Alas, Jon Favreau‘s second go at this Marvel property is almost all plot, plot, plot. Now, the way Justin Theroux‘s screenplay juggles too many characters and an overly complicated continuity is actually quite true to the nature of comic book storytelling. I’m just not sure how well it works on screen, where we’re generally expecting a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, not just a bunch of different plot threads setting up things that will happen in upcoming episodes or different series altogether.
Robert Downey Jr. is still a lot of fun as Tony “I am Iron Man” Stark, who’s more superstar than superhero and who never seems to have heard the saying that “with great power comes great responsibility”. But even good old irresponsible, arrogant, drunk, horny Stark seems to be feeling the weight of all the plot that’s crammed in “Iron Man 2”. Here’s a guy who suddenly has to deal with the fact that the arc reactor in his chest is slowly but surely poisoning him to death, with a pesky U.S. senator (Garry Shandling) who’s leading a crusade against him so that he gives up the Iron Man technology to the government, with rival weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)’s shenanigans, with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s insistent attempts to get him to join the “Avengers Initiative”, with his rockier than ever relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), with the ambiguous motivations of his new assistant (Scarlett Johansson), with the recriminations of his friend Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) and, oh yeah, with big dirty tattooed rugged longhaired gold-toothed Russian ex-con Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who nurtures a mean grudge against the Stark family.
If you wonder how all these conflicting storylines can possibly fit in a two-hour movie, here’s the thing: they don’t. There are interesting ideas and cool moments sprinkled throughout, and each member of the ensemble cast gives an enjoyable performance (Rockwell and Rourke especially), but momentum is rarely allowed to build and characters regularly seem to be forgotten about in Favreau’s film, which makes it frustrating more often than not.
If “Iron Man 2” still managed to be action-packed, I might have been able to forgive its mess of a script, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there are precious little super-heroics in this super-hero movie. We get Vanko unleashing the power of his electric whips at the Monaco Grand Prix, a power-suited scuffle between Stark and Rhodes after a party, and the final showdown between Iron Man, War Machine and Vanko’s army of robotic drones. That’s it, three action scenes, and rather brief, not all that exciting ones at that.
I can’t say that I regret watching the film or that you shouldn’t go see it. The first “Iron Man” earned enough goodwill from moviegoers, myself included, for some of it to translate to this inferior sequel. But if you were expecting “Iron Man 2” to be the first great film of the summer, you’ll probably be disappointed.