Do one of these superhero franchises up right and it's a license to print money. Take a gander at these numbers for Iron Man 2: its Canadian and American theatrical gross was $312 million, foreign gross was $309 million, and earlier this month it sold an estimated 1.1 million DVD's and Blu-Ray's in its first day (with that number growing to over 5 million units sold by the end of the first week it was on sale). That kind of coin certainly softens the blow of the movie's estimated $200 million budget and hefty marketing costs.
Directed once again by Jon Favreau (who has a small role in the film), Iron Man 2 picks up where its 2008 blockbuster predecessor left off, except this time around the filmmakers forgot to include the fun that made the first one such a standout. As our memories are refreshed of the revelation by playboy industrialist Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) that he is Iron Man, we're introduced to Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist with a major axe to grind against the Stark family. Vanko is played by Mickey Rourke at his scuzziest, with greasy multi-coloured hair, head-to-toe tattoos, gold teeth, and a bad Russian accent. Fast forward six months and Stark, now drunk with power due to Iron Man's success in stabilizing the unrest in the world, is given a rude awakening at the Monaco Grand Prix by a (metaphorically) reborn Vanko, aka Whiplash. The scene turns out to be the highlight in a movie that is disappointingly bereft of them.
Screenwriter Justin Theroux inserts too many subplots and characters into his script, a flawed strategy that movies based on comic book characters sometimes make. Honouring the source material and being thorough are one thing, but cramming many issues of storytelling into two hours is a tricky balance. In fact, one need only look at that jam-packed movie poster for the first signs of the overload in store. The central plot has the narcissistic Stark struggling to overcome complications from the source of his power: the reactor implanted in his chest. Sandwiched around that are numerous other storylines, including the one with Vanko that also incorporates Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. An industrialist rival of Stark's who matches him on the ego level, but trumps him in the douchebag department, Rockwell plays his character to the hilt. Also fighting for screen time are a wasted Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's Girl Friday (and maybe something more), Don Cheadle as Stark's buddy Lt. Col. Jim Rhodes/aka War Machine (replacing Iron Man's Terrence Howard), who commandeers an extra Iron Man suit and kits it out with a major weapons upgrade, Garry Shandling as a U.S. senator determined to have Stark Industries' research data handed over so the military can exploit its benefits, and Scarlett Johansson (eye candy personified) and Samuel L. Jackson as members of espionage and law-enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
My two other major complaints: Downey's eccentric charm from the original movie gives way to annoying smugness in the sequel, and the CGI falls short, which is a major problem for a movie that relies on it so much (especially during the anti-climatic, drawn-out conclusion). I found myself bored for long stretches watching this film, occasionally wondering if somehow Michael Bay, the king of empty, overly-commercial, tentpole franchise movies had slipped his greasy fingers on the controls. A third Iron Man movie is a lock - here's hoping the filmmakers take a bit more time and care than they did with this outing.