Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Iron Man 2" Review

I was among many surprised by the first “Iron Man” film—Though not at the quality of its content, but rather by the hyperbolic praise it inspired.

Two years later, I approached its sequel with adjusted expectations. I don’t hold the original in high enough regard to register disappointment here, but this follow-up choreographs a demented dance from the collective missteps of its predecessor. The sloppy superhero storytelling that seized the reins around the midpoint of ye olde “Iron Man One” is in full control of this galloping horse and buggy, and it’s a long, stupid ride.

The nucleus of the problem is that our hero’s alter ego, played winningly by Robert Downey Jr., is infinitely more compelling than that guy from the title. Everything interesting about Iron Man is on the interior of the suit, and Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire, disappears inside of it.

Superman, Batman, and Spiderman—the undisputed triple-A heroes—all have distinct personas once they get into character; they’re more distilled versions of themselves. Maybe there’s something else to be said with a man whose true identity is anything but secret, but when Stark changes wardrobe, he leaves his soul on the vanity. Not only does he look like a robot as Iron Man, but he behaves like a children’s action figure with limited functionality—You know, six points of articulation, few to no action phrases, batteries not included—Screenwriter Justin Theroux appears to identify this weakness, minimizing Stark’s in-suit exploits, but heaping on extraneous subplot in its place.

And those are the swirling protons and neutrons in the tempest of troubles Iron Man battles between the lines. Never mind that we have a great villain and a terrific performance by Mickey Rourke, let’s have Iron Man fight a slew of robots—Or, I’m sorry, ‘drones.’ By the way, is there a duller word in the English language than ‘drone?’

Then add a throwaway ‘didn’t know my daddy’ motif; the meddling foundation of the upcoming “Avengers” film; the egotistical self-casting of director Jon Favreau as a disposable but oddly recurrent bodyguard (who also just so happens to have a fight scene alongside Scarlett Johansson); Stark’s diminishing health; and his floundering friendship with buddy Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and you have a film pulled in more directions than it has the means to navigate.

The result is an impossible staircase of sloppily intersecting ideas and characters, with plotlines too thick to funnel into a single cohesive narrative, and too underdeveloped to be independently compelling. That “Iron Man 2” survives at all is really a miracle, and great performances where they count are largely to thank.

And yet I find myself once again in the confounded minority, bewildered by the wave of support the “Iron Man” franchise garners. When it comes to this sequel, I can count the memorable moments on one hand, and I’m pretty sure they were all in the trailer. The space between is caulked with contrivance and overstuffed with plot elements that dilute what meager strengths it has.

“Iron Man 2” isn’t a disappointment; it’s an undercooked, overblown cautionary tale of blockbuster filmmaking at its most mediocre. Adjust your expectations accordingly.


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