‘Iron Man 2’ a downer, disappointment

Posted May 13, 2010, at 8:04 p.m.

In theaters

IRON MAN 2, directed by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Theroux, 117 minutes, rated PG-13.

The overhyped Jon Favreau movie “Iron Man 2” is a downer and a disappointment, especially when compared with the entertaining first movie on the same subject.

For the most part, the original movie’s pleasures came from the attention paid to its script, its accomplished performances and the fact that the movie was driven by its characters first and its action second.

As impressive as it was (watching Stark learn how to fly as Iron Man was among the film’s highlights), the reason the movie worked as well as it did is the very reason most good movies work as well as they do — you cared about the characters, the plot was involving, the production was polished. But in “Iron Man 2,” which loses the first film’s original four writers in favor of Justin Theroux, those elements are weakened to the point where bombast smashes hard into banality.

On paper, the sequel certainly looks promising. It features Robert Downey Jr. returning in the lead as the cocky, ultra-smart industrialist Tony Stark, whose sideline is well known as Iron Man; Gwyneth Paltrow reprising her role as Stark’s kind-of, sort-of girlfriend, Pepper Potts; and Favreau himself as one of Stark’s bumbling boobs.

Joining them this time around are a group of actors who also offer a swirl of promise: Sam Rockwell as Iron Man’s nemesis, Justin Hammer, and Scarlett Johansson in a dual performance best left discovered on the screen; Garry Shandling as a smarmy senator determined to get hold of Stark’s Iron Man suit; Don Cheadle taking over for Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; and best of all, Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a mysterious Russian out to undo Stark because of the atrocities Stark’s father inflicted upon Vanko’s own father.

So, those are most of the characters, which is enough to digest. But why stop there. After all, this is the launch of the blockbuster movie season, where a more-is-more sensibility is presumed to be better. And so in this film, we also have all of its plots and subplots, which further bog down the movie’s momentum.

A few worth mentioning are Stark’s struggle to accept how his father really felt about him; Stark’s struggle to verbalize how he feels about Pepper, to whom he hands over the family business; Stark’s struggle to stay alive when his mechanical heart starts to poison him; and the movie’s struggle to shoehorn all of the aforementioned characters and their roles into the film itself.

It’s too much, so much so that the relationship you really want to see most come to a head onscreen — the fight between Iron Man and Rourke’s villain, Whiplash, who sports metal dentures and electrified tentacles — is sidelined because there are too many other matters to attend to, such as squeezing Johansson into her skintight leather dominatrix drag, which she works the hell out of.

The trailer promises audiences that Iron Man and Whiplash will have a go of it in this movie, and while they do, they only share the screen in two sequences. Otherwise, they oddly are kept apart, which sucks the movie free of the kind of white-hot tension it could have had. Yes, it’s still fun to watch Iron Man fly around while his alter-ego rips off the one-liners, and yes, the movie looks good in cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s capable hands. But there are other hands at work here — Favreau’s and Theroux’s — and with what they’ve done is to choke so much life out of the franchise, it’s surprising that Iron Man’s suit doesn’t turn blue by the time the last of so many explosions roars onscreen. Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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Renting a DVD? BDN film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases. Those capitalized and in bold print are new to stores this week.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — C

Avatar — A-

The Blind Side — B+

Body of Lies — C

The Box — B-

Broken Embraces — B+

Coraline — A

Couple’s Retreat — D+

Crazy Heart — B+

DAYBREAKERS — B-

Did You Hear About the Morgans? — D

District 9 — B

Drag Me to Hell — B+

Earth — B

EDGE OF DARKNESS — C

An Education — B

Elegy — A-

Everybody’s Fine — D+

Extract — C+

Fantastic Mr. Fox — A-

The Fourth Kind — D

Funny People — C+

I Love You, Man — B+

Inglourious Basterds — A-

It’s Complicated — B

INVICTUS — B+

Julie & Julia — B+

Law Abiding Citizen — D+

The Lovely Bones — B

Michael Jackson’s This is It — A

Old Dogs — F

Precious — A-

The Proposal — C+

Role Models — B+

A Serious Man — B+

Sherlock Holmes — B+

State of Play — B-

Surrogates — B-

TOOTH FAIRY — C-

Twilight: New Moon — C-

2012 — C-

Up — B+

Up in the Air — A

VALENTINE’S DAY — C-

WHEN IN ROME — D

Where the Wild Things Are — B+

Zombieland — A

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