3 STARS (***)
This movie is review proof. The only thing that might slightly deter you from buying a ticket is if I tell you it sucks on an epic, “Batman and Robin”- esque level; rest assured, it does not.
However, I regret to inform you that it is indeed a noticeable step below its highly entertaining and charming predecessor. Director Jon Favreau and actor turned writer Justin Theroux essentially create a 90 minute tease leading up to a colossal, balls to the wall climax involving a drawn out battle between Iron Man, his new robotic ally War Machine – piloted by his best friend Rhodey now played by Don Cheadle replacing “I asked for too much money and screwed myself” Terrence Howard – and dozens of robotic, mindless drones.
The acting and competent direction is what elevates this comic book property above pedestrian, Summer cinematic fare. Robert Downey Jr. anchors the movie and keeps it afloat with his charismatic turn as the narcissistic, perpetual playboy Tony Stark who’s forced to finally confront his own mortality and arrogance due to the Palladium energy core in his chest that is slowly poisoning his blood. Stark, unable to find a cure for his deteriorating condition, amps up his reckless bravado to amusing results.
He brazenly mocks douche bag Senator, played with adequate smarminess by Gary Shandling, who is angling for Stark’s private technology to be controlled by the government. Stark consistently belittles his intellectually inferior business competition, Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries, who desperately wants Stark technology so he can emerge as the dominant player in the weapons market.
Meanwhile, Hammer teams up with scene stealing Mickey Rourke for his brilliant, scientific mind and shared hatred of Stark. Yes, you read that correctly. Rourke plays the genius, monosyllabic Russian son of an even more genius Russian scientist disgraced by Tony’s father. Of course, his sole purpose in life, and in the movie, is to humiliate Stark at his own game and ultimately go mano-a-mano with Iron Man. Their initial showdown at the Monaco Grand Prix where Rourke showcases his homemade Iron Man suit, consisting of electric whips, and delivers a thorough beat down of Stark is one of the film’s action highlights.
Preparing their insanely ambitious “Avengers” universe, Marvel introduces us all too briefly to Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, the covert agent posing as Stark’s new secretary. Johansson oozes enough sex appeal, confidence and tight clothing to officially make her this summer’s first screensaver for teenage boys. Samuel L. “Motherf’ing” Jackson has an amusing cameo as Nick Fury, the one eyed, badass leader of the secret law enforcement agency known as SHIELD. Like I said, it’s all a giant tease preparing us for next summer’s “Thor” and “Captain America,” leading up to “The Avengers” in Summer 2012.
Although Stark boasts to the world that his Iron Man has successfully “privatized world peace,” his sequel falters in capturing the original’s novelty and pacing. It exhibits a common symptom of most blockbuster sequels: bloat-itis. The filmmakers jam pack a thin story to the gills with new characters, new gadgets, new subplots and, of course, new, gratuitous CGI effects. All the sums don’t quite up to an elegant whole, however it’s rarely boring.
What would have been an otherwise above-average sequel is saved by Downey Jr., whose awesomeness once again dominates the flick. Fellow thespians also shine, including Gwyneth Paltrow as his unrequited love and assistant Pepper Potts– who even gets a promotion to CEO of Stark Enterprises. Even though Paltrow, Cheadle, Johansson and Rourke get limited screen time, they max out their mileage and flesh out their roles that surely would have been forgettable in less adequate hands.
Judging from the applause at the end of Tuesday’s screening, it’s safe to assume this movie will make Paramount grin like Cheshire cat and immediately green light another sequel after seeing the jaw dropping box receipts. Let’s hope they upgrade and fine tune the story next time.