Tony Stark -- arms merchant, genius, playboy, Iron Man -- is resting on his laurels in this sequel to the 2008 hit actioner. So too is director Jon Favreau and most of the Iron Man gang: Whereas the first film felt like a fresh, kicky re-boot blasting from the morass of superhero films, IM2 falls into too many genre traps. The dialogue is dialed down from witty repartee to quip-quip-quip; the battle sequences might as well be Transformer outtakes; and, to serve the intended franchise, way too many characters are oh-so-briefly introduced.
This time out, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has two major adversaries: Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a disgruntled Russian who constructs a warrior shield similar to Iron Man's; and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a disgruntled defense contractor. Minor adversaries include Congress and Stark's cautionary assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as his personal troubles (daddy issues, self-destructive streak, a bum ticker). Crammed into two hours, it's all a little exhausting -- and dull, as a sharply written narrative fails to emerge. It's junky popcorn, sure, but also stamped with a smugness that audiences will just munch it up anyway -- and sit through the endless credits for a bonus commercial ... uh ... scene.