For about 30 minutes, Iron Man 2 looks every bit the movie we’d hoped it would be.
Director Jon Favreau begins his super-sequel exactly where he started: a fatherless man hammering away at an arc reactor in the darkness.
From there, it keeps getting better. AC/DC rock on to the soundtrack, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) blasts back on the screen, Justin Theroux’s script brings the laughs and the smarts, Scarlett Johansson’s gymnastic hottie flattens Favreau (as Stark’s bodyguard) in the boxing ring, Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard) struts effortlessly into Col. Jim Rhodes’ uniform and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer oozes wannabe Stark-ness.
By the time Mickey Rourke’s mad Russian Ivan Vanko – a charismatic, tattooed hulk – begins slicing up the Monaco Grand Prix with thrashing electro-whips, you could be forgiven for thinking Favs has pulled off a fresh, funny blockbuster sequel to rival The Dark Knight.
But as if it’s being powered by the same failing device that’s rotting Stark’s body, Iron Man 2 slowly starts leaking energy.
Frustratingly, it often feels less like a film than a distracted $200m trailer for the next wave of Marvel franchises.
The Captain America gag is cute, we’ll admit. But Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury is pure exposition and the post-credits Thor tease hammers in the last nail. Which wouldn’t be too bad if, for most of its slo-mo middle hour, Iron Man 2 wasn’t weighted down with more chat than action.
Some of it’s good: Mad Men’s John Slattery twinkling as Stark’s dead father in some old home-movie footage. Some of it’s just tedious: Gwyneth Paltrow’s frankly redundant Pepper Potts shouting in Tony’s ear.
One of the saddest losses of Iron Man 2 is the touching nearly-romance between Potts and Stark, which barely moves on from the original. Favreau has a real talent for combining kick-ass and comedy – and an even bigger one for handling actors.
He skilfully avoids Spider-Man 3 syndrome (too many characters, not enough time) and, despite missing a powerful narrative, Iron Man 2’s cast are good enough to keep the drama moving until Stark suddenly figures out how to build a new arc reactor.
How? No idea. By then, you’re just relieved that it gives Favs an excuse to get Iron Man firing again: build some big robots, crank up the AC/DC and blow shit up in a rather-too-chaotic climax.
Iron Man 2 might not live up to the potential of the first, but it’s never less than entertaining.
Expect to see clues for number three somewhere in Thor, Captain America and The Avengers...
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