Iron Man 2 picks up right after the first Iron Man, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has admitted to his adoring public his true identity, while Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), Russian physicist watches in plotting fashion. So kicks off Jon Favreau's second installment, which has a few of likable touches that made the first film so popular, but feels like a film of diminishing returns, and ultimately just a teaser for the tasks ahead at Marvel Studios. So yes, Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury and a flurry of other nuggets prelude an inevitable big-budget spectacle a few years from now. All of this is well and good, if the film felt like it stood alone in any real, substantial way. Instead the entire last section of the film feels a blueprint for a business model, not an enticing story. There doesn't seem a whole lot at stake in Iron Man 2, but a whole lot of exposition taking place. And I'm not quite sure whom to blame for this: I don't blame the actors, most of whom are competent, even quite good, nor do I really blame Favreau, whose easy-going film rhythm seems disjointed perhaps by a production more concerned about said big-budget spectacle a few years from now, instead of the big-budget spectacle here and now. All of which seems ridiculous for a film that requires a least two more films to be completed beforehand (Thor and Captain America), and not to sound skeptical, but what if those films suck? And what if the un-proven chemistry between monster Marvel superheroes lacks any firepower? Just throwing that out there: let's not count our eggs before the chickens hatched.
But at the same time I can't detest Iron Man 2, and that's because the spirit of performance is alive in well in Mr. Robert Downey, Jr., who can't be anything but watchable. His playboy narcissist billionaire has charm in spades, and the contortion of his line readings are irresistible; I still think the casting of him as a superhero in a big-budget film is one of the smartest risks that a major studio has taken in years. Unfortunately, this time around Mr. Stark is in a bit of plot hole with a bum ticker that prevents him from kicking ass throughout half the film-- nobody's particularly interesting in a sore superhero, am I right? And let's be perfectly honest-- Iron Man isn't exactly the most complicated or compeling crime-fighter, he's a jovial ass, and that's what we want from him.
There's isn't a whole lot on plot here, just the entrance of a slew of characters, and a stepping stone for the next Marvel film: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark's loyal girl friday becomes CEO of Stark Industries, while the entrance of mysterious Natalie Rushman aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) allures Tony. Meanwhile, the government wants the Iron Man suit, as does rival company CEO Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), and Russian baddie Vanko wants to kill Stark for all the horrors his family did his father. Add a little tension between Col. Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard), and a slight mid-life crisis for Stark, spin and add a couple of noisy and disjointed action sequences, that's the movie in a nutshell. And while the story feels far too overbloated, yet under nourished, the acting is always interesting.
Rourke, playing Whiplash, is a menacing villian and does a wonderful job-- it's hard not feels the imposing prominence of Mr. Rourke. Even if it feels only like he's posing for long stretches, it's still a bit chilling. His stance is leaps and bounds more interesting than Jeff Bridges' villian in the first Iron Man, and Hammer, as played by Rockwell is compelling on another turn. Playing Stark's rival and contemporary, his smug aura and reek of desperation make him, if not a worthy adversary physically, than at the very least an enjoyable irritation. The problem is that neither Rourke or Rockwell seem to be the same movie-- they're tonally opposite of one another, and the writer Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) and Favreau never seemed to fully connect them together with they're manically divergent acting styles. The same goes for Johansson, whose Black Widow is amusing enough, but her covert superspy status feels a couple of decades too late. On a tangent, it would be really nice if Ms. Johansson went back into the serious acting that started her career-- it's been a tad too long since this gifted actress as had to do much aside from being a fanboy's sextoy.
And what's left of nice chemistry between Downey, Jr. and Paltrow played so effectively in the first film: it's somehow dimenished. It doesn't help that Paltrow is saddled with the thankless direction of icy businesswoman, while her knight and shining armor is battling his own heart. The breezy, effortless, rat-a-tat screwball comedy that both were delightful with is evaporated, which is unfortunate. But then again-- hopefully all of this will lead to the most awesome experience ever in 2011. C