Movie review: 'Iron Man' sequel still packs a punch

Bob Tremblay

Following the Hollywood dictum that nothing succeeds like excess, "Iron Man 2" contains more good guys, more bad guys and more plotlines. You may then ask, "More action?"

Not quite. In fact, the film's only mind-blowing scene takes place after a lengthy exposition when one of the bad guys wielding electricity like bull whips slices and dices race cars as they speed around a track. It's a NASCAR moment brought to you by General Electric.

While this sequel lacks the pizzazz of the original, it still has Robert Downey Jr. to shake things up as the superhero with a super ego and super psychoses. He's also super in cracking wise.

In this film, however, physical problems enter the picture as Downey's Tony Stark discovers that Iron Man's power source is slowing killing him. Bummer.

Not helping matters is that the U.S. military wants Iron Man's technology and Stark doesn't want to share. Garry Shandling scores points as a sleazebag senator. Is that redundant? Stark also faces competition from another industrialist who happens to be an even bigger sleazebag. More like a sleaze Dumpster. As Justin Hammer, Sam Rockwell oozes slime.

Meanwhile, Stark's put-upon assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been put in charge of Stark's company. Unfortunately, the man who promoted her seems to have no concern whether the company fails or not. That can create friction, especially when the two kind of, sort of, maybe love each other.

Add to the mix a secretary from the legal department who, when not taking dictation, wears a skin-tight leather jumpsuit and kicks derriere. That Scarlett Johansson is wearing the outfit might cause a few fanboys' hearts to dance a tango.

As aficionados of the comic book know, there's also a secret agency lurking on the periphery here. Others may wonder what Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is all about.

Want another issue? How about Tony dealing with the emotional fallout stemming from his relationship with his father (John Slattery)?

But wait, there's more. Don Cheadle, who replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James "Dusty" Rhodes, gets stuck in the middle of the military power play. Will following orders jeopardize his friendship with Tony?

Finally, we have the mad Russian, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), sporting gold teeth, tattoos, muscles and a mean vengeful streak. He doesn't like the way his father was treated by Stark Industries and he wants to turn Iron Man into ball bearings in the worst way. To exact his revenge, he hooks up with Hammer and it's not long, well, actually it is long, before fireworks explode. Rourke, even when he's mumbling, gives off a wicked vibe.

Who thought that securing a defense contract would turn into such a destructive venture? It reminds me of the scene in "Dr. Strangelove" when Peter Sellers' President Merkin Muffley yells, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the war room."

Director Jon Favreau tries to rein in all these disparate parts with the result being a film of hills and valleys when you yearn for a peak. This sequel has its pleasurable moments, but after the success of the first film, you want more. And you certainly want a more sizzling climactic battle.

The quartet of writers from the first "Iron Man" gets replaced by Justin Theroux, who previously penned "Tropic Thunder." That film was hysterical. The comedy in this film ebbs more than flows.

The filmmakers do deserve kudos for some sly visual touches. In one scene, Captain America's shield is used to prop up a pipe. And whatever you do, do not walk out on this film until after the final credits have rolled. One of the characters mentions a trip to New Mexico, and he's not going there to sample the turkey in Albuquerque.

Bottom line: Fans of edgy humor, manic performances and exploding robots will find plenty to like in "Iron Man 2." The movie's main problem can be found in the "too many cooks spoil the broth" proverb. Imagine how much more dramatically powerful the film would have been if it had shelved Hammer and focused instead on Ivan the terrible? Then it might have been something to truly marvel at.

"Iron Man 2" opens Friday. Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson. This film is rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence). Running time: 124 minutes.

Grade: B