As superhero sequels go, they go darker, meaner and meatier. Think of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which completely throws it out of the park, knocking down genre conventions and emerge as a genuine masterwork that rises up above its superhero contemporaries. That is supposedly the trend, but other Hollywood’s recent superhero foster child like Iron Man tends to go the other way around. Jon Favreau’s first gig of the franchise was a blast of fresh air, making Iron Man a zesty, occasionally irreverent, take on the conventional superhero movie with a central protagonist whose ego is bigger than himself. Proud, cocky and a bit of a smart-aleck, Tony Stark is something of a nutso creation – a multi-billionaire-cum-megalomaniac, lightyears away from the post-teenage spunk of Peter Parker, the father issues of Clark Kent and the moral anguish of Bruce Wayne. And in Iron Man 2, Robert Downey Jr., a Has-Been-Turned-Comeback-Superstar, now Hollywood’s go-to guy, embodies Stark impeccably with a natural swagger and a tousled, I-don’t-give-a-shit demeanour. But whilst Downey is notable, the rest of the film isn’t. In this sequel, the spark and lustre of its predecessor are gone. And we are left with a script that’s cluttered, overstuffed yet bereft of any meaty chunk to chew on.
Gone is the parable of terrorism, and instead we have a tale of revenge criss-crossing with a plot on rivalry. After a supremely dull opening montage (the sight of Mickey Rourke as the vindictive Russian Ivan Ivanko assembling a suit is tediously familiar), we are plunged into Tony Stark’s world purview, being transformed into something more than just cocky – but a real cock. After the moral travails he went through the first, you’d somehow expect Stark’s a changed man. But he’s gone worse, pulling of a gone-off-the-rails stunt which doesn’t come across as funny but very irritating. And there are a lot of other characters to deal with, some ranging from mediocre to just unnecessary. Sam Rockwell’s rival weapons manufacturer Hammer delivers the quips and oiliness but suffers a lot of character stereotype. Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard) as Stark’s military best-bud is as dramatically stiff as his metal-cast suit. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots aka the Love Interest is reduced to some nagging figure. Scarlett Johansson, whilst ultra-sexy lashing out high-kicks in a vaguely kinky outfit as Black Widow, feels inessential to the entire plot. And even Samuel L. Jackson is misplaced in this film, reminding us that this isn’t much of a sequel but rather a platform to which Marvel Studios launches The Avengers. Here, characters seem like walking and talking teasers for a forthcoming franchise. So even when we’re blasted through an action-packed final act, with regenerated Iron Man clashing against a host of renegade metal machines, we’re left devoid of any affection or even just an iota of connection. And that’s a true sign of a bad moviegoing experience.
This is exactly what you’d expect with your typical Hollywood mainstream fare – a lot of noise and little story, and if there’s one, it’s clunky, convoluted, cluttered and damningly clichéd. Save from the swagger of one Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 2 is nothing but an orgy of FX metal play that’s as emotionally catatonic as a junkyard.