‘Iron Man 2’ doesn’t always strike when iron is hot

“Iron Man 2” — Photo courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic / Marvel

It goes without saying that Iron Man is one of the best comic book series of all time, and thankfully the first cinematic incarnation, starring Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Jon Favreau, was a gem of an adaptation.

Now comes Iron Man 2, a big event film with splashier visual effects, more bad guys and the inclusion of several new franchise characters. Does Tony Stark’s latest adventure hold up to the original?

Not by a long shot, but Iron Man 2 has enough glimmers of watchability that it’s worth the look.

The story revolves around Stark’s increasing penchant for showmanship on the global scale. He has revealed the Iron Man suit as the next wave of military technology, and now he’s sitting back on his accomplishments, refusing to let his secrets out to the United States government or anyone else.

The audience first meets him when he gives a grand entrance at the Stark Expo; for some reason it’s held in Queens, New York. Downey Jr., who does another perfectly snarky rendition of Stark, flies into the crowd in that iconic red iron suit and makes a big spectacle.

Watching the hoopla at home is Ivan Vanko (played nicely, and never overreaching, by Mickey Rourke), who has Stark’s secrets on how to make the ultimate super-human.

Gwyneth Paltrow is still there as Pepper Potts, the new CEO of the Stark worldwide enterprises. Don Cheadle takes over duties for Terrence Howard (who was in the first Iron Man) to play Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson stop by for brief roles as Colonel Nick Fury and Black Widow, respectively.

The characters swirl around the popularity of Stark and his out-of-control public persona. Things come to a head in Monaco on the weekend of a world-famous racing contest. That’s when Stark meets up with Vanko and his extended, electrifying whips for the first time. The showdown is a CGI lovefest that proves to be perhaps the best scene of the movie.

Unfortunately from that point on, the film spirals nowhere in particular. The audience sees office fights between Pepper and Tony (oooh!), drunken brawls in the Iron Man suits between Rhodey and Tony (aaah!) and Sam Rockwell playing a mad scientist who is competing with Stark to develop the technology for the global market (actually this storyline is kind of neat).

Downey Jr. is a perfect fit for this character. He plays patronizing like no other actor in Hollywood, and it’s never too difficult to watch him on screen. He’s funny. His timing is impeccable, and he genuinely finds the character behind the machinery.

I think the fault with Iron Man 2, and why it never seems to gel together, has to be laid on the feet of the writer Justin Theroux, a great actor in his own right. The situations that he has these iconic characters in are ho-hum and awfully cliche.

The actors have to deliver lines of dialogue that are almost laughable. I knew Pepper was going to have a “publicity nightmare” or the reporters were going to have a “field day” with Tony’s antics. I knew Rourke was going to be a stereotypical Russian villain. I knew Rockwell, who does play his part well, was going to be all maniacal and threatening. I was waiting for him to give a cackling laugh.

It’s too textbook for a superhero character that is anything but.

Iron Man 2 is not a complete misfire; it’s a missed opportunity. The first one said so much about the nature of war and the arms race in the world. The second one is more interested in spinning a typical hero-villain yarn. There’s little social commentary about militarism or pacifism.

Hopefully the crew sticks around for another sequel because the third one is often the charm.

(PS: Look for Iron Man creator Stan Lee’s cameo as Larry King.)

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Iron Man 2

  • 2010

  • Directed by Jon Favreau

  • Written by Justin Theroux; based on the Marvel comic book

  • Starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson

  • Running time: 124 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language

  • Rating: ★★½☆

    Revised

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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