‘Iron Man 2’ a disappointing course in mediocrity

When it comes to silver screen mediocrity, nobody does it on a more consistent basis than Marvel. “Iron Man 2,” the brand’s latest film venture, is more of the same.

Though the original “Iron Man” wasn’t anything particularly fresh – especially in the new, bold climate of the gritty superhero films led by “The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen” – it provided solid entertainment value and a killer, back-from-the-dead performance by Robert Downey, Jr.

“Iron Man 2,” on the other hand, is just a barely-passing collection of paper-thin storylines, action pieces just a few frames away from legitimate greatness and gratuitous close-ups of Scarlett Johansson’s lady regions.

“Iron Man 2” picks up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) being pressured by the United States Government to turn over the technology behind the Iron Man suit for military use.

Now enter the villains: the corporate wuss Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and mean Russian guy, Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). Hammer wants the technology behind the Iron Man suit to create his own suits for his company and sell them to the military. Vanko just wants Stark dead.

On the allied side, Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) returns, but here, Potts is given quite a substantial boost in her role. Also appearing are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Stark’s old buddy, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who’s trying to coax Stark into handing the Iron Man technology over to the government.

Despairingly, “Iron Man 2” feels like a rushed project. Side stories, such as the incorporation of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., are so fleeting that they hinge on contrived, though S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular certainly served as a nod to fans of the source material. Action pieces wither and die quickly — too quickly for a budding franchise that hangs its hat on action.

That’s not to say “Iron Man 2” doesn’t satisfy on some counts, as it certainly does. Downey is back in top form as the narcissistic and sarcastic Tony Stark, carrying the film on his shoulders with another bravado performance. CGI in the action scenes are satisfactory, despite the fact that the pieces quickly dissolve into their punch lines.

Oh, and Scarlet Johansson provides plenty of eye candy. Front-to-back.

“Iron Man 2” has no qualms being a shallow, harmless piece of summer popcorn fun, but even so, the flick is bogged down by supplanting characters, boring development of story and character arcs and exposition that has no business anywhere near Marvel movie.

In the end, while “Iron Man 2” misses its marks, it provides enough one-liners and explosions to satisfy. “The Dark Knight” it ain’t, but for a summer tentpole flick, “Iron Man 2” gets by – barely.

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