What do you get when you take a relatively inexperienced director, a recovering train wreck of an actor and an under-the-radar superhero?
$585 million at the box office, glowing reviews and a career renaissance, that's what.
So what do you do for an encore?
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In 2008, when the first "Iron Man" film headed into theaters, few expected it to create the tidal wave of success which followed. Two years later, the hottest commodity on the block, Robert Downey Jr., is back as Iron Man/Tony Stark with some familiar faces and a few new playmates in tow, including director Jon Favreau with an expanded role as Stark's chauffeur Happy Hogan, Gwyneth Paltrow as his long-suffering assistant and love interest Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard's well publicized replacement, in the role of James Rhodes, Mickey Rourke taking up the resident baddy role of Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.
Phew. Overwhelmed? Apparently so were the filmmakers.
Whether the problem was a lack of focus or your typical sophomore slump, "Iron Man 2" is the tired, rusty, older sibling of its gleaming predecessor.
It could be argued that the first "Iron Man" was so spectacular and unexpected, it's an impossible act to follow. Or, it might be that the production crumbled under its own hype. Whatever the reason, "Iron Man 2" fails to recreate the boisterous, combustible surge audiences were expecting.
Actor-turned-writer Justin Theroux, who co-wrote "Tropic Thunder," lost the fun this time around, filling the sequel with too many building montages and not enough of RDJ's riffing. Not that Downey Jr. can do any wrong, but you wonder if the best bits of his performance might have been left for the DVD special features. Meanwhile Rockwell, a chronically underrated actor, is the film's secret weapon, subtlety drawing humor from even his briefest moments on screen.
It's not that "Iron Man 2" is a bad movie, it's simply a "good enough" movie to kick off summer blockbuster season with a few cheap thrills. Fans were hoping for a lot more.