Andy Bockelman: ‘Iron Man’ sequel a tad rusty, but it does the job

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“Iron Man 2”

3 out of 4 stars

124 minutes

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Mickey Rourke.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

Whoever said it ain’t easy being green obviously didn’t take into consideration the difficulty of being red and gold because even the gleaming armor covering the title character of “Iron Man 2” can’t protect him from everything.

The life of a superhero can be erratic, but the life of a superhero who has revealed his secret identity can be exponentially worse, as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has found.

Since going public with his dual identity as the high-powered protector of the peace, Iron Man, Tony has been dealing with congressmen who want his technology turned over to the Department of Defense, a staff that worries about him endlessly and the everyday pressures of the business world.

Oh, and the palladium energy source that powers his suit and keeps him alive is slowly poisoning him. But if anybody can handle all these headaches at once, he can.

However, when a madman Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) attacks Tony with technology rivaling his own, it becomes clear to the world that Iron Man isn’t completely invincible.

This fact isn’t lost on Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a weapons manufacturer looking to blast Stark Industries out of the business world, and their team-up means Tony and company will have to charge up their game.

Downey once again demonstrates how utterly perfect his casting was in the role that utilizes his extravagant personality and well-deserved egotism to their full potential. Yet we get to know Tony on an even more personal level, seeing him as a tortured soul with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Leading the supporting cast is Rourke as vengeful Ivan Vanko, the son of the former partner (Yevgeni Lazarev) of Tony’s late father’s (John Slattery). Although Rourke’s mumbly Russian accent doesn’t do much for us, the alteration of his character Whiplash into an ex-Soviet scientist hearkens back to the earliest days of the “Iron Man” title and its leanings toward Cold War politics.

Surprisingly, another character remains the same except for her Russian heritage with Scarlett Johansson as the sultry Natalie Rushman, also known as Natasha Romanoff, also known as the Black Widow, an undercover operative in Stark Industries reporting directly to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s got his own ideas for Tony’s future efforts. It’s tough to say which is more enjoyable: Johansson’s ballet-like battle scenes or the catsuit she wears while beating her opponents senseless.

As the other redhead in Tony’s life, Gwyneth Paltrow is remarkably weak as the newly appointed CEO of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts, whose “will they, won’t they” relationship with Iron Man’s alter ego serves as the justification for her presence.

Rockwell also disappoints as competing businessman Hammer, who has twice the arrogance of Tony but only half the brains. He’s also considerably younger than in the comics, but apparently Jeff Bridges filled the quotient for an older nemesis in the first film.

At least Don Cheadle does a stalwart job replacing Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, getting to wear the new upgrade of the Iron Man suit as War Machine.

Director Jon Favreau maintains the same overall tone in his sequel, but the notable difference is Justin Theroux’s screenplay.

The story blends elements of vintage and contemporary “Iron Man” themes pretty well, but he seems to be relying on one-liners and weak dialogue more than necessary, although a kewpie doll goes to the person who can find another movie that contains the line “tastes like coconut… and metal.”

Like the life source within Tony’s chest cavity, the greatest strength also could be viewed as the greatest weakness, as Favreau and Theroux make the action look like it soared off the pages of a Marvel Comics publication right onto the screen. And while that might make some viewers feel more connected, others may get the sensation that they’re watching a flipbook.

Regardless of any chinks in its armor, “Iron Man 2” succeeds unerringly in making us want to see more of Tony Stark, be it in more of his own movies or otherwise.

And did someone say spin-off? No hints, but be sure to watch all the way through the credits, as if the first installment didn’t teach you to be prepared for such an occasion.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

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