Iron Man 2: A bigger bang, not a better movie.

"Ooh...shiny!"

 

Sequels usually have more of everything than the original.  The budget gets bigger, the stunts are  more eye-popping,  more stars sign on, and the expectations are higher than before.   Iron Man 2 has all of that and then some.   It’s just nowhere as much fun as Iron Man.    

This was supposed to be a critique, not necessarily a review of Iron Man 2 and then I realized the more I thought about the movie, the less I thought about it at all.  There’s some superb action sequences, a good Robert Downey performance, a luminescent Gwyneth Paltrow,  Mickey Rourke is menacing, but terribly underused by director Jon Favreau who seems in a hurry to move on to the next star requiring face time   “Yes, Mr. Cheadle, we’ll be shooting your scene, right after Sam One (Rockwell) and Sam Two (Jackson).”   

For the first time I finally “get” why Scarlett Johansson is considered majorly  hot.   She’s a little young as Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, but something about her long red locks and skin-tight latex has a way making you forget about that.   Superhero movies have failed to launch with a female  lead and have been uniformly awful  (Elektra,  Catwoman, Supergirl), but I wonder if anyone at Marvel Studios has given any thought to giving Johansson a  Black Widow flick all her own.   If not,  they can feel free to give me credit for suggesting it.    

But a week after seeing it, I can barely remember anything else about Iron Man 2 besides Johansson slinking around.    Even with over two hours of running time, everything about the movie  seems stuck in one of three gears:  leisurely paced at the beginning,  slow like molasses in the middle and rushed at the end.  There’s no happy medium.   

Iron Man 2 is the first big hit of the summer movie season ($232 million as of this writing) and like most summer flicks it has Just Enough of what it takes to be a hit.  It has Just Enough sexual innuendo in the double entendres and sly exchanges between Tony Stark , Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanov (but no actual nudity or even the implied morning after sequence from Iron Man) ,   Just Enough violent action (though the climatic battle at the Stark Expo should have left at least several hundred bystanders dead, maimed and injured) and Just Enough humor to make it clear nobody is forgetting this is a think-free summer flick.    

What I didn’t like was John Debney’s generic musical score, an overstuffed story and the AC/DC oldies.   If there’s a third film it might time to swap the aging Australian rockers for something domestic like Living Colour, Metallica or Van Halen (David Lee Roth version only).    The big reveal after the end credits was totally underwhelming.   Sitting through ten minutes of closing credits to see what looked like a cheap toy hammer from the water damaged section of  Big Lots was a huge waste of time.     

"No, my name ain't 'baby.' It's 'Scarlett.' Miss Johansson, if you're nasty."

 

One of the most enjoyable things to see is a healthy Robert Downey Jr., on a movie screen.   Downey is a charismatic and personable actor who is fun to watch (though even he couldn’t keep me from snoring through Sherlock Holmes) and more than any actor since Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman, he is perfectly cast as Tony Stark.   Stark has to be a bit of  an arrogant dick here, but you can’t stay mad at Downey for long.     

Other things didn’t make much sense.  Don Cheadle is a great actor, but Iron Man 2 doesn’t need great acting.   All you have to do is stand in front of a blue screen,  be suitably convincing and wait for the fat paycheck.  Stepping into the shoes of James Rhodes,  a role vacated by Terrence Howard after a salary dispute,  put Cheadle in an impossible position.   In the first movie,  time was taken to set up Rhodes and Stark are friends.   They don’t have a single moment here that makes you think these two guys even like each other.      

So the bloom is off the rose of the “bromance” between Stark and Rhodes, but when did Rhodes learn how to use the War Machine armor?    It seems to be assumed he knows how to work the silver suit, but there’s nothing written into the script that alludes to Rhodes having any previous experience.    Driving a Ford Focus on the freeway is not the same as a Formula One racer, but not only does Rhodes seemingly know exactly what he can do as War Machine,  he can fight the far more experienced Iron Man to a draw.   That didn’t work for a lot of people I’ve talked to about the movie and it doesn’t much work for me either.   

"Your license and registration, please, Mr. Stark."

 

It might have been assumed with Ivan Drago, a.k.a. Whiplash and Natasha Romanov both being Russians there would be some link between them but not only is there not one, they don’t even have any scenes together.   The Window’s one-woman SWAT team fight scene against Justin Hammer’s security forces  is one of the high points  but it seems almost as it’s in here to give Johansson something to do besides be  eye candy.   The same goes for Paltrow for whom motherhood has given her a  glow that suits her.  I’m sure she’d like something more to do than playing the straight woman to Stark’s dry wit and hang around waiting him to save her from  yet another armored threat, but she’s probably taking home a nice check too,  so what can she really complain about?   

Favreau keeps Whiplash off-screen for too long.   One of the things that has kept Iron Man a  second-string super hero in comic books is his totally drab rogue’s gallery.  The Whiplash of the movie bears no relation to the Whiplash of the comics and that’s a blessing.   Too bad Rourke isn’t giving much to do than look mean and laugh without humor.    

Iron Man made my list of the best films of the decade, but Iron Man 2 isn’t even my favorite super hero movie of the year.   Kick-Ass was a lot more fun with a lot smaller budget, special effects and star power.   I’ll definitely add Iron Man 2  to my DVD collection but it won’t be the first one I play when I want to see an Iron Man movie.   The comparison that comes to mind is Iron Man 2 is to Iron Man what Quantum of Solace  is to Casino Royale:  watchable and entertaining in spots but mostly forgettable juxtaposed with its infinitely superior predecessor.   

A few months ago, I never would have suggested Hit-Girl would totally kick Iron Man’s armored ass up and down the block but she definitely does.   

"Pepper, there's safe sex and then there's REALLY safe sex.'

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