“If it lacks a little oomph in the story department, or if you could wish for maybe one more action sequence, Robert Downey Jr.’s dynamo central performance makes overlooking those slight flaws an easy thing to do.”
That probably sounds familiar, because it’s what I said about the first “Iron Man,” and you memorize everything I say. I’ve quoted it here because it also applies to “Iron Man 2” — except that the flaws don’t seem as slight anymore, and aren’t as easy to overlook. The story is weaker and more scattershot. And while Downey’s performance is joined by a terrific one from Sam Rockwell, the novelty has worn off.
Still fun, though. The sequel, written by Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”) and once again directed by Jon Favreau, picks up where Part 1 left off, with egomaniac billionaire Tony Stark (Downey) having told the world that he is Iron Man. (Secret identities are for superheroes who aren’t narcissists.) Thanks to the technology Stark developed, Iron Man has almost single-handedly solved all the world’s conflicts. “I’ve successfully privatized world peace!” he declares.
Naturally, a guy can’t have a powerful, peace-promoting metal suit without the government wanting to get its hands on it. A congressional committee, headed by Sen. Stern (Garry Shandling), considers it a “weapon” and wants Stark to hand it over. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a government-contracted weapons designer, would like to use the Iron Man suit to make, what else, super-soldiers. (Warmongers in these movies always want to make super-soldiers. How is that supposed to make our regular soldiers feel?)
“Iron Man” (2008) B
“The Incredible Hulk” (2008) B
“Iron Man 2” (2010) B-
“Thor” (2011) B
“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) B
“The Avengers” (2012) B+
“Iron Man 3” (2013) B+
“Thor: The Dark World” (2013) C-
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) B
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) B
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) B-
“Ant-Man” (2015) B
“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) B
“Doctor Strange” (2016) B+
Also on Tony Stark’s bad side: Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a fearsome Russian man who believes his father was wronged by Stark’s father. Vanko’s anger is troubling because he has access to almost the same technology that Stark does. Everyone superhero franchise needs a chapter where the villain has the same powers as the hero, so here you go.
Meanwhile, Stark’s palladium-fueled machinery is slowly killing him; he’s made his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the new CEO of Stark Enterprises; his military pal James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) fears he’s becoming too reckless as Iron Man; and there’s a new assistant, played by Scarlett Johansson, who probably isn’t what she claims to be, since why would they waste Scarlett Johansson on an unimportant role like that?
I like that the villain is a good old-fashioned Russian bad guy, complete with the thick accent and emotionless malevolence. But Mickey Rourke may have applied too much Method acting to the role of Vanko: He’s cold, inscrutable, uninteresting. Comic-book movies are often made or broken by their villains, and while the bland Vanko doesn’t break “Iron Man 2,” he doesn’t help it much.
There’s a lot going on here — I didn’t even mention Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to get Iron Man to join S.H.I.E.L.D. — and Favreau (who appears onscreen as Stark’s bodyguard) keeps a brisk pace, even when the story meanders into lesser things like Stark and Pepper’s relationship and Stark’s father issues. But there are only a few action sequences in the film, none of them spectacular, and the final one is downright anticlimactic. What happens in between is droll and lively, thanks mostly to Downey and Rockwell’s typically colorful performances; it just isn’t very super, you know?
B- (2 hrs., 4 min.; )