Iron Man 2 (5/10)

Remember the final battle in the first Iron Man? It was technically thrilling, but entirely unncessary to the plot – it just seemed like the filmmakers felt the need to put in a final bombastic action sequence. That fight is the weakest of the entire movie, which is one of the slickest action pics of all time. And unfortunately, Iron Man 2 seems to have learned more from that clunky final boss fight than it did from the rest of the semi-brilliant origin story.

One thing that remains thankfully unchanged is Robert Downey Jr, just as charismatic as ever in the role, but with more selfishness and ego born out of the knowledge that the very machine that saved his life (the Iron Man suit) is now killing him, slowly poisoning his body. He has less than a year to live, and being Tony Stark, doesn’t have time for petty things like self pity; he needs to be strong for the sake of world peace and keeping his suit to himself, away from government-funded arms dealers eager to cash in on his revolutionary technology.

In superheroes’ second outings, it’s traditional for the story to delve into a weaker side of the hero (Spider-Man 2, X2, Superman II, the list goes on and on), and in IR2 it’s no different. In terms of story, it’s just as by-the numbers as the first, but what saved the original from being humdrum was its commitment to strong character development and action set pieces that felt sleek and outrageous while never quite going over the top. In so many ways, IR2 makes the classic sequel mistake of assuming that bigger is better, sacrificing all the elegant simplicity of the original in favor of an overstuffed story packed with useless characters and subplots.

Most every single new person is played by a fantastic actor (Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson), and they’re all really really good, but their characters have no meat on their bones; they’re just there to screw with Iron Man for the purpose of making a “bigger and better” sequel. For example, we’re expected to care about Mickey Rourke’s character, a Russian scientist whose dad dies and it’s somehow Stark’s father’s fault, so he’s out to taint the Stark legacy by making Iron Man bleed in the water to attract sharks…or something. The first few scenes of him are a carbon copy of Tony Stark building his suit in the terrorist’s cave, but the similarity rings entirely hollow, as he just seems like a monster with no true motivation, and before you know it he’s constructed a kind of whiplash suit that he uses to beat poor Tony to a pulp. He goes from this random drunk Russian dude to a near-perfect killing machine in about four scenes, none of which go longer than a couple minutes. Sam Rockwell is entirely useless, and goes from a bumbling buffoon to a psychotic potenial supervillain about halfway through the movie with no real buildup. As for ScarJo – she’s just there to show some cleavage while showing that, you know, chicks really can kick ass! How revolutionary.

For the most part, the returning characters are treated well, save for Don Cheadle (doing a decent job taking Terrence Howard’s place), who gets several inexplicable scenes where his motivations change for no reason, but what brings it all together is the incredible chemistry that Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, his assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow, luminous) share. They bounce off each other like old friends, exchanging some of the most clever and witty dialog ever written for a superhero movie, or any comedy for that matter, which manages to maintain a sweet and endearing believability. Every moment they’re onscreen is a good one, and none of the action scenes or special effects come close to matching their electricity.

Like the first movie, the action doesn’t come very often, but what’s blatantly missing is that sheer sense of exhilaration you felt back in 2008 when Iron Man took flight. Most of the set-up for action scenes is tedious and painfully obvious, as in one where Stark decides to drive a race car (for no other reason than the movie needed its first big action set piece) and Pepper and Happy (Favreau returning as Stark’s butler-of -sorts) desperately drive to catch up with him so they can give him a briefcase in time before Whiplash-Russian-Dude takes him out. The briefcase is metallic, red, and silver. Gee, I wonder what’s in it? You know they’re going to get there just in the nick of time, you know the baddie will be stopped, and you know you’ll get to see several impossibly large explosions courtesy of Rourke, the death of unnamed, unimportant characters somehow expecting to draw drama from the situation.

There’s barely any tension or excitement in any of the battle scenes, despite the eye candy, and it all comes to a head in a final ludicrous battle with flying robots and impossible dodging and weaving by Iron Man. Occasionally, in four or five second bursts, Favreau will capture the magic of the original with a single brilliant sequence, before diving right back into mindless explosions. It’s almost enough to forgive the self-indulgent bombast. Almost.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg. Too many scenes are cluttered up by Nicky Fury (though it’s good to see Sam Jackson get more screen time in this one) talking to Stark about the Avenger Initiative, but that’s not Favreau’s fault. With The Avengers coming up, he had to find a way to tie something in. Some stuff about Stark’s father is shoehorned into the movie, too, to laughably unbelievable effect. Stark’s got daddy issues, women issues, money issues, health issues, friendship issues, enemy issues – it’s too much for one movie, at least considering everything else they crammed in. All of these characters deserved so much better than this, so much so that it’s reminiscent of that textbook example of what NOT to do in a superhero movie: Spider-Man 3.

Yeah, I went there. It’s not as bad, but considering it took Spidey 3 whole movies to get there, the previous Spider-Man containing simple yet complex and breathtaking action scenes that blast to bits anything and everything in Iron Man 2, it’s kind of depressing that Iron Man’s almost there after only two. Think about it. The elevated train scene in Spider-Man 2 contained two characters fighting. That was it. The finale contained two characters fighting. That was it. Sure, bystanders came, but not that many. In IR2, you’ve got a couple of dozen bad guys against two good guys and hundreds upon hundreds of bystanders screaming for their lives. And yet Spider-Man 2’s scenes are effortlessly superior. Huh. And I thought technology was supposed to improve with age.


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