When we last saw Iron Man he had a perfectly functioning palladium mechanical heart and a best friend who looked a lot like Terrence Howard. How times have changed. In “Iron Man 2” a mysterious malady is threatening to sideline his success and Jim Rhodes, his BFF, now looks like Don Cheadle.
In the time since the previous “Iron Man” movie, (two years in real time, six months in the story) oddball weapons inventor Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has become a national hero. He’s one part Bono, two parts George Patton. His technologies, including the famous heavy metal suit, are keeping America safe, but not everyone are fans. The US Senate—in particular Senator Stern (Garry Shandling)—sees the egomaniacal inventor as a threat and wants him to hand over his secrets. Then there is his rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, the best actor out there who isn’t a major movie star), an unctuous arms dealer working for the government. He can best be described as a Stark wannabe whose technology is nowhere near as advanced as Stark’s. Even worse is Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), a Russia engineer whose father used to work with Stark’s old man. The weathered looking Vanko Jr. has built his own suit, this one equipped with whip-like attachments that harness electrical energy. As if that weren’t enough bad guys, even Bill O’Reilly makes a cameo.
Worst of all, though, Stark’s own technology may be working against him. It appears he is slowly being poisoned by the palladium that powers the miniature arc reactor in his chest.
On the plus side there’s loyal old Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) Stark’s Louboutin-sporting confidant who is now CEO of Stark Industries and Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) Stark’s new assistant. She’s also a S.H.I.E.L.D. (if you sat through the credits of the first film you’ll remember S.H.I.E.L.D. as the fictional espionage and law-enforcement agency run by Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson) undercover agent named Black Widow who wears tight leather outfits and shows an until now unseen capacity for gymnastics.
There’s more plot and characters, but I’m almost out of space and haven’t gotten to the review yet and that is part of the problem with the movie. The first “Iron Man” was as clean and concise as a huge summer comic book blockbuster can be—solid characters, not too many of them, and a clear cut story. This time around the director Jon Favreau has thrown simplicity out the window, opting instead for Michael Bay style bombast. Where the first “Iron Man” was an idiosyncratic character study with cool action sprinkled throughout, the new one reverses that formula, relying on action to carry the day.
The characters are still fairly strong, but Downey’s charm seems to have faded a bit since he last wore the iron suit. Maybe we got to know him too well two years ago, but here the character doesn’t have the same kind of fresh appeal he had the first time around.
Perhaps it’s because the overall tone of the film is darker, but “Iron Man 2” isn’t as much fun as the original. It should please comic fans familiar with the storyline and characters, and it certainly has its moments—things go boom and Rourke is a convincing, if underused villain—but like the “Spider Man” movies, which got bigger, but not necessarily better as time went on, “Iron Man 2” feels a bit leaden. Leaden or not, though, this will be the biggest hit this summer NOT in 3D.