A review of 'Iron Man 2.' Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald says it's well put together but lacks the energy of its predecessor.

Share story

Movie review 2.5 stars

There’s an odd sort of rote quality to “Iron Man 2” — odd not because a big-budget movie sequel might feel rote (way too many of them do), but because all of the individual pieces of it seem to indicate the opposite. Director Jon Favreau’s cast is well-chosen, the stunts look impressive and Justin Theroux’s screenplay has just enough laughs to keep things light and entertaining. And yet, while certainly not awful, the whole thing feels like a dress rehearsal for some better movie that we’ll never see.

Is it that Robert Downey Jr., fresh off “Sherlock Holmes,” is getting a little too familiar — that his wonderfully off-balance, laid-back, I’m-not-really-taking-all-this-too-seriously quality is starting to feel just the teeniest bit schticky? Is it that Gwyneth Paltrow is required to spend too much of this movie squealing? Or that Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard as Tony Stark’s buddy Rhodey) too quickly disappears into a big suit? Or that Scarlett Johansson, playing one of those sexy superheros who apparently has to let down her (quite fabulous) hair before her fighting powers actually work, is barely in the movie? Or that casting Mickey Rourke as a vaguely threatening oddball — who, in a nice touch, is perpetually chomping on a long-suffering toothpick — is perhaps a bit too on-the-nose?

Maybe it’s all of the above; there’s too much going on here, and not enough energy devoted to making it zing. When we last saw billionaire Tony Stark (Downey) in “Iron Man,” he had just unveiled himself as the true identity of superhero Iron Man; now he’s coping with U.S. government intervention (they want the suit), the equally metal-suited-up malevolence of Ivan Vanko (Rourke), who’s got a score to settle, and his own health problems. His assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is perpetually annoyed with him, and he picks fights even with his buddies (in a fairly pointless action sequence at Stark’s home). Things sort themselves out, as they tend to do in this kind of movie, without too much suspense.

Nonetheless, Downey still has plenty of moments of charm (nobody kicks a car aside as casually as this guy), and most of the action sequences are lively and fun, particularly a doomed car race in lovely Monaco and a hallway fight involving Johansson’s whippy, kicky Black Widow. Stark’s floaty, transparent computer screens in his home office, sort of like high-tech sea anemones, are oddly lovely, and it’s a treat to see the Iron Man suit handily decompressed from a suitcase. But as this franchise continues (comic fans should stick around after the end credits to get a hint of what’s coming next), let’s hope its makers think back to “Spider-Man 2” or “The Dark Knight.” Superhero sequels don’t need to be on autopilot; give us something to jolt us in our seats next time.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com