That faint whiff of staleness in Iron Man 2 is inevitable, after the first movie felt so fresh two years ago.
This is a sequel, after all.
No matter how against the grain the superhero's origins seemed in Part 1, or how uniquely Robert Downey Jr. played them, a second helping of Iron Man has some "wow" issues to work out. Piling on more "wow" isn't exactly the way to do it.
Iron Man 2 feels like the kind of movie the first one could've been — loud and repetitive, with bombastic action sequences trying to show up Michael Bay's Transformers. The mayhem is as marvelous as CGI offers although not often enough. Plus, the movie continues the lone complaint I had about the original flick: Iron Man needs someone to square off against who isn't merely a super-sized version of himself.
There's a hint of a suitable supervillain in Ivan Vanko, a.k.a Whiplash, played with snarling intensity by Mickey Rourke. Vanko has a score to settle with Downey's Tony Stark since their fathers were weapons development partners and guess who got the shaft. At the moment the first movie ended with Tony declaring he's Iron Man, Vanko was cradling his dying, destitute father and howling with anguished vengeance.
Six months later, Tony is drunk with power and, in one scene, simply drunk and doing Gallagher tricks with force beams at a party. He has privatized world peace, as he boasts at a congressional hearing where a senator (Garry Shandling) wants to make him defense department property. The risk of Iron Man technology falling into the wrong hands is too great. Tony's risk of losing his uber-cool is even greater, compounded by a health risk with the power reactor implanted in his sternum.
Vanko already has his version of the Iron Man suit, with bullwhip lightning bolts to boot, proving at a grand prix race that he's a formidable opponent. Yet he's swept from that impromptu junk yard to prison then to the labs of Tony's rival (Sam Rockwell), who's also in the super-suit business and likes the Russian's style. The stage is set for another Iron Man vs. himself battle — plus a couple dozen more iron men and Tony's pal (Don Cheadle) in similar gear on the good guy's side.
Isn't there another supervillain in the Marvel Comics universe who could tag in for some variety?
Not that I'm completely junking Iron Man 2. It's as slick and fun as summertime entertainment should be. Downey is still an arresting presence, glib to the nth degree and supremely confident that he's smarter than anyone else. Even though Tony isn't quite as likable this time — perhaps a reflection of Downey's real-life skid as much as Part 1 was about his revival — Downey is worth the ticket price.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.