(Dir. Jon Favreau, 2010)
Sitting through this second instalment is like sharing a bus with a cute-faced baby who will not stop crying. The talented Jon Favreau (also reappearing as Tony Stark's macho-testy bodyguard) is now one more director who has tried and failed to avert the benumbing gaze of Hollywood's sorry-sequel-Medusa. In time, Iron Man 2 could become an enjoyable juncture in this planned trilogy. But the anaerobic cool of its predecessor, a commercial movie glossed like the cover of a (commercial movie) magazine, palls in this marathon of tacky action. So much metal is screened in so many hues and moves and booms. Yet the essential mettle of idea and substance here is just derivatively disappointing.
Following his mesmerising and painful self-homage in The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke returns to a familiarly insipid role as nemesis, Ivan Vanko (superhero-christened, 'Whiplash'). All the traits are in the trailer: intimidating muscle and transparent, Eastern Block ugliness. Ivan has been inspired to avenge his family's suffering, attributed to Stark Enterprises: the film begins with Ivan's dying father, Anton Vanko, watching the televised press conference in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reveals to the world that he is Iron Man. So after Whiplash pisses on Stark's parade at the Monaco Grand Prix, a sleazy government agent (Sam Rockwell) recruits Ivan to put Tony Stark in his place, and to give the United States military access to the science behind these superhero creations.
His opposite number, Tony Stark aka Iron Man, works wonders to keep us interested. It is ironic testament to the charms of Robert Downey Jr. that the Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man packages will make a profit - both the means and the ends for these projects. Stark's business, and romantic, partner (Gwyneth Paltrow) is irritatingly, impossibly thick for a CEO. Meanwhile Don Cheadle has pointlessly replaced Terrence Howard as Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, an in-the-loop punch-bag for Stark's excessive attention-seeking. Samuel L Jackson cameos just before the film's quirky dialogue and CGI jamming becomes unendurable. But even in an eye-patch, towering over Stark, an icon struggles to make an impact.
The plot inconsistencies and total abandonment of realism (a process Christopher Nolan's Batman-reboot gets absolutely right) are galling. Watching a film that is obsessed with patriotism and defence, is an American audience then supposed to take pleasure from a reckless hero kissing his personal assistant above their backgrounded burning city? Downey Jr and Rourke colliding, on a whim, at the Monaco Grand Prix; terrorist atrocities anaesthetised as if fireworks; soft-slapping sitcom punch-lines; and a thumping AC/DC soundtrack collectively scream "yes" from a bruised-and-battered screen. It's a bulging budget-boast of banality: see the trailer and you've seen the movie.