Even super-heroes suffer from sophomore slump and Iron Man is no exception.
Obviously, Iron Man 2 lacks the element of surprise that 2008's Iron Man had. The first time around, the combination of Robert Downey, Jr., and director Jon Favreau as a movie-making team seemed quixotic, to say the least -- but it worked.
Iron Man was a hit -- not only because it came from a treasured comic-book franchise, but because it knew how to make fun of itself. And it wasn't just because of Downey, still not quite on the comeback trail, despite doing great work in Zodiac.
When you buy Downey for a role, it seems, the wisecracks and asides are like value-added throw-ins. They come with the territory. Even when they're written, Downey makes them sound unrehearsed and spontaneous. It's who he is as an actor: able to be flip one second and to tap deep emotional resources the next.
That's all there in Iron Man 2, once again directed by Favreau and this time written by Justin Theroux. Some of the dialogue scenes, in fact, can be hard to track, precisely because Favreau apparently coached Downey to say whatever came into his head, no matter who was speaking or what was being talked about. I'd be interested in a statistic about how many moments feature Downey talking over someone else.
What IM2 is missing, however, is the sense of discovered fun that informed the first one. Yes, billionaire weapons tycoon Tony Stark (Downey) still loves to bask in his own wealth and ability to make things happen at the snap of his fingers. But this film is missing the sense of goofy wonder at the incongruity of live, armored men flying above and around the streets of Manhattan and its outer boroughs. Iron Man has become something expected, rather than some scientific miracle.
The miracles in this film feel slightly used and used up. That's particularly true of Stark, who supplemented his failing heart with an atomic-powered energizer that also powers his Iron Man suit. Now the element he harnessed to power Iron Man is also poisoning him. So he has to find a new element to keep himself alive before the old one kills him.
And that's if a new villain called Whiplash doesn't kill him first.