Friday, May 07, 2010

REVIEW: Iron Man 2

I'll cut right to the chase. Iron Man 2 delivers. Not as much as the first Iron Man did, granted, but it delivers more than some critics and irritable fanboys might have you believe.

I was not quite as high on Iron Man as so many people were. I thought the movie suffered from a weak villain, which led to a draggy third act. This time, the villains are still weak, and this time the story problems have shifted to the second act. Iron Man 2  is not unlike Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that way - good beginning, mediocre middle, great ending.

Many sequels often move faster than their predecessors, because they don't have to worry so much the exposition of setting up the hero's world. Since Marvel is bent on making their Avengers movie, that means extra setup creeps into this film, which is part of what slows down the second act.

What truly bogs down the mid-section, though, is this series' persistent inability to find a truly compelling villain. This movie offers two nemeses: Whiplash (Mickey Rourke)  the disgruntled son of a former Stark partner who helped invent the Iron Man techology, but got no credit. The other is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a smarmy suit who is the chief of a rival weapons company that wants to create rival Iron Mans.

That neither villlian works very well is not the fault of the actors. They play what writer Justin Theroux wrote, and they play it well. The problems are, that Rourke is given too little to do, and Rockwell too much to do. When Whiplash is introduced, he is a genuinely threatening presence. Then the movie makes the mistake of locking him down in a lab for most of the movie, forcing Hammer to the center. But Hammer is more sniveling and annoying than he is intimidating. He's basically your classic wuss who thinks he's a bad-ass, and not even an actor as skilled as Rockwell can make that tired characterization work.

Most of the good guys redeem the cast. As expected, Robert Downey Jr. is once again aces  in the lead role, playing it with more gravitas this time because Tony has found that the technology that makes him Iron Man is also killing him, leaking toxins into his blood. Alas, Gwyneth Paltrow is a bit misused this time as lovestruck PA Pepper Pots, because the back-and-forth between her and Tony is more bickering than bantering. 

Scarlett Johansson makes up for that with the addition of her character. I'd rather not give too much away, so let's just say she's fun to watch in a fight. And I'm rather glad that things didn't work out for Terrence Howard to return to the role of Stark's best bud/fellow hero James Rhodes - Don Cheadle plays the part with much more energy.

Jon Favreau returns as director, and he indulges a little too much, with some pointless POV shots and an overly enlarged role for himself as one of Stark's lackeys. But he handles most of the action with his usual aplomb. 

So Iron Man 2 isn't a film for the ages. But that's OK, Reaction to comic book movies tends to dwell in abssolutes: they either RULE! or they SUCK! Iron Man 2 does neither.  Inevitably, the sense of discovery  that came with the first film is mostly gone. But the sense of fun is still there, even if it is a bit diluted. After all, it IS a sequel.


No comments: