ANY self-respecting 10-year-old boy should quite rightly want to be either Batman or Spiderman, accepting dull periods as the weary billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne or the geeky Peter Parker as a fair trade for their thrilling moments of super-heroism. But if you canvassed those 10-year-olds’ fathers, the chances are they would want to be Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, the second episode of whose suave, high-octane adventures has recently landed on the big screen.
Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is as rich as Wayne but refreshingly un-tortured by guilt. He’s got it and he doesn’t so much flaunt it as arrange a year-long expo in celebration of himself, live in a preposterous cliff-top bachelor pad in Malibu, hire Gwyneth Paltrow to run his company and Scarlett Johansson as a legal assistant, hang out with Jon Favreau and Don Cheadle and drive cars in the Monaco Grand Prix, all to a soundtrack of AC/DC. He doesn’t even need to keep his identity secret: Stark boasts of being Iron Man as often as Parker, Wayne et al, laboriously conceal their alter egos.
These are the perks of a man whose fascination with gadgetry has made him the strongest dude in the world, both physically (when he dons his iron suit) and in business terms. Stark Industries has recently “privatised world peace” and with the planet secured, Stark’s one commitment is to the art of being cool. Even when a senate judiciary committee highlights the dangers of a family company running national security, Stark puts on his aviator sunglasses and blows them a kiss. If he would lose the embarrassing angular goatee, I think I’d want to be him too.
But pride must always come before a fall, and this time out, in true Marvel Comics style, Iron Man is suddenly faced with a foe possibly even more powerful than he – and ten times more malevolent. The only surprise is the origin of the threat. Although North Korea and Iran lag behind in their iron suit technology, the film opens in wintry Moscow where a dying man watches a Stark news conference on television before croaking to his son: “That should be you.” With a shrill whip of wind and a well-timed gong, the son’s visage is revealed: it’s Mickey Rourke. Immediately the scene is set for rehabilitated Hollywood wild men to slug it out in a throwback to the cartoons of the Cold War.
Rourke’s character, Ivan Vanko, is the offspring of a dissident Soviet scientist and has a similar talent for engineering as Stark. This means, in movie terms, that he can skitter his fingers over a laptop keyboard and almost immediately design long, electrified tentacles with which to wreak havoc in Monte Carlo. Vanko’s appearance, striding down the Grand Prix track’s home straight and slicing racing cars in two with a quick whip, prompts the film’s first, and best, set piece, as the opulence of the principality is destroyed by brawling super-humans. It’s quite the spectacle for the champagne quaffing millionaires.
This scene is simple, thrilling action movie nonsense and recalls the first, fresh Iron Man film of a couple of years ago, when Stark’s sense of fun offered a lighter option to Batman’s gothic brooding. But this time, the rest of the film does not do it justice and Iron Man 2 soon veers into unnecessary complexity. Although the franchise can never be overblown – it’s almost its raison d’etre – it is overloaded this time. A couple of the A-listers are wholly expendable (I still don’t know who Samuel L Jackson was supposed to be playing) and the policy of heaping layer upon layer of plot makes this neither more sophisticated nor complex, rather just profligate of talent.
Downey Jr. seems to want to enjoy himself, as ever, but is weighed down by the sub-plot of Stark’s sort-of mid-life crisis and the battle with a potentially terminal glitch in his internal operations. That’s not cool. And, strangely, despite dreading a characteristically drawn out denouement – you know, the inevitable scene where Stark and Vanko go head to head, all guns blazing and all suits glinting – the showdown seemed to pass with a whimper.
10. May 2010 at 0:00 | Howard Swains