IRON MAN 2 2/4
Paramount Pictures, Rated R
Returning to the screen in excessively ostentatious self-congratulatory mode, the over-wrought and flashy Iron Man 2 could have used a bit of oiling to smooth out its more than clunky attitude. Turning up again less as a sequel than as footage retrieved from the first film’s cutting room floor, Iron Man 2 virtually discards back story for brashly assumed bragging rights. And while crafting the hyperactive follow-up in lazy mode, director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) seem to have forgotten that show-and-tell spectacles need to show as well.
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Iron Man 2 drops rather than sails into theaters, as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) pompously presides over a worshipful Expo gushfest in Flushing. Declaring he’s successfully “privatized peace” across the planet in contrast to the ineffective U.S. government, Stark inevitably sets himself up for multiple jealous rivals: government officials plotting to acquire his weaponry for themselves, devious flamboyant tycoon competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Russian brainy bad guy Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).
Shifting the action from Flushing to Monaco, Iron Man 2 finds Stark in the local racing competition. And, with Vanko waiting in the wings to tear up the track with an invented incendiary device or two of his own, while chewing on a toothpick when not the scenery, and spouting evidently mean-spirited rants without benefit of subtitles and a bad Russian accent.
At the same time, dual damsels Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) fret over Stark and his assorted mishaps. Scarlett’s impressively graceful beatdown of an entire staff of male bodyguards in her alternate secret kick-butt persona Black Widow nearly upstages the final showdown among clumsy fashionista Iron Man clones and drones. On the other hand, dainty Gwyneth mostly sniffles and whines, biding her time and waiting patiently for her eventual awkward big kiss scene, as part of the “stable-ish” relationship with her loony metalhead lover.
Iron Man 2 is only into its second of who knows how many sequels and it’s already getting a little rusty. Downey retains his Chaplin-esque eccentric charm, but it’s beginning to wear a little thin, and newcomers Sam and Scarlett are formidable scene stealers whenever they’re around. It all adds up to a sequel with a serious Iron deficiency.