To introduce us to its characters, Iron Man 2 does its requisite bit of forging and soldering. But it makes sense that this character-stuffed film begins at the Stark Expo. In the end—with all its fireworks, gadgetry and idol worship—it amounts to a Marvel Studios trade show.
In the follow up to 2008’s first installment, director Jon Favreau gives the Iron Man legacy the chubby bunny treatment: the movie’s so packed with treats that it’s impossible to say anything. Still, Robert Downey Jr. carries the film with another standout performance.
Thank goodness it’s got Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the rocket-powered knight in self-styled armor, to guide us through its conspicuous outlay. He’s still in a chatty, romping mood, and about as lovable as an alcoholic billionaire narcissist can be. Even after coming out as Iron Man, Stark still has issues. For one thing, he’s got a problem with his gear: It keeps him alive, but it’s killing him, and not metaphorically. Subbing in sludgy smoothies for his much-preferred cocktails isn’t quite enough. There is the small matter of needing to invent a new element.
Also, his antagonists are many. They include Garry Shandling as a grasping Senate subcommittee chairman; Don Cheadle (taking over for Terrence Howard) as a suddenly adversarial friend and military ally; John Slattery, seen in yellowing corporate-propaganda filmstrips as Stark’s dead weapon-maker dad; and most notably Downey’s fellow near-casualty of the 1980s, Mickey Rourke, as a seething Siberian exile with a pair of live-wire whips to crack.
That the Rourke character’s patchwork of prison tats seems more authentic than his advanced understanding of physics is part of the comic book charm—an endowment which also must account for Scarlett Johansson as that new girl, the buxom and mysterious martial artist from the legal department.
All of this can only mean increased personal and professional responsibility for Stark’s put-upon assistant Pepper Potts, played with aplomb by Gwyneth Paltrow. But wait, there’re more stars! Enter Sam Rockwell as Tony’s squirrelly arms-dealer rival Justin Hammer, a sort of Stark lite; and Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, the head of a covert agency called SHIELD. Marvel Comics completists will observe that hammers and shields are of special importance here, at least as far as propagating the franchise is concerned.
And director Jon Favreau is concerned about franchise propagation. With Justin Theroux’s wily script, Favreau’s film is hearty and quick. But it doesn’t help that so many characters need to be established, and so few actors are on par with Downey’s rapturous timing. Everybody seems happy to be here, yes, but the net effect is one of mutual strain, generously borne.
And it’s too bad those promising moments—when Stark is suited up and falling down drunk at his birthday party, or when Hammer’s machines run amok—go without the more thoughtful attention they deserve. Favreau and co. have a knack for meeting superhero blockbuster expectations. But what else have they got? Guess we’ll just have to wait for next year’s Stark Expo to find out.