Unstable Molecules

Iron Man 2

dir: Jon Favreau

Robert Downey Jr.: Livin' and lovin' la vida the Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr.: Livin' and lovin' la vida Iron Man

Is there an actor alive who digs himself more than Robert Downey Jr.? (Ok, possibly Richard Gere, but that’s in more of a creepy, reptilian vein.) At a time when more and more actors are going Methody opaque, Downey’s lightspeed thought processes are gloriously external, finding hidden ironies in the material while simultaneously delivering his own commentary track. Too much of a good thing can sometimes be way too much of a good thing—the actor’s best performances tend to come when he’s bouncing off of a tight-reined director, ala David Fincher in Zodiac—but when he’s cooking, it’s hard to look away.

If you like watching Downey half as much as he evidently likes himself, Iron Man 2 might make for a reasonably diverting couple of hours. That doesn’t mean it’s not a major mess, though. Flabby, disjointed, and eschewing conflict for extended scenes of improv clowning, it’s the Superheroic equivalent of a Rat Pack film.

Picking up more or less directly where the first installment left off, the story finds billonaire playboy Tony Stark dealing with his decision to go public with his secret identity, while fending off threats both internal (radiation from the device that powers him up) and external, in the form of Sam Rockwell’s competing arms dealer and Mickey Rourke’s Russian inventor with a grudge. Stuff goes boom, but in nowhere near the quantities you’d expect. This may be the only superhero movie in existence where more time is spent lounging around the hero’s swingin’ pad instead of vrooming through the sky.

Director Jon Favreau (who also gifts himself with a significant supporting role) and writer Justin Theroux draw nominal inspiration from Demon in a Bottle, the nerd-seminal 80‘s comic storyline where Stark’s alcoholism temporarily took the heroics in a darker direction. Despite a few moments of angsty lip-service, however, the filmmakers seem so determined to keep things loose and breezy that nothing sticks. (Pity poor Don Cheadle, who is forced to deliver the only straight lines in the picture.) No matter the number of CGI threats, not an obstacle exists that’s a match for the hero’s preening self-regard.

Downey’s motor-mouthed charisma and a handful of clever in-jokey touches (I’d be lying if I didn’t report that the heavy foreshadowing of the upcoming Avengers project, to say nothing of the sight of Scarlett Johansson in skintight leather as comic book bombshell The Black Widow, didn’t cause my inner-12-year-old to turn a cartwheel or two) keep Favreau’s film from being a complete loss, but without any real sense of drama, or at least a suitable counterbalance for the main character’s overdriving personality, it’s hard to have as much fun as the cast and crew evidently did. Not every comic book movie has to have the overpowering sturm und drang of The Dark Knight, of course, but some trace amounts of heft would be welcome. Is Gere available for the sequel?

© 2010 Andrew Wright