As Iron Man 2 begins, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Starkmechanical genius, Forbes 400 perennial, the pop-star CEO of Stark Industrieshas dropped any pretense of a secret identity, dealing now with the murderous envy created by conspicuous success. Enter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a rogue Russian physicist whose lifelong grudge against the Stark family inspires him to weld together his own knockoff suit. He'll find a sponsor in CEO Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a Tony Stark imitator whose Hammer Industries finishes a consistent second place to Stark. The screenplay, by Justin Theroux, trusts that More Is More. There's techie lifestyle porn, hot cars, hot guns, establishing shots jetting from Moscow to Malibu to Monaco, and three dozen comic books' worth of exposition girdled into two straining hours. The elements that made the first Iron Man a rather likable blockbuster have not entirely evaporated. Director Jon Favreau brings together interesting American movie stars and lets them actually play through scenes (even though Rourke and Rockwell play theirs together as if in two differentboth interestingmovies). But the only reason Sam Jackson's Agent Nick Fury shows up is, essentially, to do press for the upcoming Avengers movie. This sub-subplot is symptomatic of the franchise-first mindset in the era of the $200M "Episode," where films are constructed less as freestanding edifices than as elements in superstructures. The idea is that we learn to trust that any extraneous-seeming thread will connect to something in another couple of summers and pay off, assuming the movie does.
May 7-26, 2010