REVIEW: Overstuffed Iron Man 2 Needs More Downey, Less Dazzle

Movieline Score:

For a movie about a guy in a metal suit, the first Iron Man moved with surprising grace and a minimum of clanking. Jon Favreau, who'd never directed a superhero action picture before, and Robert Downey Jr., who'd never starred in one, pulled off the rarest of feats: They made a seemingly effortless blockbuster, an exhilarating picture that never let us see it sweat. Downey's Tony Stark, a playboy kajillionaire who owed his good fortune to the military-industrial complex, was a charmer with an ego, and he wasn't about to apologize for it. Like all good superheroes, he had his vulnerable side too, but Downey presented Stark's contradictions as if they were all of a piece, instead of turning them on or off with the flick of a switch. He mapped the character's psychic pain by doing a soft-shoe around it -- hard to do in a futuristic metal jumpsuit, but then, that's Downey.

Iron Man 2 is more of the same -- a lot more of the same -- and yet a lot less. Favreau, working from a script by Justin Theroux (which itself was adapted from the Marvel comic-book series), toils hard to pack more in. There are more characters, more special effects, more conflicts, but not necessarily more story. The picture opens extravagantly, with Stark -- as Iron Man -- making a dramatic entrance at his own "Stark Expo," an elaborate version of an auto show (held, appropriately enough, in Flushing Meadows, the site of both the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs) designed to celebrate the latest techno-humanitarian advancements and the fact that Iron Man has kept the world at peace for several years running, though not necessarily in that order. Iron Man whizzes through the sky, arriving at the site on his little jet feet. After he lands -- stealing the show from his warm-up group, a phalanx of shimmying, high-kicking go-go dancers -- his Iron Man armor magically peels itself back and folds itself up, revealing Tony Stark in a pin-striped tux, who proceeds to make a self-aggrandizing speech about how much good he's done the world. As openers go, it's pretty dazzling, not least because it so unapologetically celebrates the real star of this show so far: Stark's hubris.

But not everyone loves Stark as much as Stark loves Stark. In fact, no one seems to love him much at all: In Iron Man 2 his enemies include a wily congressman (played by an alarmingly puffy Garry Shandling) who has called upon him to turn his Iron Man gear over to the military; an ambitious weapons bigwig (Sam Rockwell) who hopes to harness Iron Man-style technology for evil, not good; a taciturn, badly tattooed Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who has an age-old beef with Stark's family; and a sexy minx of a legal assistant (Scarlett Johansson), who may not be what she appears to be (she isn't).

Meanwhile Stark's former pal, Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (now played not by Terrence Howard but by Don Cheadle, who has more to give as an actor than this minimalist sketch of a role demands of him) has turned against him and gotten into bed with the wrong guys (although the story never makes clear why he'd get into bed with this particular, and very obviously bad, guy). Even Stark's former assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he's just appointed CEO of Stark Industries, is perpetually annoyed with him -- because she's deeply in love with him, natch. Did I mention that somewhere in there, Samuel L. Jackson strides in wearing an eyepatch? And that Stark's most fearsome opponent isn't even included in the movie's exhausting laundry list of antagonists? (Hint: His biggest enemy lies within!) There are so many characters in Iron Man 2 that there's barely room for a plot. Figures wander on-screen, scowl or kvetch for a bit, and then disappear, only to resurface again after you've nearly forgotten them.

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  • Krugmanic Depressive says:

    Iron Man comes
    on little jet feet.
    His foes enter
    to scowl and kvetch.
    Rising on titanium haunches
    he then kicks ass.

  • Alex says:

    It's the same problem that seems to plague all comic book movie sequels -- they add too many characters and sub plots. The first movie is often good (sometimes great) cause they generally have 2 plot lines (the origin and the main antagonist) and a base cast.
    But then the sequels come in and you have new characters popping up all over the place that don't need to be there. And instead of have 1 or 2 plot lines you wind up with 3 or 4 to cover the new allies and multiple antagonists. There isn't enough time in a two hour movie to give enough depth to so many plot lines.

  • Morgo says:

    The self-tanner on the hands wasn't really funny (or subtle). I sat there for 30 seconds watching the actor demonstrating his orange palms wondering why a multibillionare would choose to apply tan himself instead of getting a professional to do it. For me it added to, not subtracted from, the overall crappiness of the movie.

  • HI Stephanie Zacharek I agree with you it's really over stuffing the characters in Iron Man 2 rather then in IM 1 But any how it will rock the theater this time ...

  • MC D-Lyte says:

    Iron Man 2: Full Throttle was so awesome! It was like the all time best sequel Charlies Angels: Full Throttle but like at least two times better than that. How is that even possible right? Charlies Angels was so awesome. Well Iron Man 2 is even more awesomer.

  • Rich Yan says:

    If someone wanted to read a review of IM2 I'd have them read this one. It's fairly well on the mark for me. Other than it doesn't mention how utterly annoying Sam Rockwell was as Justin Hammer. I know I'm not supposed to like the character but he was making me hate the movie.

  • Shaun says:

    I didn't like the sequel as much the original. I agree that they definitely did put to much going on in the movie. On top of that we saw people in what seemed like hours do what should have take weeks or months. It seemed a bit rushed to me. But getting ready for Avengers next year I wanted to watch all the movies leading up to it so I watched Iron Man 2on DISH online on the Epix page. One nice thing about having a service like that is being able to go back and watch movies when they are available. If they would have left some of the sub plots out it might have felt not as rushed, but what can we do now other then look back at what could have been. I thought Mickey Rourke played an excellent role in the film, and I agree with Rich that Sam Rockwell made his part more then annoying. Don Cheadle didn't match that par at all either. But I think when they change a main character like that in a sequel that actor will always get the stick put on them. All in all I think they were building too much for the future movie instead of focusing on this one, they left way to much out and expect people just to dismiss what they left out.