© 2010 Ray Wong
Banking on the record-breaking original movie and the popular Marvel comic book series, Iron Man 2 continues where we left off and will no doubt do stellar business at the box office.
Ever since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) came out as Iron Man, he's been enjoying world-wide celebrity and business is brisk. To honor his father's dream, he also built a state-of-the-art EXPO where all year long, Stark Enterprise and other companies can showcase their stuff. The government tries to take the Iron Man suits from Stark but they can't. Things are going great for him.
Except they don't know Tony is dying. The reactor core in his chest is slowly poisoning his blood. If he can't find a solution, he will die soon. Knowing his impending fate, he signs over his business to his trusted assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who doesn't know his conditions. She and Tony's best friend, Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), only thinks Tony is eccentric and out of control.
Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of exiled Russian scientist, has an axe to grind with Tony Stark. He believes Tony and his father stole his father's design of the reactor core, and he vows to revenge. He teams up with Stark's rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to develop an army of clones. What Hammer doesn't know, however, is Vanko has a different agenda.
Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) is, of course, Tony Stark/Iron Man personified. He plays both sides of Stark very well: the introspective, thoughtful, altruistic genius as well as the narcissistic, obnoxious super playboy. In a way, Stark and Bruce Wayne/Batman have a lot in common, and Downey seems to have more fun playing his part than Christian Bale playing Wayne.
Don Cheadle (Hotel for Dogs) takes over from Terrance Howard as Lt. Col. Rhodes, and the transition is smooth. Cheadle sinks his teeth in his role just as he did every other role, and he does a good job. His Rhodes is just as gentle and stoic -- a great contrast to Stark's flamboyance -- but has a more ruthless, aggressive side, paving the way to Rhodes' transformation as Iron Man's sidekick, War Machine. Gwyneth Paltrow (Two Lovers) also reprises her role as Stark's trusted confidant and potential love-interest, Pepper Potts. She's less perky and lovely this time, partially because of the reduced screen time she has, although the bickering between her and Stark is still endearing.
New to the cast is Scarlett Johansson (She's Just Not That Into You) as a double-agent. Her role is a bit of a window dressing (she sure looks hot in those tight skirts), but she gets to show her stuff in one action sequence, so that's good. The dual villains are played by Sam Rockwell (Moon) as Hammer and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) as Ivan Vanko. Rockwell seems to have a lot of fun playing the slimy, sneaky, ruthless businessman. Rourke definitely is enjoying his rebirth as an actor and he savors every scene as the scary Russian with a single goal in mind -- killing Tony Stark.
Clark Gregg (Iron Man) has, unfortunately, limited screen time reprising the role of the droll SHIELD agent; meanwhile director-actor Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat) gives his role (Stark's driver) more screen presence. Paul Bettany (Legion) provides the voice for Stark's computer Javis, and Garry Shandling (Over the Hedge) plays a senator who wants to take Tony Stark down.
Based on Stan Lee's popular comic books and adapted by Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder), the screenplay is less coherent than the first film, and lacks something more tangible and pressing than simply Stark's mortality. The plot has so many holes that I don't know where to start. For example, the way Tony discovers a new "element" that would eventually save his life is not just implausible (even for comic books), but laughable.
Also, the story's focus seems off. They've introduced too many characters and then they didn't give them anything to do except to deliver a few one-liners. Pity. The dialogue is cheesy but at least it's fitting for the genre. I didn't expect the depth and excellence of, say, The Dark Knight which is a class of its own. But at least the first Iron Man is more relevant and fun, an entertaining satire poking fun at the military. This one seems to aim at making fun of Walt Disney (you will know what I mean when you watch the film).
That said, Favreau does a good job piecing this mishmash story together. The production is solid. The action sequences are well produced and choreographed. The special effects do the job nicely. Still, this time around, Favreau fails to keep that spark that made the first film so exciting and fun. Something is missing here and I seriously don't know what it is. It's as if they've forgotten to add the one secret ingredient that gives the thing the special kick. The central conflict simply isn't all that exciting, and the villains -- through no fault of Rockwell, Rourke or even Favreau himself -- lack the intensity and vengeance to really come alive. I blame that on the writing, really.
Also, the climactic fight scenes (including an extended dogfight involving Iron Man, War Machine, and an army of robotic drones) could have been more exciting, but the closeups and confusing camera work dampen the effects. The climax simply frizzles. When it was all said and done, I said to myself, "Is that it? Is it over?" I kept hoping for the "real" climax but never got it.
Don't get me wrong. Iron Man 2 has everything a summer blockbuster should, and is entertaining and will do very well at the box office. But I can't help but feel disappointed. I was hoping the sophomore effort would rival the riveting The Dark Knight or The Empire Strikes Back, but it turns out to be yet another lackluster sequel. The sad irony is, it may actually do better in the box office than the first one.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg
Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Theroux (based on Stan Lee's comic book series)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 7.4 out of 10