Sparks fly between Gwyneth Paltrow and
Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2."
© 2010 Marvel

Iron Man 2

(Reviewed April 26, 2010, by James Dawson)

Director Jon Favreau still can't direct action sequences worth a damn, Justin Theroux's inconsistent script detours into a few unfortunate plot ditches and there's something very wrong with any comic book movie if the hero is more fun to watch when he is in civvies than when he's in costume.

Worst of all, "Iron Man 2" utterly wastes what should have been its Joker card by sabotaging Mickey Rourke's role as the villain Whiplash (who never is called by that name, but that's who he is supposed to be). Scarred, muscular, covered in tattoos and acting very believably psycho-badass, Rourke's character only would have worked here if the producers had intended to make this sequel much darker than its predecessor. But although Rourke's first scene is set in grim Russian tenement poverty where he witnesses his father's painful death, he's later plopped down in cartoonish set pieces, such as one in an antiseptically immaculate all-white airplane hanger where he enjoys a luxurious catered dinner with a wisecrackingly snarky Tony-Stark-wannabe (Sam Rockwell).

Robert Downey Jr. has some funny lines as Stark, who refuses to hand over his Iron Man technology to the US government during a contentious Senate hearing. Stark is proud of the fact that he has "successfully privatized world peace" on his own, apparently acting as a deterrent to the globe's potential warmongers in his Iron Man guise.

It's nice to see that anyone with smarts in the Marvel Comics universe has no more faith in the American government than anyone in our own world should, and Garry Shandling is amusing as a self-righteous senator. What gets old fast, however, is the movie's gimmick of having characters talk over each other at length. This is most aggravating in the sexual-tension-laden dialogues between Stark and his assistant Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), neither of whom ever shuts up when the other is speaking.

Not as fun or fast-moving as the first "Iron Man," this followup moves the traditional "hero beatdown" scene up from its usual place in act three to near the beginning of the movie. That's when Rourke, in a mechanical suit and wielding destructive whips arcing with blue-white electricity, attacks Stark during the Gran Prix in Monaco.

The resulting car crashes, fireballs, general destruction and sadism may be a bit intense for small children, unless they are the type who enjoy seeing people rammed into walls by cars. Later scenes involving acts that involve off-screen but obvious mass death also may trouble tots who were happily hoping to be thrilled by seeing a man flying around in a colorful metal suit.

Scarlett Johansson has a small role as a Stark employee secretly working undercover for the S.H.I.E.L.D. defense organization run by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). She's absolutely beautiful and she looks delicious in a black catsuit, but she's as one-dimensional as an automaton. Also, although her character's alter ego in the comics is called the Black Widow, that name never is heard in this movie.

Stark's realization that he is being poisoned by the very thing that keeps him alive—an element powering the chest device that he constructed in the first movie—makes him depressed, a bit of a dipsomaniac and frankly kind of a drag. Apparently thinking that the "Superman's drunk!" segment in the dreadful "Superman III" was something worth emulating, the filmmakers include a scene in which an overserved Stark begins recklessly destroying his Malibu beach house and fighting with his pal Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) while under the influence. At that point, anyone who can avoid checking the time and wondering why this movie is so damned long must be a Zen master.

The plot then dawdles over Stark trying to create a new power source, using clues that his dead father bizarrely left behind in a ridiculous form of code instead of simply writing them up in a nice letter with his will.

Iron Man's final showdown with Whiplash involves a whole lotta bad robots and things blowing up, but good luck making any sense of the action. One second, Our Hero is being hounded at close range by several pursuers whose airspeed matches his own. The next second, he has time to pause on the ground for a sensitive chin-wag with a pal for a decent interval before any of the nasties arrive.

Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee appears in a wordless cameo dressed as a different celebrity than last time, and the movie includes a great sight gag involving a certain unseen red-white-and-blue Marvel hero who has his own movie on the way.

Back Row Reviews Grade: C-

To see my reviews of the other
Iron Man movies, use the links below:

"Iron Man" (2008)
"Iron Man 3" (2013)