Two years ago Jon Favreau's Iron Maninjected fresh energy and creative flair into the cinematic superhero genre, while turning Robert Downey Jr. into an A-list star and establishing another benchmark alongside The Dark Knight and the first two Spider-Man movies. Favreau's sequel isn't nearly as dazzling or inventive, but it remains a diverting blend of wise-guy banter and high-tech action. While Downey mainly carried the first film on his exoskeletal shoulders, he's well matched here against Mickey Rourke as a supervillain with a simmering vendetta. Rourke's seething Vanko joins forces with another Stark opponent, yammering bumbler and weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who of course is sharper and more dangerous than he looks or sounds.
The Stark/Vanko duels dominate the action segments, but Stark's encounters with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and the alluring Natalie Rushman aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) offer the personal touches, emotional conflicts and side plots which distinguish Marvel films from their competitors. If anything, Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux cram too many things into the storyline — a laundry list of plot points ranging from Tony Stark's health to his continuing struggle with the government (personified by an amusingly oily Garry Shandling).
Add tidbits like a classified document heralding The Avengers — plus a teaser promising yet another Marvel superhero in the near future — and it's little wonder Iron Man 2 often seems lead-footed and hectic. But that won't stop fans from hoping for a third go-round — if only to bring on The Mandarin, an embodiment of comic book evil to rival The Red Skull and The Green Goblin. (Now playing) RON WYNN
The timing probably couldn't be better for another celluloid salute to the original teabagger, but Ridley Scott's epic retelling of Robin Hood unleashes all the passion of an IRS audit. An origin story of the Prince of Thieves — which means it spends two-plus hours on the backstory earlier movies were wise to skip — it's faultlessly cast, with Russell Crowe a commanding if regrettably humble Robin, Cate Blanchett as a tough-as-nails Marian, the terrific actor Mark Strong providing florid villainy as a vile French blackguard, and performers as reliable as Max von Sydow, Danny Huston, William Hurt and Eileen Atkins filling damn near every supporting role.
What's missing is the swashbuckling spirit the story demands — the quality that made 1939's The Adventures of Robin Hood the version to beat. (There's no moment here within hailing distance of Errol Flynn's breezy rejoinder to the accusation that he speaks treason: "Fluently.") Burdened with needless revisionist pomp — make no mistake, this production disapproves of the Crusades — the movie harrumphs from one plot point to the next, yoked to Scott's ponderous, dully workmanlike direction. Let someone flip over a rock, and Scott will have a centipede on cue to scuttle for the camera; yet he'll smother Robin's stirring call to arms with a pushy score that's like an orchestral Tasering.
The miracle is that somewhere in the movie's second half — once Strong and his dastardly French minions advance on Nottingham, Oscar Isaac's mincing Prince John oppresses the locals, and the chemistry activates between Robin and Marian — the actors raise their heads above the swamp of production values and awaken the story's snoozing thrills. And in moments of mercy, there are trace elements of the lighthearted panache screenwriter Brian Helgeland brought to his underrated medieval romp A Knight's Tale — which somehow found a way for brawny heroics and playful humor to coexist. (Opens Friday) JIM RIDLEY
You read the articles in The New York Times and EW; you saw the trailer on YouTube; you fetched your jaw from the floor while it was still rattling. Now all you fans of The Room can see the newest would-be so-lousy-it's-great cult sensation at midnight this Friday and Saturday at The Belcourt. Four years in the making — and to some, the watching — writer-producer-director James Nguyen's avian-attack saga besieges a California town with cheaply animated eagles that evidently explode on impact. If this can find an audience, we humbly submit the following for future midnight-movie glory: the Christian ballet-horror indie C Me Dance; the insane Indonesian erotic shocker Lady Terminator; and the Spanish biker-gang slaughterfest Mad Foxes. (Midnight May 14-15 at The Belcourt) JIM RIDLEY
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