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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Robert Downey Jr. returns as super engineer and drunken playboy Tony Stark in Director Jon Favreau's sequel to lron Man. Tony struggles with his personal demons, containing the Iron Man suit technology, and an underwhelming villain. Iron Man 2 proves that you can't build a great movie by dumping all the parts of a good movie into a box and shaking them around a bit.

To be fair, the original 'Iron Man' was a great movie on a lot of levels. It had action, comedy, drama and (for once) a protagonist who was somewhat conflicted, but without all the anguish. How wonderful to have the hero (in this case Stark) not only admit to being the hero, but glory in it?

The brightest spot in the sequel (for me anyway) was watching Stark handle a congressional hearing, chaired by a very full-faced Gary Shandling (perfectly cast) as Senator Stern, who demands that Stark hand over the Iron Man technology. In a show of free market chops, Stark declares that he made the suit, he owns it, and no amount of populist demagoguery will pry it from his grasp.

Starks business arena arch-enemy, Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries (played with convincing snarkiness by Sam Rockwell) testifies against Tony at the hearing, declaring that the various tyrants of the world are busy developing weaponized suits as well, and therefore Stark must hand over his design so that we can win the 'suit race'.

Tony uses his handheld device to hijack the video system at the hearing and shows in shocking detail how amateurish and dangerous (to test pilots, especially) the various competing 'Iron Man' programs are, by tapping into live satellite video feeds. Shandler's Senator Stern goes crazy and ends up shouting to Tony, "F*** you!" How many times have people watched a congressional hearing and thought, these people really enjoy the aroma of their own flatulence? This is a scene that taps into America's current cynicism towards government.

Besides the few action scenes (the first of which occurs a full 25 minutes into the film) there's not a whole lot here. It seems as though the producers of the film compiled a list of successful Iron Man tropes and then wrote scenes that hit those targets and then drew plot lines to connect them. The tropes by themselves are sometimes satisfying in and of themselves, but like gears whose teeth do not mesh, there's no synergy, they don't work together.

We see Tony Stark developing a new technology that no one else has -- probably the most exciting trope in the film. We see Stark fighting against a competing armored foe. We see Tony wrestle with his personal demons in a comedic way. Gwenyth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, and she predictably mothers Tony. We even see the familiar 'creation' trope when the Russian villain creates a suit of his own in a run-down Soviet-era apartment that is designed to evoke the Afghanistan cave in which Stark created his original suit. Even the trope of Stark's imminent death is present when he discovers that while the implant in his chest saved his life, the palladium that powers the implant is also slowly poisoning him and will result in his death. 

What's new, then? Scarlet Johanssen is tossed into the mix, along with more of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD. But they can't save the film from feeling lackluster. Johanssen is mostly just eye candy. I'm not complaining, but she's relatively unneeded. Her fight scenes are spectacular, however, as she spins around in a very tight black vinyl catsuit.

Less spectacular is the main villain, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has a grudge against Tony for some wrong done to his father by Tony's father. It all feels so tenuous. Rourke is great as Vanko visually -- creepily covered with Russian underworld tattoos, beetle-like fingernails, and sporting gold-capped teeth and a pet cockatiel. But aside from his frightening appearance, Rourke has little to no dialogue, and so is wasted here, sadly. Vanko's motivation isn't well developed. He hates Tony Stark, that's about it.

Downey is excellent as always, as are the rest of the cast, but with sparse action, a weak, predictable plot, and a villain that fails to ignite interest, Iron Man 2 fails to live up to the original film. It's a good summer popcorn flick, but doesn't meet the high plot levels of the original.

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