Another Lark with Tony Stark

When “Iron Man” burst into theaters in the summer of 2008, it immediately became a critical and financial hit and also thrust leading man Robert Downey, Jr. into the spotlight. In short, people were very impressed. With that being said, it’s no surprise that “Iron Man 2” is one of the most anticipated films of 2010.

Of course, who doesn’t look forward to “Iron Man 2?” It seems to have everything in order to surpass the success of the original. Mickey Rourke as the villain?

Awesome. War Machine? Hell yeah. The suitcase armor? Oh baby. However, while these individual elements are impressive, they don’t make the sequel an enthralling experience due to a poorly constructed story.

Six months after the events in the first film, the world is now aware that Tony Stark is the armored superhero Iron Man. Despite being adored by the masses, Stark finds that all is not well. The U.S. government is pressuring him to yield the suit to the military, and he is slowly being poisoned by the arc reactor in his chest – the very thing that is keeping him alive. Irony much?

In the midst of all this, Ivan Vanko (Rourke), a former Russian physicist turned badass, attempts to exact revenge on the Stark legacy. To make matters worse, Vanko collaborates with Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to bring Stark down. By now, it’s clear that Stark is not a lucky guy. It’s only with the help of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) that Stark will be able to overcome his problems.

The main issue with the film’s plot is that it becomes sluggish after approximately twenty minutes and doesn’t pick up until the last twenty. Considering that the film’s running time is 124 minutes, what happens during that eighty-one minute gap (the end credits last about three minutes)? What screenwriter Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”) does is cram a lot of exposition and offer only one action scene.

Some of you may think, “But action isn’t everything!” This critic concurs, but “Iron Man 2” is so full of information that sometimes we get tired and think, “What’s the point?” – especially since there are subplots that use Stark’s struggles rather than directly addressing them. Furthermore, the film rushes through the most important explanations that it takes quite a while to fully comprehend what was just told.

Remember how the final fight scene in “Iron Man” was so painfully short? It’s no better off here. The battle between Iron Man, Vanko, and War Machine lasts only a minute and ends in such a disappointing way that the entire fight becomes mediocre.

However, the dialogue manages to be just as engaging and humorous as it was in the original. In fact, the interactions between the characters work so well because it’s their words that give them the spark.

Downey, Jr. once again proves to be the heart of the film. His charisma and ability to deliver quick-witted lines are what makes Stark such a wonderful person to witness onscreen.

Paltrow certainly makes a good impression, but the chemistry that she shared with Downey, Jr. in the original is largely thinned out in “Iron Man 2.”

Replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodes is Cheadle, who proves to be superior to his predecessor. Though he seems out of place in his first appearance, he later adopts a sense of authority that makes him such a welcome change, as Howard’s Rhodes was more soft-spoken.

Rourke indubitably nails the grittier aspects of his character, hence the numerous tattoos, gold teeth, and evil laughs. However, his little screen time inhibits the opportunities he could have had with the role.

The one actor who manages to steal every single scene he’s in is Rockwell. While his performance is mainly comic, he successfully and surprisingly displays a wide range of emotions as the sleazy Hammer. Wait until you see him dance.

There’s Scarlett Johansson, who plays Natalie, Stark’s new assistant. Yes, she’s hot. Yes, she kicks ass. Yes, she’s a superfluous character. Her performance serves as a setup for the upcoming “Avengers” film and hardly advances “Iron Man 2’s” plot.

Finally, there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s dispiriting portrayal of eye-patched Nick Fury. His character isn’t that different from his other roles. Instead of showing any dynamic, it feels as if he’s saying, “Bitch, I’m Samuel L. Jackson!” in every one of his lines. It doesn’t help that he utters the film’s single worst line, “Tony, I’m watching you!”

The action sequences are superbly choreographed and shot, especially the fight between Stark and Vanko in the middle of the Monaco Grand Prix. The special effects complement such scenes fittingly, and create quite an exciting atmosphere.

“Iron Man 2” doesn’t live up to the original. Though Theroux’s screenplay hinders the material from reaching its potential, the cast principally performs well with what they are given to make this film passable at best.