Our story resumes not long after the events of last year’s summer blockbuster, The Avengers. Having helped save the world from an alien invasion by flying into a wormhole, our hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s having anxiety attacks and is unable to sleep, due to nightmarish flashbacks. Instead he spends most nights in his workshop, tinkering with new designs and features for the armored suits that transform him into Iron Man.
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Ellis (William Sadler) and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) are grappling with a mysterious terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who deploys a team of genetically enhanced super-soldiers to launch a series of bombings of American targets. Stark is drawn into the conflict after his loyal bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) becomes a victim. He publicly announces his intention to hunt down the Mandarin.
This proves to be something of a tactical error when the fight comes literally to Stark’s front door. In the aftermath, he finds himself far from home, alone and with only one severely damaged Iron Man suit to aid his cause. He decides to go it alone, not even coordinating his efforts with Rhodes, or girlfriend Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). The reason for this decision appears to be nothing other than a contrivance of the screenplay to put Stark in a Jason Bourne-style lone-wolf situation.
It further makes no sense that after Stark discovers how an unscrupulous scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is involved with the Mandarin, he doesn’t call the other Avengers or top-secret government security agency SHIELD for back-up. He opts instead to work with a precocious 11-year-old boy (Ty Simpkins) and MacGyver up some weapons using materials found at the neighborhood hardware store.
These facts, plus the obviousness of supposed plot twists involving two of the villains, might have truly bothered me if I hadn’t had a revelation part-way through the movie: I wasn’t watching a superhero action film that just happened to be liberally sprinkled with humor. I was watching a legitimately funny comedy sprinkled with some mildly enjoyable action sequences.
Who cares that the movie cheats with the fickleness of its bad guys and doesn’t establish consistently what it takes to kill one of the self-healing super-soldiers? Who cares that it lamely tries, and fails, to give its terrorist-bogeyman storyline some real-world relevance? It doesn’t matter.
Tony Stark makes so many sharp wisecracks, and there are so many great moments of humor that undercut and prevent the ridiculousness of the proceedings from being drowned by its own pomposity, that it doesn’t matter. A nicely crafted comic screenplay, and Robert Downey Jr.’s charm in the role, are more than enough.