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One Too Many Irons in the Fire

MOVIE REVIEW
Iron Man 2 (2010)

R-01733R
Merrick Morton/Marvel Entertainment

The gang’s all here in “Iron Man 2,” the obligatory sequel to the extraordinarily successful 2008 comic adaptation. The first film helped redefine big-budget superhero cool, with the presence of the perennially bemused Robert Downey Jr. in the lead and the benefit of director Jon Favreau’s caustically hip perspective.

The second time around, the material suffers from standard sequelitis. Gone is the menace of the original’s virtuoso prison sequence, the serious regard for the details of the grounded real-world setting and with them the thrill of bad-boy weapons magnate Tony Stark (Mr. Downey) being transformed into an anonymous superhero in a giant tin suit.

In their stead, this Justin Theroux scripted follow-up suffers offers a flimsy three-act structure that’s strangely deprived of action, a villain (played by Mickey Rourke) who smirks from start to finish and a Stark slide into depression that seems less organic than the product of a desperate attempt to extract more drama from the proceedings. Crisp production values — Tony still occupies a lavish, richly colored modernist milieu — and Mr. Favreau’s keen sense of pacing credibly obscure some of those problems some of the time, but never fully enough to detract from the pervading harm caused by them.

As the picture opens Tony has achieved an impossible level of superstardom, beloved as Iron Man (he revealed his identity in the first film), celebrated for his playboy machinations and full of narcissistic brio. He’s lopped down a peg by Ivan Vanko (Mr. Rourke) — the Russian scientist/ex-con with a major score to settle — and the unfortunate fact of his bloodstream being poisoned by the radioactive element that lives in his chest.

Of the other characters circling this manly tandem — including enabler Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) — only fellow weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) makes much of an impression. He does so because he’s played by the movie’s most interesting actor, who maintains his strange weaselly indie charm despite the production’s vast scale. Forgoing the one-note tedium that epitomizes the other characters, Mr. Rockwell brings a lovable edge to Hammer’s villainous acts, as he frees Vanko from jail and takes on Stark not out of megalomania, but a deep sense of insecurity.

Mr. Downey continues to build on his portrait of the hero. The sly, knowing humor and the intense burden of serving as the world’s last line of defense (testifying before Congress, Stark notes he’s “successfully privatized world peace”) fit the actor well, allowing him to imbue the stock oddball Downey persona with more heft, drawing out the pain underneath it. Mr. Favreau, who came to the “Iron Man” franchise from such character-driven pictures as “Swingers” and “Elf,” further values the development of the personalities involved at least as much as the requisite action, which is the right approach going forward.

The inevitable “Iron Man 3” needs a better screenplay, one that offers a villain who seems to offer at least half the threat that the protagonist’s personal demons pose to him. Ivan Vanko is poorly conceived, a giant bore with his silent demeanor, hampered by a lackluster performance in which Mr. Rourke maintains a twinkle in his eye from start to finish. Mr. Theroux has no idea what to make of the entire middle third of the picture, so his screenplay forces a “Tony’s dying” subplot and asks the audience to sit through about 45 minutes of filler, building up to a final, action-packed confrontation. Yet the action, so smartly depicted in the first film’s old-fashioned prison-break sequence, is reduced to blurs of quick cuts featuring a bunch of robots and iron men flying around and firing automatic weapons at one another. It's bereft of all human significance.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this most ordinary of sequels it’s this: The “Iron Man” foundation remains strong, the main creative talent in charge can be trusted, but its peripherals require some major freshening up.

IRON MAN 2

Opens on May 7 in the United States and on April 29 in Britain.

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Justin Theroux,; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Richard Pearson and Dan Lebental; music by John Debney; production designer, J. Michael Riva; costumes by Mary Zophres; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. This film is rated is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Rhodey), Scarlett Johansson (Natalie/Black Widow), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer) Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko/Whiplash), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Garry Shandling (Senator Stern).

Comments

good review, think most reviewers seem to be giving Downey some kind of break not based on this actual movie. This was the worst movie, i have ever seen. And i have seen some bad episodes of tv shows, much better then this trash

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