Rusty first act can’t slow down Iron Man 2

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click to enlarge Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.


While the surprise success of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man generated a great many positives for all involved, the downside has come home to roost, namely how do you top the original? To be sure, the director and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) doesn’t shrink from the task, offering up a story for the sequel that travels at the speed of ear-splitting sound and introduces a bevy of new characters to keep weapons industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on his toes. However, they test the notion that you can’t have too much of a good thing. The film’s first 45 minutes is top-heavy with plot and new characters, all of which threaten to sink the film before it even gets started.

Stark finds that having revealed that he’s Iron Man was perhaps not the best career move. Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) wants to rein him in and put him under government control. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., wants to recruit him for a new peacekeeping organization. Arms developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) longs to modify the Iron Man technology for his own use. Meanwhile, Russian inventor Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is out to settle a score with Stark using his new whiplash weapon, while his Army liaison, Lt. Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), worries his friend’s newfound power is going to his head. Oh, and then there’s Stark’s love life as his wandering eye latches on to his new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), now that his new love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), has been promoted to CEO of Stark Industries.

It’s to Favreau’s credit that he crams so much plot into the film’s two hours and still maintains such a brisk pace. Frankly, that’s also part of the movie’s problem as it moves so quickly during its first half hour that the film resembles a blur. Also problematic is banter between the characters. Favreau strives to create a rat-a-tat rhythm with the dialogue, a la Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, but all that results is verbal confusion. The actors wind up stepping on each other’s lines rather than punctuating them. There’s a sense that all involved are trying too hard to please, putting a strain on the film that wasn’t present in the original. Downey Jr. is particularly guilty as his physical tics dominate his performance. Equally troubling is that his hurried turn makes Stark more obnoxious than he should be, casting him as a character who’s hard to sympathize with.

That being said, the film rights itself whenever the action kicks in. Favreau’s strong suit is his resistance to cut away from a sequence too quickly as his peers often do. The fights on display are easy to follow and genuinely thrilling, particularly during the film’s extended climax when Iron Man and his ally, War Machine, take on an army of high-powered drones. The action here is among the best in recent memory. These moments, as well as the worthy villain created by Rourke and strong work from the rest of the cast, make Iron Man 2 a true crowd-pleaser that extends Marvel Studios’ winning streak and serves as a worthy chapter in their lead up to 2012’s Avengers feature.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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