In A Summer Of Sequels, The Stars R Us

Iron Man

Live Strong: That whatchamacallit in Iron Man's chest? It's causing him heartaches -- and that's just one of the ways in which Hollywood is inviting aging boomer audiences to identify with the characters in its biggest franchises. Industrial Light & Magic hide caption

itoggle caption Industrial Light & Magic

Hollywood's coming off a spring full of remakes: Nightmare on Elm Street, Death at a Funeral, Clash of the Titans. Now it's time for a summer of sequels — new installments of the Sex and the City, Shrek, Twilight, Step-Up, Predators and Toy Story franchises. And new in theaters this weekend? Iron Man 2, of course.

No rust growing on this Iron giant, though there is a little growing on his plot this time. Tony Stark — the onetime munitions manufacturer who dons red-metal drag to save the world from ... munitions — is now facing down three villains: one Russian and very '60s, one corporate and very '90s, and one in Congress, who thinks the U.S government should own the patent on that collapsible red-metal suit. Stark politely declines, pointing out that he has "successfully privatized world peace."

That's an applause line for a different administration, no? But grant Robert Downey Jr. his jokes. Without them, he'd have to settle for the action, which seems a little world-weary this time — mostly Iron Man battling a guy with electrified bullwhips, over what amounts to a copyright infringement dispute.

The point of contention is that glowing battery pack Iron Man has in his chest. It keeps his heart going, but it's also poisoning him, apparently, which you'd think he'd bring up when Whippy-guy complains that his dad never got credit for inventing it. But no, they mostly just fight. Repeatedly. Remind me again why we're supposed to want to see all these titanic clashes, over and over and over?

Fiona and Shrek i i

Couples' Counseling, Stat: Fiona and Shrek confront a relationship issue in Shrek Forever After, due May 21. DreamWorks hide caption

itoggle caption DreamWorks
Fiona and Shrek

Couples' Counseling, Stat: Fiona and Shrek confront a relationship issue in Shrek Forever After, due May 21.

DreamWorks

Now, I'd not realized until this sequel-infested month of May that there's more than diminishing returns at work in the various parts 2, 3, and 4-ever after. But it's becoming increasingly obvious: Where Hollywood used to merely repeat itself in the search for sequel gold, producers have recently decided the way to keep us identifying with their characters is to slowly turn them into us.

The cast of 'Sex and the City' i i

Going Astray? Love trouble is more or less a given when it's Sex and the City we're talking about -- but at least the ladies have company this summer. hide caption

itoggle caption
The cast of 'Sex and the City'

Going Astray? Love trouble is more or less a given when it's Sex and the City we're talking about -- but at least the ladies have company this summer.

And we're aging.

So this time around we're supposed to worry about Iron Man's health issues. And in a couple of weeks, Shrek's going to have a midlife crisis. And a week later the Sex and the City gals' turning 40 — or 60, or whatever they're up to now — will lead to midmarriage meltdowns. After which the Toy Story toys will agonize over retirement.

I'm not making any of this up.

Seriously, those are really the plot lines of this summer's biggest potential blockbusters. None of which means the movies are terrible. Iron Man 2 isn't bad, if you like your special effects mixed with blood-toxicity issues.

But it does make you wonder, as sequel fever turns to sequelitis, whether there's a retirement community just around the cinematic corner — a kind of Hollywood Home where Shrek and Fiona will join the gals for Bingo in the City, as the big red guy rusts quietly in the corner.

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