Iron Man 2 is a crowd-pleasing paradox, a summer blockbuster that strangely feels simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko, shown above, deserves way more development. As it stands, he preens and menaces with the best of the recent Hollywood supervillains, but Jon Favreau barely takes the time to sketch in a little backstory on why this genius wants a piece of Tony Stark. I know that the team behind this film had to begin laying the foundation for future installments, but I could have used less of the Natasha Romanoff subplot and more of the Ivan/Anton Vanko vs. Tony/Howard Stark backstory.
This thing bounces around, both in terms of locale and plot. There's a terminal illness subplot, some repressed romanticism that bubbles through in the third act, a little hackneyed sentimentalism and a discordant U.S. Senate tangent.
Still, the piece is stylish and easy on the eyes. Favreau shows a flair for filming the conflict scenes, and he manages to coax some solid turns out of Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and, of course, Robert Downey Jr.
Downey was more magnetic and more compelling in the first film, probably because there was still some question as to his engineering genius. Now he's the most powerful man on Earth, and he's not afraid to show it. I liked him a little better when there was at least a dash of humility. That said, I'm happy to see the career renaissance Downey is experiencing. He's wholly watchable, and I looked ahead to some films that are in early discussions with this fellow: Oz the Great and Powerful and a film called Poe. Yes, yes and more yes to that, particularly on the latter. He has charisma and good comedic timing; now let's see if he can do some melodrama.
This is a B- film that feels like a missed opportunity. It's not a by-the-numbers slot filler, but it's not a film that grows the series toward greater narrative relevance in the grand scheme of things. In fact, very few of these superhero series have elevated themselves much beyond novelty. I'd say the best of the bunch in those terms would be the Spiderman franchise...