With the world now aware of his dual life as the armored superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces pressure from the government, the press, and the public to share his technology with the military. Unwilling to let go of his invention, Stark, along with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) at his side, he must forge new alliances and confront powerful enemies. 

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Rust sets into an original action hero franchise.

In director Jon Favreau’s much-anticipated sequel, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)’s most pressing concern is the volatility of his life force, palladium. The fuel that keeps him alive is stored in the glowing reactor in his chest cavity, and its after-effects are infecting his blood and will soon kill him. Though he must overcome a seething adversary in Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Stark’s predicament sits directly at odds with the wondrous sense of discovery that his new 'heart’ provided in 2008’s smash-hit original. Now, the heart is regressing, as Stark’s greed and ego tarnishes both Iron Man’s lustre and the immense goodwill the first film engendered in fans. As our hero searches for a strong pulse in the withering bio-mechanics of his own creation, so does the audience.

Following a dour pre-credit sequence that establishes Rourke’s (rather insipid) motives for revenge, Favreau ups the tempo with two talky, over-edited scenes that re-affirms Stark’s status as a Richard Branson-like corporate showman (fireworks and dancing girls, kids!), and reminds us that he is no friend of the government/military machine. Fronting a Senate committee intent on forcibly acquiring the Iron Man technology, Stark engages in a war of words with Senator Stern (a miscast Garry Shandling, providing lame comic relief), slimeball weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and soft-hearted military man (and Stark ally) James Rhodes, played this time by Don Cheadle (who assumed the role after Terence Howard baulked at the sequel due to a pay dispute).

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark’s PA and reluctant friend and confidante, is once again on hand to mop up the mess caused by Stark’s brashness; the old-married couple-like banter that Downey Jr and Paltrow have mastered is easily the most enjoyable aspect of an otherwise witless script. Stark’s decision to hand the reins of his corporation over to Potts allows for the introduction of a striking Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman (aka Black Widow, though her comic-book name is never revealed in the film), a minion of the firm’s legal department.

After arriving in Monaco for a Formula 1 race in which Stark has a stake, Downey Jr. and Rockwell get to indulge in a fleeting, funny scene, pitting one alpha-male against another. It’s delightful; the quick verbal jousting recalls the skill Favreau displayed in his script for Swingers (1996) and only makes one wish the two masters of eccentric characterisations had more screen time together.

It is midway through the Formula 1 race sequence that the audience gets to experience the film’s first big (and best) action set piece, and discover the vengeful might of Rourke’s Whiplash persona. Cracking energised whips of steel, painted in tattoos and brandishing gold teeth, a buffed bod and bad streaks, Whiplash cuts a swathe through the competitors and nearly accomplishes his mission to destroy Stark. Sensing a kindred spirit, Rockwell’s Hammer sees a means by which to exploit Whiplash and bring down Stark for good.

The film then awkwardly staggers between too many scenes of metal work and techno-babble – at one point, three plotlines converge and Favreau cuts interminably between Stark, Vanko and Rhodes, all in various stages of suit-construction. Favreau also indulges in a wan exploration of the father/son complex that presumably, was to have provided an emotional centre to the film, but never does. In a cumbersome subplot that weighs down the middle hour of the film, Stark is burdened with two patriarchal influences – his real-life father, the company founder Howard (Mad Men’s John Slattery, appearing in nicely-reconstructed Super-8mm footage) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, phoning in an appearance as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the mysterious organisation that oversees Iron Man’s deeds).

The conclusion to the sequel is a cacophonous orgy of militaristic might run amok. Dozens of innocent civilians/extras would have died given the destructive force unleashed, but...well, never mind.

Iron Man 2 ticks all the pro/con boxes associated with the sequel to what was a surprise mega-hit. The action is amped-up to 11; lots of extra dollars are thrown at casting, special effects and location filming in an effort to swell the franchise to a grand scale. But all this extra effort drains the inherent sense of what was fun about the original, darkening it with issues and complexities that unnecessarily muddy the crisp, clearly commercial premise.

The palladium sub-plot at the core of Iron Man 2 makes plain the point that the hero, like that other Hollywood tin man before him, is in search of a heart. However, the metaphor goes beyond the narrative and speaks of the film’s central weakness. Iron Man 2 is a big, loud, stockholder-friendly studio profit centre initiative. The first film started with a witty, exciting script and took flight; the sequel started with a title and worked backwards, hoping to recapture whatever sparks electrified the first film. In mimicking its predecessor, Iron Man 2 occasionally soars, but more often than not falls back to Earth with a disappointing thud.

Details

M
2 hours 4 min
In Cinemas 29 April 2010,
Thu, 10/07/2010 - 11

Genres