Tony Stark returns with his weaponized alter-ego and his booze-soaked bon vivant-ness in Iron Man 2, a washed out follow-up to the snarky action-packed firecracker that was the first movie.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is even more ego-tastic than in the first movie because now he is openly, rock-star-ily Iron Man. The U.S. government may want his suits but he brags that he’s privatized world peace and tells all the little people to just simmer down.
Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) isn’t so keen about Stark’s new superman persona. Tony’s dad, Howard (John Slattery, all Sterling Cooper with a whiskey on the rocks), developed his amazing power source (the one that keeps Stark alive) with the help of Ivan’s dad — a Soviet defector whom he then had sent back to the U.S.S.R. and years in Siberia. Ivan decides to do a little family vengeance and creates his own Iron Man-type suit, one that includes some scary, metal-cutting electric whips. He’s able to do some serious damage to Tony’s car and his reputation when Ivan confronts him at a race — much to the delight of fellow Stark-hater Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Sick of losing government contracts to Stark, Hammer decides to get Vanko to help him bring down Iron Man and Tony.
Meanwhile, the element keeping Tony/Iron Man supercharged is also killing him. In addition to fending off attacks, Tony has to find a new way to keep himself alive or he won’t have to worry about Ivan and his revenge or Hammer and his desire for a robot army.
Tony’s assorted buddies are also back, but in far more limited quantities than last time: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, also the movie’s director), that robot arm. I think I like Don Cheadle more than Terrence Howard in the Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, role — certainly, Cheadle deserves some of that sweet action figure money after all those years working hard in indies. The other addition is Natasha Romanoff/Natalie Rushman/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a big slice of cheesecake who, according to IMDB, may be part of this 2012 The Avengers movie we hear so much about. And yes, we do get peeks at The Avengers story line in a few S.H.I.E.L.D. scenes — including a few shots of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury — and in a post-credits scene that is, for all but the biggest geeks, not worth sticking around for. But these things feel gimmicky and don’t add to the story you’ve actually paid to see (which is to me the bigger concern than the movie I might see in a few summers).
The Avengers stuff bogs down Iron Man 2 — unfortunate because this is not exactly an effervescent movie to begin with. All the villains, all the Tony-Pepper angst, all the subplottery about Tony’s father or about a Senate investigation led by Senator Garry Shandling (who is completely wasted) — it’s all so much muck that keeps the story from ever getting up much speed. The movie starts off in a variety of different directions: Tony’s out-of-control ego, Tony’s impending mortality, the secret of S.H.I.E.L.D., the relationship between Tony and Pepper, a possible seduction between Natalie and Tony, the government’s desire to control the world’s most lethal weapons.
But it never completes any of these thoughts. A joke, a furrowed brow, a bit of pointed score and then we’re on to something else. Iron Man 2 feels like a mess of possible ideas for a sequel but without any kind of unifying story that might have made all this scatter come together.
Iron Man 2 does finally find its juice and gets going with the kind of action and zing the first movie left us expecting. Unfortunately, it’s not until the final 25 or so minutes. C+
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and some language. Directed by Jon Favreau and written by Justin Theroux (from the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby), Iron Man 2 is two hours and five minutes long and distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.