Movie review: 'Iron Man 2' loses its magnetism
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, May 7, 2010
The best thing about "Iron Man" was Robert Downey Jr.'s cheek and expressiveness. The worst was the hardware: What began as a bracingly irreverent diversion from comic book movies that take themselves way too seriously morphed into "Transformers," ending in a clanking, heavy-metal smackdown.
"Iron Man 2" seems to have taken some wrong cues from its predecessor, drowning any potential sophistication in a busy, unfocused clatter of cross-talk punctuated by occasional fender-bender royales. Often playing like it has been jury-rigged from bits and pieces of a longer, smarter movie, "Iron Man 2" seems chiefly intended as a placeholder for its next dozen or so sequels. But with everyone's eyes on extending the franchise, they've overlooked the possibilities right in front of them. A terrific villain is a terrible thing to waste -- namely Mickey Rourke, who like most of the supporting players in "Iron Man 2" is given much too little to do with his gifts.
Rourke plays Ivan Vanko, who as the movie opens is working in Moscow on a metallic exoskeleton that will rival Iron Man's both in technological complexity and destructive throw-weight. Meanwhile, Tony Stark (Downey) has secured world peace for the moment, rendering the U.S. military and attendant civilian apparatchiks irrelevant. He's cocky, full of himself and obnoxiously at the top of his game -- but with Stark, there are always shadows. When Vanko confronts Tony for their first showdown at the Grand Prix in Monaco, it's clear that "Iron Man 2" will be propelled by Oedipal psychological issues and struggles with mortality.
Aw, who's anybody kidding? "Iron Man 2" is propelled by stuff getting blown up, strafed, consumed by fireballs and blasted into oblivion, all of which occurs with the dull sense of due diligence. Director Jon Favreau, who stars as Tony's factotum Happy Hogan, makes sure to insert whammies at every prescribed juncture, leaving viewers to sort out the interstitial blah-blah for themselves. Just when Rourke is hitting his stride -- he boasts an impressive epidermal canvas of tattoos and a Russian accent -- "Iron Man 2" introduces another character, played by Scarlett Johansson, who herself must make way for a recap featuring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who must scoot over for some expository mustache-twirling by a defense contractor played by Sam Rockwell.
And we haven't yet discussed close friend Rhodey stealing an Iron Man suit (Don Cheadle has assumed the role last occupied by Terrence Howard and brings his usual class and understatement to the task). Iron Man and his retinue of enablers still qualify as the most easy-to-like players in the comic-book movie rotation, but only when they're allowed to emerge from behind the gizmos and geek-speak. "Everything is achievable through technology," a character says more than once in "Iron Man 2." Not so.
Contains sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and profanity.