Sunday, May 16, 2010

Reel To Reel: Iron Man 2

Quit being weird and suit up, already!

Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Action violence, some mild language

The original Iron Man worked because it took a comic-book hero and made it into a quirky semi-comic action film. We loved Robert Downey's eccentricity... but not this much. The sequel is plagued by too many tangents, too much talking, and not enough time in the suit.

Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) has got it all and even more. He has "successfully privatized world peace," with the Iron Man suit, and nobody can stop him from using it, not even the government or a pesky senator (Gary Shandling in a cameo) who want the goods. He's also got toys -- lots of cool toys, with see-through displays and holographic virtual-reality working environments in his basement lab. I wonder why the government isn't asking for those, too. Stark's mobile device makes the iPhone look like Gordon Gekko's brick cell phone in Wall Street.

Stark has lots of trouble, too. The very technology that powers the suit and Stark's heart is also killing him, as toxic elements seep into his blood. A competitor, Justin Hammer (Rockwell) wants to put him out of business. Evil Russian Ivan Vanko (Rourke), the son of a spurned collaborator, is developing his own iron suit, and this one has high-voltage whips that cut through metal like butter. He's also got that bubbling love interest in his personal assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) that never seems to get going.

Can you keep track of all this for two hours and four minutes? Good. You'll enjoy the film. But be advised, you'll have to put up with about half an hour of meandering setup, where all of these elements are thrown into play and we're exposed to way too much of Stark's wonder-boy aura. This is highlighted in a rambling speech to a gargantuan technology expo that mimics a World's Fair.

Not that the picture doesn't have action: it features three good battles, including one against his Pentagon pal Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (Cheadle) who decides to suit up in a haphazardly-executed plot twist. We also have the return of Nick Fury's (Jackson) super-secret spook agency who's either got Stark's back or is trying to stab it. I'm not really sure.

Iron Man 2 isn't a bad film, just a very disjointed one. It needs to be thrown into the lab and distilled down to its essence of a nerd genius with attention-deficit disorder and a need to repent of his arms-dealing sins. In sequels, the temptation is to go bigger rather than streamlining. Spider-Man 2 demonstrates this. This movie doesn't.

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