More is less in the sequel to 2008’s blockbuster. Granted, the first Iron Man wasn’t any great shakes in originality, but it coasted on star Robert Downey Jr.’s wisenheimer insouciance and director Jon Favreau’s swagger. Despite a formulaic third act, it’s a movie people remember as better than it really is, probably because the bratty attitude and sassy characterizations were a breath of fresh air in this age of somber superhero sagas.
Sadly, the second installment feels like four films crammed into one. We’ve got Tony Stark (Downey) getting carried away with his celebrity, mocking the government and making a mess of superheroism while headed for a breakdown.
Second, there’s a bitter feud with Mickey Rourke’s tattooed badass, who teams up with Stark’s rival, Sam Rockwell’s wormy weapons designer, for some mayhem.
And since this is a franchise, we must endure 30 minutes of setup for the upcoming Avengers epic.
Did I mention that Tony Stark is dying and needs to invent a new periodic element to save himself?
But despite being structurally disastrous, Iron Man 2 is still entertaining. Favreau’s breakthrough was writing Swingers, and his 2001 directorial debut Made remains one of the most brilliant dark comedies of recent years. The man has an ear for screwball banter, and seems to take pleasure in allowing his actors to riff off one another.
You won’t find a more overqualified cast all year, as Downey, Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Garry Shandling and Don Cheadle step on each other’s lines with improvisation as Rourke glowers menacingly from the sidelines.
Then come the CGI effects, and everything becomes a yawn.
We’re denied the nature-doc staples: no music, no soothing narration by Morgan Freeman and, best yet, no anthropomorphizing.
Not even Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan could make this vigilante bullshit work.
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