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'Iron Man 2'

Sequel engages, but won't blow you away

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Posted: Saturday, May 15, 2010 12:00 am

I will be on vacation next week, so for my next column I'll be doing a preview for June-August summer releases. Regular reviews will return the following week with looks at "Robin Hood" and "Macgruber" and, if the reviews are promising, "Shrek Forever After."

The summer movie season is now officially in full swing, with the release of the hotly anticipated "Iron Man" sequel kicking off what looks to be a pretty sweet few months for high-profile studio films.

I will freely admit that "Iron Man 2" is wrought with narrative problems and showcases some pretty bizarre directorial decisions (more on those doozies in a moment), but my lukewarm recommendation is carefully considered — this is not comparable to the "Spider-Man 3" situation, in which my intense admiration of the second "Spider-Man" film clouded my judgment to such an extraordinary extent that I fooled myself into believing part three was a semi-worthy motion picture when it was, in reality, a comically bad B-movie padded with $300 million worth of special effects.

No, "Iron Man 2" isn't a crushing disappointment that will leave you feeling sullied and unusual — on the contrary, it's a consistently engaging, often clever film that delivers every bit of action and comedic banter one could expect.

It's just that the good stuff is broken up and often muted by some very poor decisions made by director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux, leaving viewers with a film that will have them cheering one moment and scratching their heads in bewilderment the next. Overall, though, it's an enjoyable flick, and an acceptable launch for the 2010 summer movie season.

"Iron Man 2"

** 1/2 (out of four)

2010, Jon Favreau, U.S., PG-13

A couple years ago, "Iron Man" came out of the blue to immediately situate itself as one of the great superhero entries. It lacked the scope of the new "Batman" films and the emotional pull of the first two "Spider-Man" movies, but it was embedded with such a bright, pop-bubblegum aesthetic and badass attitude that director Jon Favreau's lack of nuts-and-bolts filmmaking ability didn't really matter.

It was an experience that managed to be far greater than the sum of its parts — pure movie magic, with palpable energy and a grand sense of "let's go save the world" fun.

"Iron Man 2" attempts to recapture that same flag-waving, fist-pumping fervor, with mixed results.

As the film opens, tech titan Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is enjoying his life out in the open. He publicly revealed himself as the superhero Iron Man at the very end of the first film, and now he's taking full advantage of his international superstardom.

The United States government, however, isn't so enamored with Iron Man, and demands that Stark turn over the "weapon" for government use.

Enter Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Stark's primary competitor in weapons development, who is working in tandem with the feds to replicate and improve upon Stark's technology.

Through the course of the film Stark must also contend with Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a revenge-minded Russian scientist who wants to use his own similar weapon to destroy both Stark and his legacy.

Some have complained that the film offers either too much or too little in the way of plot, but I don't think that's the most important issue here.

What's far more detrimental to the film as a whole is the random atrocious decisions made by Favreau and company. This can be seen right from the terribly rushed opening sequence, which depicts Vanko mourning his dead father and swearing revenge on Stark, whom he holds responsible for daddy's ruin.

It is only after the opening credits that we see Iron Man for the first time, diving out of a jet to make one hell of an entrance at his own technology expo. Wouldn't it have been better toopen the film with a bang instead of a whimper, and introduce Vanko a bit later?

Being too picky, am I? (Warning: Here be minor spoilers.)

OK, what about the scene midway through the film in which Stark, for reasons of which I cannot begin to conceive, decides to get drunk in his Iron Man suit and do battle with his best friend, Lt. Col. Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrance Howard), also donning a suit?

It makes no sense and is, for lack of a better word, stupid.

Same goes for the presence of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (nee Natalia Romanov), a Stark cohort who does nothing — absolutely nothing — but stand around looking sultry. There's no reason for her to even be here.

And don't even get me ranting about the concluding action sequence featuring Whiplash in full Iron Man gear — a great set-up that fizzles thanks to a showdown that lasts roughly 45 seconds.

Alone, none of these oversights would have meant much. But taken in sum, they threaten to sully the entire film.

In the end, though, despite these unforgivable sins, "Iron Man 2" almost comes out on top thanks to a couple quality action sequences, Downey, Jr.'s natural charisma and, perhaps most importantly, Rockwell's fun, polished portrayal of Hammer.

The performance is all malicious cockiness and geek swagger, and the character provides for several of the film's funniest bits. (My favorite: Hammer waxing poetic to Rhodes about his favorite bunker-busting smart bomb. Priceless stuff.) The best part: It's likely he'll be around for future series installments, because does anyone seriously think they're going to stop at three?

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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