In 2008, Jon Favreau — the Jewfro-sporting comic whose film career includes supporting turns in “Swingers,” “Elf” and “The Break-Up” — surprised film and comic book gurus alike when he directed the politically relevant, morally reverent first “Iron Man” movie. Well, step aside “Iron Man,” because your updated, prima donna brother is in town.
“Iron Man 2”
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Lucky for you, many of his characters are miscast and his script is filled with hyperbolized plot threads sure to alienate even some of the most lenient movie enthusiasts. By now, the original “Iron Man” franchise has devolved to the extent that it is indistinguishable from any other stock superhero film. Rest assured, predecessor, your placement as one of the best comic book adaptations in recent memory is still quite safe.
Now, hyperbole in the context of a superhero movie may seem appropriate to the genre, but not when a sequel relinquishes its political vision and completely falls off the proverbial wagon, riddling its two-hour narrative (especially the first half-hour) with arbitrary cameos, flat character expression and a five-minute drunken battle between best friends clad in Iron Man suits. Ultimately, viewers are left with nothing but an emotional hangover and the distinct impression that they’ve just seen bad reality television. Naysayers, just watch the entirety of the Stark Expo scene at the beginning before you disagree.
Overall, “Iron Man 2” resembles something closer to a Mel Brooks farce or a slapstick comedy when compared to its predecessor. It’s far removed from the subtle, classy drollness of Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in the first film. The Iron Man comic was originally conceived as a commentary on the Cold War. In keeping with the spirit of intellect that inspired the first Iron Man comic, Jeff Bridges’s flexible acting abilities were a perfect complement to the intelligent (but wildly entertaining) discourse of the first “Iron Man” movie. His role as the embittered former partner of Tony Stark’s father was an excellent illustration of the conflict between greed, warfare and ethics.
Not so in the case of Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”). His portrayal of Ivan Venko, the sequel’s villain, seems like a questionable choice. Rourke said in an interview that Ivan’s trademark gold teeth and beloved parrot were paid for from his own pocket money in an attempt to render his character less “one-dimensional.” Well, suffice to say, it’s hard not to seem one-dimensional when you’ve got scarcely 80 words of dialogue in a two-hour movie. But maybe it’s better that way; the best part of “The Wrestler” was the brutal honesty of Rourke’s role, and the demeanor one would expect of Venko — a brilliant physicist’s psychotic son — simply doesn’t befit Rourke as an actor. At least he played the wrestler role well.
In its defense, “Iron Man 2” gets much better after the confounding 30-minute introduction, and Downey, Jr. possesses the same snappy poise that made his superhero debut a spectacular one. The bright, colorful “Speed Racer”-style cinematography makes for some spectacular action sequences. But in its attempt to straddle the wide gap between dramedy and action film, “Iron Man 2” makes a few errors of judgment that diminish the cerebral character of the first film and provide us with only the flashy, mind-numbing, three-act entertainment we expect from B-movies. Even so, be sure to watch all the way through the ending credits — hint, hint.