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Review: "Iron Man 2"

There is a story somewhere in "Iron Man 2," but you’d need a Jaws of Life to extract it.

"Iron Man 2" (PG-13)

En español  |  The qualities that made the original "Iron Man" a uniquely grown-up superhero flick are pretty much immolated in the roaring fireballs and incendiary battles royale of the sequel. Gone is the haunting subtext of middle-age angst, the gnawing sense of a wasted life that bedeviled the hero, arms dealer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Gone are the shadows of insecurity that followed Stark as he labored to create for himself not just a new identity, but one that would in some ways undo an adulthood of selfish opportunism.

At the first film’s blackout, when Stark told a stunned press corps, “I am Iron Man,” he was not only identifying himself with his alter ego, he was declaring that he himself had come through the refiner’s fire, steely and stronger than ever.

Of course, Downey is such a good actor that we can occasionally see him thinking about such things, but the script for "Iron Man 2" seems concerned only with providing new occasions for metallic mayhem along with a procession of barely sketched-out characters. Foremost among them is the bad guy played by Mickey Rourke, who after his astonishingly internalized performance in The Wrestler a couple of years back apparently thought it was time to cash in on the $upervillain Expre$$, a wrong-way ticket previously punched by stars like Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger (in "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin," respectively, two similarly second-rate sequels).

The parade of stars who step forward to say a line or two in "Iron Man 2" is reminiscent of those celeb-studded superproductions of yore, like "Around the World in 80 Days" and "It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World". Isn’t that Sam Rockwell as a rival businessman? Hey, there’s Samuel L. Jackson…in an eyepatch! There goes Scarlett Johansson, barely dressed. And it’s sure nice to see Garry Shandling as a stern senator named Senator Stern, isn’t it?

There is a story somewhere in "Iron Man 2," but you'd need a Jaws of Life to extract it. Suffice to say Rourke’s villain has his own metal suit, to rival the one that Tony Stark invented and exploited in the original. They do battle, spectacularly, but when they do, there’s never any sense that this is happening in even an alternative real world. It’s computerized violence almost to the level of a fetish, straight out of a video game, with all the heart of one.