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IRON MAN 2
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Jon Favreau
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 124 Minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2010

I''m fending off a HAMMEROID attack!”

Film ***

Iron Man was something of neat surprise when it blasted onto movie screens more than two years ago. Even in the midst of such a huge out pour of comic book-based movie properties, the character itself was well known but not exactly aligned with some of the bigger and more familiar heroes like Hulk, Spider-Man or the X-Men. But both a confident director and the absolute best actor for the role made sure that the character would be more popular than ever.

And that it indeed became, as the movie made an explosive killing at the box office in addition to pleasing critics, mainstream audiences and diehard comic book fan boys simultaneously. It also signaled the start of a series of movies that would result in the one movie all comic book lovers have been waiting preciously for; The Avengers. Iron Man and Hulk have already gotten their cinematic initiations, and we will soon be closing in on Thor (which, for the record, I am anticipating like nobody's business).

In the meantime, we have Iron Man 2 to enjoy! Not only is this one of the rare movie sequels that delivers, but one that surpasses the original. I enjoyed the first movie quite a bit, but found it to be heavily flawed in some areas. This one, while not completely ridden of flaws, is a fast paced and busy movie that manages to get right what its predecessor slightly messed up on.

If you recall at the very end of the first movie, billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (played once again by the irreplaceable Robert Downey Jr.), boldly announced to both the press and the world that he was Iron Man. It was the sort of cocky move one would expect from a guy like Stark who, with the help of his state of the art weapon suit, has helped usher in a new era of world peace. But outing himself as Iron Man also has its share of repercussions.

The main one being Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian madman with an extensive knowledge of mechanics. His father happened to have worked with Stark's long ago. With his father's death happening at the same time Tony announces his secret identity to the world, Ivan begins a diabolical plan of vengeance involving his very own weapons suit.

Another thorn in Tony's side is Justin Hammer (a scene stealing Sam Rockwell), a fellow weapons designer who's been attempting to copy Tony's success and constantly failing. But after witnessing Ivan nearly destroying Iron Man during a grand prix race in Monaco, Hammer confronts the Russian with a diabolical plot of his own. By supplying Ivan with his own resources, Hammer plans to come up with the most state of the art weapons defense machine imaginable, one that would put Iron Man out of business for good.

As for Tony himself, he's got an even bigger problem to deal with. It turns out that the arc reactor device in his chest is killing him at a very slow pace. He decides to cope with this problem the only way he knows how, by simply avoiding it and trying to live the good life as much as he can. And to complicate matters, he has now brought on board a new employee in the form of Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) which could very much result in a competition for Tony's affections with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

And then there's the issue of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) questioning Tony's recruitment into his secret team, which will of course become The Avengers. Nick is more than concerned about Tony's reckless behavior, in addition to damage caused by the arc reactor. It also turns out that Natalie is a member of Fury's SHIELD agency, under the alias Black Widow (with Johansson donning the single best female ass-kicking outfit you or I will ever see...you can understand why I was distracted many times).

When you stop to think about it, it's a flat out miracle that Iron Man 2 succeeds like it does because, like so many comic book sequels tend to be these days, it really is one overstuffed follow up. This was also the case in Spider-Man 3, although handled quite horrendously mostly due to Sam Raimi's vision being taken down buy straight up studio interference. Here, though, director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux seem to find just the right balance in juggling the main storyline with each new character arc.

My only issue with the cast, other than the fact that Mickey Rourke ended up a bit too underused, is Don Cheadle in the role of Jim Rhodes, who was previously played by Terrence Howard. Cheadle's a great actor, one of the best living actors in fact, but it's just that Howard left such a big mark on that role with his natural charisma, and Cheadle was, to me, simply unable to match it. Howard, apparently, demanded too much money and was rumored to have been difficult to work with on the first movie, which is why he's nowhere to be found here, unfortunately.

In the end, though, Iron Man 2 is a bigger, louder, and overall better film than the first movie, if only marginally. It has an explosive climatic battle that was sorely lacking in the predecessor, and all of the new characters added to the mix here provide a terrific boost to the proceedings. And did I mention yet how amazing Scarlett Johansson looks in her skin-tight attire?

Video ****

The visual splendor that was present in the first Iron Man is definitely at large here, and even more spectacularly so, in this mind-blowingly outstanding Blu-ray presentation from Paramount. The flawless visual effects are at there most marvelous in the 1080p, and color appearance in every aspect will dazzle your visual senses to no end. Picture detail is glorious throughout, and the high-flying sequences are guaranteed to leave you in awe.

Audio ****

The DTS HD mix is absolutely explosive right from Iron Man's opening introduction, backed up by appropriately used AC/DC music. Every bit of action that you hear will have your heart racing, especially the climatic sequence involving Iron Man and War Machine fighting alongside one another against an army of robotic drones. Dialogue delivery is spectacular and consistently clear throughout, even amongst all the chaotic action. Definitely one of the year's best sounding Blu-ray releases!

Features ****

Paramount actually released two Blu-ray versions of this movie; a single disc and a three disc combo pack. If you want all the extras, you must opt for the combo pack like I did.

Disc One includes the feature, as well as a commentary track with director Jon Favreau that is about as entertaining and tremendously informative as one would expect, given the director's love the for the character. There's also The S.H.I.E.L.D. Data Vault, which provides numerous pre-visualizations and animatics to view either with the movie or on its own.

Disc Two is an extras-only disc, and boy is there a lot to go around. First off, there's a four part, 90 minute production documentary titled “Ultimate Iron Man”. The four segments consist of “Rebuilding the Suit”, in which Favreau discusses how differently he wanted things to be this time around in addition to the actors growing use to working in their costumes.. “Return to Action” captures a great deal of on-set action, including some nice comic improv work on behalf of Downey, Rockwell and Garry Shandling (who's very funny in a bit role). “Expanding the Universe” covers how all the weapons and gadgets were upgraded for this sequel, and “Building a Legacy” covers all areas of post-production work. And it doesn't stop there, as we are treated to six additional featurettes, including “Creating Stark Expo”, “Practical Meets Digital”, “Illustrated Origin: Nick Fury”, “Illustrated Origin: Black Widow”, “Illustrated Origin: War Machine” and “Working With DJ AM” (who died shortly after shooting his cameo for the movie). Rounding out this disc are 8 Deleted Scenes with optional director commentary, Concept Art Galleries, Theatrical Trailers and Trailers for other Marvel video game and animated tie-ins and a music video for “Shoot to Thrill”.

Disc 3 includes both a standard DVD version of the movie as well as a downloadable digital copy edition for your portable device.

Summary:

I'm aware that I'm in the minority when I say that I think Iron Man 2 was better than the first movie, but I simply walked away more entertained and satisfied than I did with the first movie, which I still think is good. On Blu-ray, this simply rocks in all departments. Again, shoot for the three disc combo pack release because you will end up getting more bang for your buck!

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