Iron Mania

IRONically enough, Iron Man 2 finds its superhero and film franchise in their weakest state yet, literally and figuratively. I am, by no means, a metallurgist, but writer-director John Favreau has diluted this superhero movie to the level of Aluminum Man or even Tin Man … in search of a brain. Maybe that was the Scarecrow in search of a brain … who knows. But I digress.

Picking up right where the 2008 box-office smash left off, this movie finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in his newly found roles of humanitarian and advocate for the privatization of world peace. Using his Iron Man suit, narcissistic playboy Stark successfully takes world matters into his own hands. However, as Stark’s palladium core (the light dealio that keeps him alive) begins to poison him and a new/more powerful villain (Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke) enters the picture, things begin to spin out of Stark’s ever-so-tight control.

Vanko builds an even more potent iron suit and seeks out revenge for the death of his father, a former Stark Industries business partner). As Stark’s business competitors embrace Vanko’s talented vision and provide the Russian with the proper funding, Iron Man and Tony Stark become a weak and dying breed, running out of options and help.

Now, when an action comic book movie becomes dependent on solid performances to be successful, it is a bad-news-bears situation. Comic book movies should be action packed, thrilling, hilarious, dramatic and briskly paced; Iron Man 2 can never quite make it all work, although it does have its moments.

Luckily, the A-List actors can bear the weight of the movie. Robert Downey, Jr. is spot-on (per usual) as the narcissistic, arrogant, yet eroding Tony Stark. Mickey Rourke is fantastic as the Russian villain Ivan Vanko, flawless accent and all. Don Cheadle is subdued and hilarious as Rhodey. Gwyneth Paltrow is brilliant with everything the writer-director gives her as Pepper Potts. Sam Rockwell, playing Justin Hammer, adds a subtle level of nuance to the corporate tycoon that makes him just as intriguing as any other plotline we are following. Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson make appearances and add very little to the film.

Yet, despite the fine performances, there are just too many plot lines here that are never fully explored. The film becomes increasingly unfocused as it plays on and proves to be more of a rock concert catering to the greasy 14-year-old Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen boy crowd. Different task forces and agencies are thrown into the mix, and it only weakens our interest in Iron Man and the film altogether. An overload of characters and plotlines draw us away from the core characters and Tony Stark’s overall struggle: to find his place in society and discover who he truly is.

The climax of the movie is far from climactic, but the actors sell it to the best of their abilities. You can just feel John Favreau stretching himself thin by setting up for sequels and inserting plotlines for the sake of The Avengers franchise, slated for Summer 2012. What worked in Iron Man was its refreshing approach to the comic book genre by making it completely character driven. The special effects and action completely coincided with Tony Stark’s footloose and fancy free attitude toward life. Iron Man 2 sacrifices the brains and just gives us brawn.

I would recommend this movie if: 1) you really liked the first one, 2) you enjoy any works of Robert Downey, Jr. or Mickey Rourke and 3) if you want something with mindless humor, great special effects and minimal attention requirement.