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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Glum and glummer: The movie critics weigh in on 'Iron Man 2'

Rob_downey I guess it's no longer a shock to discover that film critics, along with a sizable portion of early moviegoers, are discovering that "Iron Man 2" is, ahem, not nearly as fresh, daring and intoxicating as the original film that took critics and fanboys by storm two year ago.

As my colleague Kenneth Turan wrote Thursday morning, as sequels go, "this one is acceptable, nothing more, nothing less," which is the faintest of praise, because with sequels, you're already grading on a curve at the start. The reaction has been glum in most other critical quarters as well, with the sequel currently earning a lackluster 65 fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, quite a drop from the original's amazing 93 rating.

But I've noted a common thread in the early reviews of the new film. The complaint isn't just that "Iron Man 2" is such a disappointment, especially considering the top-flight talent associated with the film, from Robert Downey Jr. on down the line to director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux. It's that the behind-the-scenes gurus at Marvel, who have done such a great job in recent years of stretching the creative boundaries with their big-screen characters, seem to have settled for less -- much less -- when it came to propelling this sequel down the summer movie-visual effects-extravaganza assembly line.

When it comes to a prized property like the "Iron Man" franchise, you need to push the envelope. But more important, you need to create something that doesn't feel fabricated just to replicate the original film's formula of success. Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek put it best: "'Iron Man 2' is more of the same -- a lot more of the same -- and yet a lot less. ... The big problem with [the movie], maybe, is that it so dutifully gives the people what they want, instead of giving them what they didn't know they wanted."

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum echoed those sentiments in her review. As she described it:

"The diminished satisfaction [from this film] has less to do with the quality of the star's trademark catch-me-if-you-can energy than it does with a performance anxiety that now pervades the whole shebang. Are returning director Jon Favreau and the Marvel Studios producing team buckling under pressure to give the people more of what they think the people want, and make it bigger too?"

If you get a chance to see the film this weekend, let me know where you stand. But I have to wonder: Isn't it time (with "The Dark Knight" as the template) for people who make sequels to spend less time worrying about reprising all the popular stuff from the original and more time inventing stories that take us where we've never been before?

Photo: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in "Iron Man 2." Credit: Francois Duhamel / Paramount Pictures/MCT


 
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