Iron Man 2 (12A)

2.00

A case of metal fatigue

This didn't take long to rust. The gleam on the first Iron Man movie two years ago was less to do with the clanking hardware than its steely refusal to play the usual superhero game.

It posited the outlandish idea of an American weapons entrepreneur and playboy billionaire who directs his genius away from war towards philanthropy, incarnated in his armour-plated alter ego Iron Man. The look, part-RoboCop, part-Darth Vader, wasn't especially original, but the casting was. Robert Downey Jr, mercurial and mischievous as Tony Stark, set the whole tone of the film and restored something we hardly saw in action blockbusters anymore: a sense of fun.

Well, you can say goodbye to that. Where the first film was droll and fleet-footed, the sequel is nervy and distracted, eager to replicate the original's success but clueless as to how to go about it. From the bluster of the opening set-piece you can feel the film-makers' strain: heavy rock, dancing girls, crowds going pointlessly wild. Tony Stark, playing up to his national-hero status, has become a showman, or should that be a show-off? "I'm not saying that the world is enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted peace because of me" – except that he is saying that, later boasting to a senate arms committee that he has successfully "privatised" world peace through his iron-clad policing.

Tony fights off the Pentagon brass, who want to appropriate his Iron Man technology in the interests of national security, but there are more problems on the horizon. First, a disgraced Russian physicist named Ivan Vanko is out for revenge, convinced that Stark Industries ripped off his father's Iron Man prototype. That he's played by Mickey Rourke with jagged gold teeth and spark-spitting whips that can cut a car in half should be scary, or funny, or funny-scary, but his menace is diluted by his smarmy sponsor Sam Rockwell, playing a rival entrepreneur. Second, Tony's blood toxicity levels are climbing dangerously – all that iron – and seem to induce behavioural swings that surpass even his legendary standards. Things get so out of hand at his birthday party that his pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle) is compelled to don an Iron Man suit and bring the celebrations to a shattering halt. Third, Tony has promoted his superefficient Girl Friday "Pepper" (Gwyneth Paltrow) to his company's CEO, thereby sublimating the romantic attraction that crackled between them in the first film.

Is that enough to be going on with? Wait, there's more. It seems that Tony also has family issues, specifically a father who – you'll never guess – didn't love him enough. (He's played in flashback by John Slattery, aka Roger from Mad Men). You get the feeling that the scriptwriter Justin Theroux might have an attention-deficit disorder, because he doesn't seem able to let 10 minutes pass without introducing a new angle, or a new character. For instance, Scarlett Johansson makes one of her sultry entrances as a personal assistant, and just as we're getting used to that she transforms herself into a high-kicking, ass-whupping martial-arts queen called Black Widow. As for Samuel L Jackson playing "Nick Fury", the leather-coated dude with an eye-patch, it's anyone's guess what function he's meant to be fulfilling. These two appear to have crashlanded from another movie altogether. Actually, that's precisely what they have done: both are Marvel Comics characters who've been parachuted in as teasers for the forthcoming Avengers.

Iron Man 2 could certainly use some clarity. Halfway in, the narrative is more crowded than rush-hour on the Northern Line. You notice, too, that as the big set-pieces gain in noise and scale they dwindle in enjoyment. The ding-dong between Stark and Vanko on the Grand Prix circuit at Monaco has a brutal sort of bewitchment, but the fights thereafter are just a lot of junkyard scraps; I was more than once reminded of Michael Bay's moronic orchestrations in Transformers. There will be viewers awed and thrilled by this mechanical mayhem, but I suspect that few of them will be above the age of 13.

The single point of interest is to see whether Downey Jr can rouse himself to carry the movie, as he did first time around. With his Van Dyck beard and just-toned-enough body he's looking good at the moment – hell, given his past record of addictions, drug busts and prison time, he's looking great. Maybe they should call him Irony Man. Sadly, even he looks a bit out of sorts here, gabbling through many of his speeches and looking slightly bewildered by what's happening around him. (Join the club). The will they/won't they? vibe between him and Gwyneth Paltrow is a fizzle. I laughed a couple of times at the start when Tony twits a disobliging senator, played by Garry Shandling, first by greeting him "Hello, dear", then cheekily offering himself as Secretary of Defence. But it's thin reward for nearly two hours. The movie sort of betrays the inventive whiz, too, because it's really not his ingenuity that's at stake anymore. The climactic fight comes down to a hardware contest, and Tony just happens to have better toys than the baddies.

‘Iron Man 2’ - What do you think of the long-awaited sequel? Email your reviews (40 words plus) to cultureclub@indepedent.co.uk or post them in the comments section below.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there