|Iron Man 2
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, and Gwyneth Paltrow
More mainstream than its predecessor, Iron Man 2 is less a comic book film than it is a Hollywood blockbuster, following mostly the same structural guidelines that have steered summer movies since, probably, Independence Day. It's a better story than the way it's told, and the performances are mostly just call and response, but damn it, this is a lot of fun. Ultimately, that will be your barometer on the second Iron Man movie: Do you want it to be more serious, going deeper into the troubled life of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) or do you want a two-hour movie trailer? There's nothing wrong with either, although minus Downey's brilliant creation of Stark as a snarky celebrity roast panelist in the first film, the series itself seemed to be pointing in a heavier direction. There are elements of that here as well, but realistically, that's all Iron Man 2 has -- elements. Again, it bears pointing out that director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Theroux have hit upon a fantastic and timely story and a couple of the subplots aren't bad either, but there's a traffic jam of characters and a few scenes that, somewhat transparently, just don't work at all, primarily because there's only so much you can do in a certain amount of time. In the months after the events of the first film, Stark is subpoenaed by the Senate to testify on whether or not the Iron Man technology should be turned over to the US government. Taking a cue from current events, there's reason to believe that North Korea, Iran, and probably non-affiliated interested parties are working to develop their own ultimate weapon. Among those lone rogue elements is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the hardest-edged Russian physicist ever, or at least since Fyodor Reshetnikov. He's never called Whiplash in the film, by the way, although the electro-charged bullwhips are his calling card. Arguably the scene with the most impact (and some of the most excess) in Iron Man 2 is the first confrontation between Stark and Vanko at a grand prix race in Monaco. If you've seen the trailers, you know the score. It crystallizes the thrust of the story - that anyone can really become their own Iron Man, thereby making a great peacekeeper an even more dangerous weapon - and Rourke absolutely sells it. There's a Dark Knight-styled interrogation between hero and villain that follows it, and again, all eyes are on Mickey Rourke. Had Iron Man 2 just devoted itself to this part of the story, it probably would have worked out considerably better. The tangent off of the Vanko storyline involves Stark's rival defense contractor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), and that would have been a fantastic movie on its own featuring three of the biggest risk-takers going in the leading man/character actor category. But it's not meant to be.