Review: “Iron Man 2”

The sequel to the 2008 hit aims for greatness, but loses sight amid a tangle of subplots.

Iron Man preparing to give a facial with a blast from his hand
PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Iron Man preparing to give a facial with a blast from his hand PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Tony Libera

âÄúIron Man 2âÄù DIRECTED BY: Jon Favreau STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell. RATED: PG-13 SHOWING: Area theaters When the first âÄúIron ManâÄù opened in 2008, Marvel fans bought their tickets the way Wile E. Coyote buys ACME goods -believing in success despite the crushing weight of repeat failure. The previous eight Marvel pictures were terrible at best, but âÄúIron ManâÄù escaped the hall of comic shame thanks to a skillful handling of story mechanics, an economic but still dazzling use of special effects and a doting attention to character. âÄúIron Man 2âÄù grabs at similar straws, and while it skirts the awful realm of, say, âÄúGhost Rider,âÄù it never quite manages the vitality of its predecessor. âÄúIron Man 2âÄù opens with our hero, billionaire CEO and unmasked robotic superhero Tony Stark, gallivanting through life with his usual joie de vivre. The worldâÄôs in on his secret and the government is hounding him for specs, but that doesnâÄôt stop Stark from hosting colossal techno expos, driving racecars and throwing ragers at his swanky bachelor pad. The problem is that his antics are overcompensation for another secret: his bodyâÄôs giving out, a side effect of the nifty little gizmo wired up to his heart. If that werenâÄôt bad enough, thereâÄôs a mean looking Russian dude out to laser-whip his face off. The filmâÄôs biggest problem is undoubtedly the amount of subplots trying to commingle, a con attributable to screenwriter Justin Theroux. ThereâÄôs the Tony-Pepper love story, which seemed to be wrapping up at the end of the first movie, but continues through the entirety of the second. There are Avengers hints and the related S.H.I.E.L.D. thread. There are some briefly explored daddy issues, a nod at TonyâÄôs alcoholism and a look at the governmentâÄôs relation with a shady businessman. All these pieces fit to make one detailed puzzle, but they drain time from the major elements, particularly TonyâÄôs self-destruction. His ups and downs flash by too quickly, his despair and isolation are never fully realized. Despite having plot elements that feel tacked on, âÄúIron Man 2âÄô is still fun to watch, due in large part to the CG action sequences and, even more so, to the stellar cast. To borrow an industry cliché, Robert Downey Jr. was born to play the part of Tony Stark. HeâÄôs at once slick and neurotic, heâÄôs sympathetic without being maudlin and he wisecracks with the best of âÄôem, a necessary skill for any superhero. Mickey Rourke is reservedly cool as the tattooed antagonist Ivan Vanko, while Sam Rockwell plays both sharp and weasly as StarkâÄôs business competitor, Justin Hammer. On the female side, Gwyneth Paltrow charms as Pepper Potts, making us all wonder when her and Tony will get it over with already, and Scarlett Johansson, though a superfluous character, is both a babe and a badass. The star-studded interplay is certainly the highlight of this film. Despite the storyâÄôs flaws, âÄúIron Man 2âÄù provides a solid dose of popcorn entertainment. It lacks the subtle craftsmanship and much of the dynamism of the first film, but makes up for it with all-star talent, impressive visuals and some fantastic robot fights. 3.5/5 Stars