Movie Review: Iron Man 2
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Two summers from now "The Avengers" movie is coming, and "Iron Man 2" spends much of its time expanding the Marvel Comics franchise empire with a tangle of new characters, sly allusions to future ones and a great line delivered by Robert Downey Jr.'s acerbically suave Tony Stark: "I told you I don't want to join your super-secret boy band."
Stark, aka Iron Man (aka egomaniacal charmer and firecracker smart-aleck), says this to Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, who's working on an "Avengers Initiative" that includes Scarlett Johansson's sexy-sleek Natasha Romanoff, known in her thrashing, mixed martial arts, Hit-Girl mode as Black Widow.
Even for non-comics fans (my hand lifted from keyboard, raised high) all this fussy background stuff intrigues — heroic mythmaking has captivated us since Homer. But the hard, cold thrills of the wind-up are reserved for true believers who can catch all the references and connect all the dots, down to a post-closing credits reveal, none of which will go specified here. Such viewers will geek out, and it won't be pretty.
That doesn't make "Iron Man 2" strictly a nerd-fest. It's 100-proof summer block-bluster, noise and machinery and booms and repartee and villains and heroes that, alas, suffers from overload and drag. It's half the fun of the first movie and twice as convoluted.
Stark, whose palladium chest plug is slowly poisoning him to death, falls into funks that bring us down, too, while dimly interesting business — including Sam Rockwell's weapons tycoon Justin Hammer and Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash), as well as Stark's best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard from the first film) and, of course, Jackson and Johansson — simultaneously unfolds. It's a mouthful to digest and can be hard to get down. It's tiring, sometimes tedious.
"Iron Man 2" starts six months after the prior movie ended. The U.S. government wants Stark to hand over his Iron Man weaponry; it's too hot to remain in the possession of a civilian. Copycat prototypes are sprouting up in unfriendly nations. The "genie's out of the bottle," avers Garry Shandling's puffy, pink Senator Stern.
The proof of this is Rourke's Russian Vanko, whose family's past has unhappy links to Stark's, meaning he knows the secret to creating an Iron Man knockoff. His is more raving beast than polished pro, with electrically charged tentacles he whips around like bolts of exploding lightning. Rourke's grunting thug is smeared in scars and black tattoos, but he, like Stark, knows his technology. He's dangerously smart.
Having Downey and Rourke — comeback kids who shuffled off the rehab blues — face off is conceptually neat, but it's not all that exciting. They share scarce screen time, and when they do it's wanly impersonal, clanking, crashing spectacle that's as predictable as it is preordained.
Jon Favreau, whose role as Stark's wry chauffeur is bigger this time, directs Justin Theroux's script with clots and clarity. Here the movie is witty and shiny, there it's stuffy and bloated.
Downey's why we're here. He remains a great pleasure to watch. He's Bond with bite, comprising a generous dash of Cary Grant — behold his and Gwyneth Paltrow's screwball badinage — and rock-star narcissism. His performance in "Iron Man 2" is broader and less introspective than his Stark of 2008, perhaps to assure he's not overshadowed by the scrum of characters crowding him, a development that will be something to track as "The Avengers" moves in.