iron Man". Based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee and using Justin Theroux's screenplay, the elements that made the first film work are still present but with several additional human elements that add depth of character. This offsets the lack of novelty plaguing most sequels and makes this film an exception to the rule and worthy of its audience.
The story of billionaire arms-maker Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) continues from the point of his public admission that he is Iron Man. Parlaying his power to enforce world peace, Stark is nevertheless in a fight for his life on two fronts. The first fight is consuming him as he struggles to find an alternative element to power the reactor he has placed within his chest because the existing one is poisoning him.
The second fight is one he did not know was coming until it is unleashed upon him. It comes in the form of a Russian physicist whose father had been betrayed by Stark's father decades earlier. Raised on the drunken anger of his father, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) seeks revenge. Taking his dying father's knowledge of the technology that created Iron Man, Vanko works in solitude until he is ready to attack. He is an ominous and believable villain.
Intertwined with Stark's narcissistic genius is Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The chemistry between them is obvious even when the alluring Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) enters their world. Casting himself as Stark's sidekick Happy Hogan once more, Favreau replaces Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle as Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle).
Many believe that superior weapons will produce world peace. As this film explains, such hopes naively forget human nature. From the narcissism/father-issues of Stark to the vengeance/father-issues of Vanko, human beings are shown to be flawed in ways that undermine our own best efforts. Though we may look for an "iron man" to save us, it is not going to happen through our own technology or ingenuity, but through the change of human hearts. "Iron Man" replaced his own heart with a nuclear reactor and it nearly kills him. To find healing, he has to create a "new element." In the comic-book-world, it is done by a particle accelerator. In real life, it is done by love.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When Stark believes he is dying, he begins to divest himself of his responsibilities and party irresponsibly. What would you do if this was your "last birthday?" Would you also keep it a secret from those you love? Why or why not?
2. The love which Stark and Potts have for one another is obvious but troubled and Stark agrees that he is a narcissist. Do you believe it is possible for a narcissistic person to love? On what do you base your belief?
3. The competition between Stark and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is cartoonish. Do you think this helped or hurt the film? Why?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.