My longtime man-crush Robert Downey, Jr. was pretty much the whole show in the original Iron Man two years ago. His costars, which included such heavy hitters as Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow & Terrence Howard, were largely straight men to his rapid-fire comic prattling. He cut a rather glamorous figure as Iron Man’s alter ego, weapons magnate Tony Stark, & the movie, directed by Jon Favreau, amounted to a major comeback.
Downey’s back for Iron Man 2, as is Favreau, & this time the movie makes a little room for some other performances. Favreau takes an even more mischievous comic approach this time, directing many scenes in a nattering, chattering style not that different from the sort that Vince Vaughn used on his dialogue for Swingers back in 1996—spread over a large & diverse cast, as it is here, it comes across as a sort of 21st-Century-nouveau version of the Preston Sturges idiom. Or the closest we’re likely to get to it these days, anyway. Paltrow, Don Cheadle (replacing Howard), Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, Clark Gregg & Favreau himself each get at least a scene or two in which to get some laughs.
The story this time concerns hubris: Tony has started to believe his own Rock-Star/Messiah hype as Iron Man, & supposes himself invulnerable & capable of maintaining world peace single-handedly. This leaves him open to attack from a new quarter: a Russian ex-con & physicist—not an everyday combo, that—who bears him a grudge, played by Mickey Rourke, & financed in his evildoing by envious rival defense contractor Sam Rockwell.
It’s these two heavies that, appropriately, steal the show. Rourke, tatted-up & looking more like Leona Helmsley than ever, speaks softly & carries two huge electrified cables, which he uses like whips to chastise Iron Guy.
He exudes menace effortlessly. But it’s Rockwell who makes his bespectacled, sheepish worm-that-turns into a gem of comic villainy.
Beyond that, there isn’t a lot to report. Iron Man 2 is a big summer movie, & the obligatory action-explosion scenes bloat it into tediousness at times, but less so, I’d say, than most of its kind. Favreau works, here as in the first film, in clean, straightforward, brightly colored compositions suggestive of comic-book narrative, there’s little of the fast-cutting, jiggly-camera chaos that’s been in vogue in action blockbusters in recent decades.
I thought I even spotted a couple of quick visual homages by Favreau to Eisenstein’s Potemkin in the climactic scenes of Iron Man 2—in the marching feet of a troop of robots down a flight of stairs, & in the broken eyeglasses that Sam Rockwell wears at one point. Maybe it’s the director acknowledging that he’s taking movie action back to basics.