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Under psychological evaluation in “Iron Man 2,” Tony Stark – a.k.a. Iron Man’s obscenely wealthy and flamboyant alter ego – is labeled as compulsive and prone to destructive behavior.

“Narissistic?” Stark reads from his psych profile. “Agreed.”

The superhero who is so selfless in the high-tech suit when saving others is nonetheless a selfish, womanizing, money-smoking, thrill-seeking hedonist when he’s not wearing the “iron” mask.

But, as the film reveals, all of Stark’s pleasure playboy pursuits suddenly seem purposeless when the zillionaire is faced with a grim reality: he’s dying.

Early in the film, audiences learn that the metallic core of the device that both keeps Stark alive and powers the Iron Man suit is poisoning his blood; it’s killing him. And despite his money and super intellect, Stark can find no other way to fuel the device, no way to avoid the one bad guy not even Iron Man can defeat, the Grim Reaper.

In the few days he has left, Stark thrashes about in the usual near-death throes, trying first to give away his money, then trying to do right by those he’s wronged, then seeking to do the things he’s never done before (like driving a Formula 1 car in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix).

It’s all for naught.

On his last birthday, Iron Man gives over to despair. He drinks too much, carouses carelessly, destroys his own home and fights with his friends – a complete, fall-down drunken mess.

Tony Stark is an object lesson that hedonism might be a ton of fun … until it’s done. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die,” sounds like a great philosophy, until you know that tomorrow you will die.

From an entertainment perspective, “Iron Man 2″ doesn’t have quite the same charm as its predecessor. Like many superhero sequels, the few meaningful characters have been squeezed out of screen time to make way for a host of new characters that are woefully underdeveloped. The script also suffers for likely being written in haste, and the novelty has worn off a bit.

Put simply, I still remember lines from the first film (“That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far,” for example, or, “Let’s face it, this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing”), but I won’t recall a single line from “Iron Man 2″ next week. Just not as well done. Period.

That said, the film still has Robert Downey Jr.’s witty comments, likeable characters, techno wizardry and summer-movie explosions that make for an enjoyable film. The drop-off from “Iron Man” to “Iron Man 2″ isn’t nearly as precipitous as it is in many movie franchises, and audiences will probably be pleased.

Actor Mickey Rourke notably commands the scene as Whiplash and deserved even more screen time. Downey Jr. is brilliant again as Tony Stark. Don Cheadle does fine as “War Machine,” and Sam Rockwell turns in what may perhaps be the most annoying on-screen performance of my lifetime as the whiney weasel weapons maker Justin Hammer. The female characters, sadly, are an afterthought in this, especially compared the previous “Iron Man” film.

From a worldview perspective, the film toys with some politics, particularly in a Senate hearing meeting where Tony Stark insists the government can’t take his private property no matter how “dangerous” the manipulative, nagging legislators might insist the Iron Man suit is. The concept, however, isn’t a major theme.

“Iron Man 2″ does, however, dwell on Stark’s bitter confrontation with his own impending death.

Beneath the mountains of cash, gorgeous women and stash of the coolest, most amazing toys and gadgets anywhere … is a lonely, empty, bitter man. When suddenly aware that he has but hours to live, Stark realizes that every measure of earthly success and pleasure is worth absolutely nothing.

“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless,” the Bible says in Ecclesiastes. “And what does pleasure accomplish? … I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well – the delights of the heart of man. … I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained.”

It’s enough to drive a man to drink – as Stark does – and that too, proves worse than meaningless.

Now, “Iron Man 2″ does a fine job of setting up the problem, but alas, can’t discover the solution. It’s a summer action flick that stumbled on a universal truth without following it to God’s revealed conclusion.

For if this life is all there is, if we die and then are no more and if in a few generations’ time our impact on earth is likely diminished and forgotten, then not even the kings of the world – or technology, like Mr. Stark – are anything more than a flower that fadeth, “the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalms 103:16).

But if instead there is a God, there is an eternity and there is a world beyond the material … then there can be purpose.

For Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).

In other words, if there is an eternity that makes meaning of so long life, then there is a place where even the life and deeds of Iron Man will not rust.

Content advisory:

  • “Iron Man 2″ contains a surprisingly small handful of profanities and violations of the Third Commandment, but a handful nonetheless.
  • The film does, however, contain dozens of sexual references, several low-cut or tightly fitting dresses and a scene with a scantily clad lady dance team performing on stage. Several of the ladies at Stark’s drunken birthday party are also dressed to seduce.
  • Action-movie violence, guns, explosions all make their requisite appearances, but without any blood or gore.
  • The film has no religious or occult content.

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