As big-budget superhero movies go, the first Iron Man was a huge financial success and almost more importantly, a modest cinematic one. Robert Downey Jr. was a fine casting choice and beyond some in-your-face American jingoism, the movie was pretty entertaining and not completely stupid. While this may smack of faint praise, that's about as good as it gets from me regarding the overblown superhero genre. It wasn't completely stupid.
Iron Man 2 however, is... completely stupid. Not Spiderman 3 stupid, but close. As a matter of fact, the only thing stupider than Spiderman 3 is me, for taking the time to watch all of Iron Man 2. Robert Downey Jr. has gone from charming and playful to completely obnoxious in the space of one movie, the plot is slight and uninteresting, the heroes and villains too many by half, and the whole affair appears to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces of a longer, smarter movie. In fact, it felt like one long commercial for the next dozen or so Marvel film projects rather than a movie unto itself. From the perspective of this franchise, Iron Man 2 seems chiefly intended as a bookmark for the next few sequels.
I took one interesting thought from the film though. Does anyone better personify the modern devolution of American pop culture better than Mickey Rourke? Here's an actor who, 25 years ago, briefly held the torch for American cinema acting excellence and then dropped it. Two decades later, his return to the spotlight as a chemically-enhanced, artificially-coloured, tattooed freak-show has made him once again, a Hollywood force. Beyond the Wrestler, a fine movie that drew obvious parallels and inspiration from Rourke's own life, the balance of his recent roles have been similar to the villain he plays in Iron Man 2 - a collection of circus geek portrayals that I can't help but view with a certain sadness. Rourke has morphed into a near-perfect manifestation of a bloated, surreal society unconcerned with how the facade is acquired, just that it is. America's outward projection, be it via her entertainment industry, nation politics, Wall Street or WalMart corporate-sameness is a sham... an illusion. Countless Wizards of Oz are furiously pulling levers, adjusting the volume and tweaking the set to convince everyone otherwise, but I think most are beginning to understand that this emperor has no clothes.
If you look at Mickey Rourke long enough, it all starts to become clear.