Iron Man kicks off the summer movie season not so much with a bang, but with something a whimper. Apparently for director Jon Favreau, following up on his successful 2008 actioner really was all too easy, because his sequel smells of laziness; a textbook example of the disappointing Hollywood sequel.
Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, arrogant billionaire playboy / iron-clad world protector, and he's living it up with fame, glory, and his own squad of Laker Girls! But poor Tony is troubled by the fact that the hand-fashioned battery in his chest that's keeping him alive is also killing him slowly from the inside, poisoning his blood with toxic effluents. A stronger hero would draw strength from this kind of adversity, but Tony instead reacts childishly by shirking his responsibilities and playing flippantly with his powerful technology. This makes it awfully hard to root for Mr. Stark. One may feel more compelled to throw one's lot in with Ivan Vanko, the bad guy with an obligatory foreign accent, played nonetheless with admirable conviction by the resurrected Mickey Rourke. Ivan is the disgruntled son of a disgruntled Russian engineer (and co-creator of the arc reactor that powers the Iron Man suit) who had been exported from the U.S. decades earlier. Eager to exploit Vanko for his talent with weapon design is Stark's rival arms dealer, the smarmy Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, Stark's boorish behavior and refusal to cooperate with the senate has put him at odds with his friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes, while his neglected girlfriend Pepper Potts is annoyed with the appearance of sexy new secretary Natalie Rushman (who's actually posing undercover for Nick Fury's “Shield” organization).
This sure seems like an awful lot to cover, especially for a summer popcorn movie. So much to cover, in fact, that the film can't. The multitude of subplots bog the script down to the point were it's spread too thin, doing justice to none of the potentially interesting character-driven stories simmering beneath the surface. It also comes at the expense of the action, which was done so well in the first Iron Man. What little action we get not as well-staged, and is riddled with failed attempts at comic relief that are simply dumbfounding. Shame on the writers for being so content to take the easy way out with what they knew would be a commercially successful movie, no matter how weak it is.
But out of respect for the film's crew, I'll give a hearty high-five to sound designers Chris Boyes and Frank Eulner, alongside mixers Mark Ulano and Lora Hirschberg for more top notch work. Ditto FX supervisor Janek Sirrs. Oscar noms to come for these people? Perhaps. Box office returns will be favourable despite the critical yawns, which should keep the film in contention for those categories.
** out of ****