IRON MAN 2:

Historically, movie sequels are seldom better than their predecessors and this follow-up honors that dubious tradition. This version picks up with billionaire-weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) secretly and slowly dying from blood poisoning caused by the energy source that powers his superhero alter ego. Since there are several hundred million reasons to keep the title character alive for “number 3,” there isn’t a whole lot that’s actually at stake in this particular storyline. There are far too many characters that go undefined even though Sam Rockwell’s (FROST/NIXON) role as the rival defense contractor does manage to stand out from the rest as does Mickey Rourke’s (THE WRESTLER) Russian villain with his electric whips. Surprisingly, there’s precious little chemistry between Downey (See sidebar below.) and his Air Force comrade (Don Cheadle) who’s being groomed to be the franchise’s inevitable sidekick. Both the action and the humor feel contrived and obligatory, resulting in a lack of energy and fun that this movie needs to be successful. There’s even evidence that this series has “jumped the shark” by hooking up the main character with his loyal assistant/CEO (Gwyneth Paltrow) and killing the load-bearing underlying tension between them that made their relationship worth watching. This isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t a particularly good one either. I’m sure some of the more analytical fanboys will see Tony Stark as something of a Christ figure “tainting” his blood for the protection/redemption of humanity. If they do — and I know they will — it will reinforce my belief that this material is much too ponderous and pretentious for what is escapist, comic-book fantasy. One could say — and I know I will — that this work is iron deficient. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+

EXCELLENT MOVIES STARRING ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.: BACK TO SCHOOL (1986), CHANCES ARE (1989), CHAPLIN (1992)*, NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), RESTORATION (1995), RICHARD III (1995), BOWFINGER (1999), GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005), A SCANNER DARKLY (2006), ZODIAC (2007), IRON MAN (2008), TROPIC THUNDER (2008)**

*Academy Award nominee for Best Actor

**Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor