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Iron Man 2 (2010): **½

Directed by John Favreau

I really, really wanted to like this movie more than I do/did. It has soooo much going for it, and yet for some reason or other it never coalesces into an actually good movie.

There are two main problems. One, the movie never really settles on what it's actually about. It's pretty easy to say what the first Iron Man is about: an irresponsible jackass steps up and takes responsibility. Iron Man 2 is much more muddled. The technology that saved Tony Stark is now killing him, and he doesn't know how to deal with that emotionally. Oh, and he's trying to keep this technology out of the hands of people who would abuse it (i.e. the gubment). Oh, also Stark is trying to live up to the legacy of his father, and so is the villain Ivan Vanko, or something.

The other problem I have with the movie is that too much is left unseen, which is weird for a movie that has too much going on in it. Here's my main beef: Tony Stark claims that, acting completely alone in the Iron Man armor, he is successfully responsible for achieving and maintaining world peace. But we, the audience, are never told any details on how it was done. Specifically. All we get is "Iron Man = world peace." I would have loved an intro scene with Iron Man doing some sort of intervention against a terrorist group or something. ANYTHING to show us that it isn't just hyperbole.

Here's another huge problem I had. In the first Iron Man we watch the laborious (but entertaining) process of Stark developing and calibrating and learning to use the Iron Man armor. In this film James Rhodes simply walks downstairs and slips into one of the Iron Man suits and is IMMEDIATELY able to use it as well as (if not better than) an inebriated Stark. How is this possible? Did Stark let Rhodes try on the armor earlier? If so, I WANT TO SEE THAT HAPPEN!

Also, it really seems like Scarlett Johannson's screen time was brutalized in the editing room (especially since a few scenes shots that were in the trailer never made it to the actual movie). I have a feeling that originally she worked as a romantic rival for Pepper Potts, but it seems like that plotline got excised almost entirely.

The only one of the many plotlines that actually gets resolved is that, yes, Tony finds a solution to the problem that was killing him (and kind of gets some resolution about his father's legacy in the process... kind of). But the problem of other people now being able to replicate Stark's tech is never even mentioned after the big fight climax gets underway. Does that mean world peace is over? What does it actually mean!? Roar!

Still, there are still many, many things in this film that are extremely enjoyable, and that boils down mostly to the performances since the story wasn't really very good. Downey Jr. is again fan-frikkin-tastic as Tony Stark, who is dying, who knows he's dying, who is so smart that he should be able to figure out a solution but has been unable to, who is so terrified of dying that he masks his fear with douchery, and who is trying so hard to escape from his inevitable death that he plunges himself ever faster straight towards it. Sam Rockwell is hilariously incompetent as comic-relief villain Justin Hammer. And Mickey Rourke is enjoyably bizarre and eccentric as main villain Ivan Vanko.

Also, the final action climax is very well done (as it should be, storyboarded by Genndy Tartakovsky).

Here's the ultimate verdict: I'm probably never going to bother getting Iron Man 2 on DVD unless I happen to see it in a dollar bin somewhere and I have a bunch of extra cash. Or if Iron Man 3 turns out to be excellent and they come out with a 3-movie bundle.

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