Robert Downey Jr. still dazzles as billionaire Tony Stark in Iron Man 2, an enjoyable but flawed sequel that keeps the Iron Man juggernaut rolling forward despite director Jon Favreau stuffing his film with a few too many villains, subplots, and future movie plugs.
Things pick up where the first left off, with Stark brazenly telling the press he’s Iron Man. Far away, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a greasy, muscular, gold-toothed Russian scientist watches the press conference on TV with his dying father and beloved cockatiel. Vanko is working on a destructive super-villain invention, and he has major reasons to be pissed at Tony Stark.
At the annual Stark Expo in Flushing, New York, Stark basks in the glory of his creation. Everybody loves Iron Man except for factions within the U. S. government who want the suit for weaponry purposes. This leads to a governmental hearing where a scheming senator (Garry Shandling) is demanding Stark hand over the Iron Man suit for the good of the country. Stark refuses and basically becomes an enemy of the state.
Also crammed into the 125-minute running time is Scarlett Johansson as a new Stark employee, who is also some sort of kick-ass spy for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, getting a little more screen time in this chapter). Fury, as comic readers know, is the leading agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., the espionage agency with a strategic alliance to The Avengers, a gathering of Marvel superheros that is soon to get its own, inevitably super-grossing, major motion picture.
Johansson’s presence feels like nothing but an obvious setup for sequels and/or spin-offs. Her character, Natasha Romanoff, is better known as Black Widow in the Marvel universe. She does look mighty fine in her tight black outfit, but she factors little in the Iron Man 2 story.
Throw in Don Cheadle competently replacing Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s best friend, and you have enough major characters for three or four superhero movies, let alone one.
On top of all this, Stark is dying. That energy reactor thing implanted in his chest is releasing toxins into his body. We know this because he has a little blood toxicity monitor that he occasionally sticks his thumb on, a device that looks like an electric guitar tuner. The toxic blood has led to a spider vein problem barreling across his chest and up his neck. It looks like the work of a highly intoxicated tribal tattoo artist.
Sam Rockwell is no slouch as Justin Hammer. He’s responsible for some of the film’s funnier moments and maintains a serviceable level of menace. Rourke’s insufferable Russian accent reminds me of Dolph Lundgren’s cartoonish villain Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. The catchphrase, “I must break you!” is replaced by the slightly less catchy, “You lose!”
The film’s niftiest new invention is Iron Man’s ability to emerge while Stark vacations overseas. While racing cars in the Monaco Grand Prix, Stark needs to perform some Iron Man antics, so he uses a suit conveniently stowed away in a suitcase. How did he get that thing through customs? Probably told them it was a super cool laptop, or just gave the bossy wand guy at the security gate a billion dollars.
With all of the above-mentioned shenanigans, Downey Jr. still finds time to riff aplenty, and screenwriter Justin Theroux, who co-wrote Tropic Thunder and helped Downey score an Oscar nomination, gives him some funny stuff. His screenplay delivers enough of the comic book mythos—maybe a little too much—to keep the geeks happy while supplying Downey with a sufficient amount of pathos and zingers.
Iron Man 2 doesn’t stand alongside the great superhero sequels like The Dark Knight, Superman II and Spider-Man 2, but it’s far better than the disasters that were Batman & Robin and Spider-Man 3. Favreau and Downey Jr. have done their jobs well with ultimately forgivable exceptions.