Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Film Review: Iron Man 2

"Iron Man 2" is a vibrant but forgettable spectacle, a sharp light that momentarily blurs your vision and then fades into anonymity.

With superhero movies coming out every month for the past few years, the excitement is lesser, but the stakes are consistently higher. Either skewer the genre ("Kick-Ass") or make the best entry yet ("The Dark Knight"). “Iron Man 2” does not try to be the best; it tries to be the fastest.

At the onset, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has revealed his identity as Iron Man to the public and rejects the U.S. government’s commands to hand over his inventions.

Stark is slowly being poisoned by the palladium in his arc reactor, he acts irrationally and promotes his secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to CEO in what is already a severely understaffed corporation.

Stark admitting that he’s Iron Man causes such a media circus that, in the world of the movie’s first half, his life is practically broadcast on TV. From a live session with the Senate on C-SPAN to the car racetrack on a sports network

Director Jon Favreau - a chummier Brett Ratner - goes ahead with the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy in almost every way. He even gives himself a bigger cameo role in the sequel. He’s not just delivering Burger King happy meals this time.

“Swingers” fans, note the inclusion of “Picking up the Pieces” in one of the expo scenes.

More so than the first film, the sequel cobbles together the pedigree of several big-name actors: Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell (who might have the biggest part as a Queens-based weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer), Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Shandling, not to mention, it’s penned by actor Justin Theroux. The machine appears not just to be onscreen but in backstage Hollywood.

In a film with this many major characters (and this many egomaniacs), backstory must be concise but essential. Russian physicist/ex-con Ivan Vanko, played by Rourke, may boast impressive credentials and a genius father, but from what the viewer sees, he’s no more than a criminal with a limited vocabulary and a distinct likeness to Randy "The Ram" Robinson.

The second act, while still propulsive, is wasteful. Stark acts like a belligerent drunk and sulks over daddy issues. Like the protagonist, the movie is running on a battery and has to re-up midway so as to deliver through to the end.

The party scene would have been entirely superfluous even if it didn’t give Col. James Rhodes a reason to sell the suit, feature Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” and an allusion to Gallagher’s watermelon shtick.

The Avengers, the film series’ add-on subplot, has gone nowhere after two movies. Jackson as Nick Fury shows up post-credits in the first film to appease comic book nuts, yet in the sequel, he awkwardly appears in two scenes with Stark, which play like some out-of-context job interview. But Fury’s not a recruiter; he’s a cocky intruder in a boxed-in script.

The pacing on the whole still makes the film nonstop fun despite the aggressive commercialism and the lackluster snark that has since eroded from its peak form in the original. This speeding-bullet actioner doesn’t quite warrant a follow-up third film in spite of the thin Avengers hook. Yet considering the velocity of the visuals chewing up frame after frame of “Iron Man 2,” signs say no. 3 will be here soon enough.

6 out of 10

Frame of reference:
Iron Man 7/10
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 8/10
Sherlock Holmes 5/10
Superman 9/10
Watchmen 6/10
Swingers 8/10