Iron Man 2  (2010)

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Can Robert Downey Jr. catch some more lightning in that there bottle? Before even seeing this movie, there are a couple of bad signs for it: first, there’s the cameo introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury at the end of the first film. Second, they recast the role of James Rhodes with a new actor who looks nothing like the original guy. And they added a part for Scarlett Johansson... who can act, but usually chooses not to. In other words, the whole thing has got Hollywood meddling written all over it.

But on the other hand, they also got Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell. And in the end, they and Downey manage to make a moderately successful lightning containment system. Gwyneth Paltrow has plenty of acting chemistry with Downey too — they’re riffing off each other like jazz musicians. And Sam Rockwell almost seems to be trying to out-Downey the star, which fits perfectly in that his character is a guy who is clearly trying too hard to be the equal of Tony Stark. The new Rhodey is Don Cheadle, who is definitely a higher grade of actor than Terrence Howard was. And Stark is still just a fun character to hang out with, even when his shortcomings are all too apparent. And he does learn and grow somewhat... but unfortunately, it’s pretty much the same learning and growth as in the last movie. I hope they don’t get into a rut where he’s doing the same thing in the third movie; he’ll end up looking like he’s going in circles.

The weakest point in the cast is, perhaps surprisingly, good old Samuel L. This time, Scarlett phoned it in less than he did, which makes a strong contrast to the last time they worked together.

The sparkly acting and the charisma of the characters is about all that saves this movie, because in some areas there’s rather a lot wrong with it. The “science” is quite a bit dumber than last time, they pull in a really stupid National Treasure type buried-secrets subplot where dead people have hidden obscure clues in plain sight, the treatment of the character Pepper Potts is not exactly a model of respect for women, the final showdown is anticlimactic... and because of the various bankable future characters that the Marvel suits want the audience to be introduced to, the movie has a surplus of good guys and a shortage of scary bad guys. It’s a good thing they got the fearsome Mickey Rourke to play the main guy Iron Man has to fight, because the character as written is not all that big or tough an opponent.

Quite a lot of the movie is great fun. And then every once in a while it does something dumb or asinine, and kind of ruins things for the next five minutes. Then you start getting back into it again, but before too long, here comes another new piece of lameness. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had (especially when the hardware really fires up), but you do have to adjust your expectations a bit toward a kid-stuff level.

In other words, it’s much like the average superhero movie.

I do recommend the film, but just barely, and in order to do so, I have to get certain gripes out of my system first. To do so in compact form without giving too much away, I will now present, with apologies to Andrew Borntreger... some Things I Learned From This Movie:

  • A pipewrench is a very powerful implement... if you have a big enough tool, you can transmute nuclei.
  • Finding scientific secrets in obscurely hidden historical clues! It isn’t just for schizophrenics anymore.
  • If your power levels are over nine thousand, you can chelate noble metals.
  • Also, if you have any form of sparky or glowy energy about you, you have no problem withstanding 200g impacts.
  • The armored surface of the Iron Man suit is tough, but the clothes under it are apparently even tougher.
  • There is a common underlying scientific principle that unites Stark repulsor technology, the Ghostbusters’ proton pack, and Harry Potter’s wand.
  • The purpose of a good action scene is to remind your uppity woman of her proper place.