Two years ago, when Robert Downey Jr. transformed from billionaire playboy Tony Stark into a hip, metal-clad hero, attacking corporate amorality and skewering the military/industrial complex, the result was a mega-hit, grossing $579 million globally.
Here’s the highly anticipated sequel and the question is: Will it be one of those rare second installments that equals or surpasses the original or will it disappoint? The answer is neither. It’s a good – but not great – popcorn picture.
Tony Stark has become pathologically conflicted about the complexities of his legacy and inevitable demise, since he has a nuclear reactor integrated into part of his anatomy and the high-tech is slowly poisoning his blood. Stark’s new nemesis is a tattooed, muscle-bound, revenge-seeking Russian physicist, Ivan Venko (Mickey Rourke) – a.k.a. Whiplash – who creates similar super-powered armor and is bankrolled by rival wealthy arms dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who’d like his own private army of Iron Men. (As a side note, before Downey accepted the part, scene-stealing Sam Rockwell was originally considered as Tony Stark.) There’s also Stark’s sexy new aide, covert superspy Natasha Romanoff/Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who causes friction with Stark’s conscientious CEO, his former confidante/assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Espionage agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) returns and new to the franchise is Lt. Col. Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Stark’s right-hand man who becomes the War Machine. (Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard after a salary dispute).
Despite a slow midsection, weighed down with extraneous characters and shallow, dialogue-heavy subplots, writer Justin Theroux and director Jon Favreau deliver an edgy, provocative beginning and noisy, metal-on-metal conclusion, seasoned with considerable wit, and cameos by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and comedian Gary Shandling, plus terrific visual/CG action at Monaco’s Grand Prix and the Stark Expo site in New York’s Flushing Meadows.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Iron Man 2” blasts in with an action-packed 8, including Avenger references that fuel speculation about a future Marvel Universe, featuring superheroes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk.