Flicks: ‘Iron Man 2’ has a lot to live up to

John Meo

Who’s got two thumbs and is taking Friday off to see “Iron Man 2”? It’s this guy.

Anyway, while my excitement for this movie is off the charts, I have some reservations. These are problems all sequels face, but some handle them with grace and skill, others just choke.

“Iron Man,” I think, had little to live up to by way of expectation. Casting Robert Downey Jr. as an action hero was peculiar. I had the same feeling about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine — which I’m sure I’ve mentioned here — but now it’s hard to imagine anyone else dismembering bad guys with Logan’s claws. Likewise, is there anyone more fitting to play self-destructive billionaire playboy? Of course not.

The sequel has half-a-billion dollars worth of expectation, plus critical acclaim (it’s a comic book!), to reach for and hopefully surpass.

It also has more stuff to deal with. Franchises established in other media, comic books or cartoons, as examples, must be streamlined and homogenized for mass consumption: It’s the reason the X-Men uniforms were black body suits and not the bizarre colorful collection they are in print. Heroes wear leather jackets, biker boots and jeans, not blue and yellow spandex.

Likewise, series openers have to establish who’s who and what’s what, easing viewers into the story, the characters, the setting and the conflicts (that’s why “Lord of the Rings” was 12 hours and three movies and there’s at least one prequel coming). Subsequent movies can go anywhere, a trap “Spider-Man” fell into — too many villains, too many love triangles. Too many tangled webs ... yeah, I wrote it and you read it. So who’s the loser?

New characters

It’s a fine line to walk: pleasing the knowledgeable (not necessarily the fanboys) and prying dollars from the wallets of those who are interested in the themes and the explosions, but not necessarily the many, layered alternate universes and timelines the characters might occupy.

“Iron Man 2” introduces War Machine, Black Widow, Whiplash, Justin Hammer and expands on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers (that movie is coming, too) ... that’s a lot to digest.

With new characters come new actors, and the more successful the franchise, the more likely big names and egos want in. Thus, Terrence Howard (Academy Award nominated) is bounced for Don Cheadle, ostensibly a bigger name, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany are hold-overs from the first film (a good thing) and Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke (in a renaissance of sorts), Garry Shandling and Scarlett Johansson (hey, she’s married to Ryan Reynolds, that’s all she needs), join the roster.

You only have so many minutes for so many plots and characters, but I doubt Downey’s off camera for more than 15 minutes of this movie. For all the names and faces that will filter through this Marvel-money-making machine, Downey is the one that counts.

Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin.