I concluded my review of the first Iron Man film with the kicker: “There’s no way the summer can keep up with Iron Man’s heat.” Looking back I’m reminded how well that film was made (and how hugely it was overshadowed by The Dark Knight only two months later). But being reminded is also a letdown, because Iron Man’s less-than-stellar sequel is far from scorching.
Robert Downey Jr. is back, and decent, as Tony Stark, a pompous billionaire who also happens to have single-handledly prioritized world peace as Iron Man. He’s feeding off his own narcissism when suddenly we learn (OH NO!) that weird thing in his chest that keeps him alive isn’t working well. He estimates he only has about a year to live, and that’s when things go cinematically stale.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Because it’s a sequel, we know we’re going to be given a slew of new characters. Mickey Rourke (gotta love him) plays the villain, a Russian badass who’s pissed that the Stark family screwed over his pops. Rourke begged director Jon Favreau to let him only speak Russian in the role. The two compromised, and we’re left with a nearly-silent Rourke, tearing shit up with scowls and heavily tattooed biceps.
The other notable newcomer to the franchise is Scarlett Johansson, who, rather surprisingly, kicks some serious ass as Black Widow, a spy sent in to protect Iron Man… I think.
That brings me to my next point. The first Iron Man succeeded because it treated all its viewers as equals. But if you don’t know much about the comic books (like me) then you’ll be lost in the sequel. I was constantly trying to catch up with the intentions of Black Widow and her boss Nick Fury (a one-eyed Samuel L. Jackson). It’s the same argument I have for the Lord of the Rings films. “Read the books and you’d like the movie better,” people tell me. That’s nonsense. How about making a more coherent movie for people who aren’t total geeks so that everyone can understand it.
Don Cheadle famously replaced Terrance Howard in the role of Stark’s best friend and soon-to-be partner in fighting crime. I was shocked that Cheadle, one of the very best actors of his generation, was given all the God-awful one liners. The drunken birthday party brawl between him and Downey Jr. is the beginning of the film’s downfall, which ultimately delivers little thrills and goes on way too long.
Iron Man 2 has its standouts (Rourke and Johansson, who are both underused) but when it’s all said and done, I doubt you’ll be looking as forward to the next film, as much as you were the first time around. C-