Given enough oxygen, water and time, any mass of iron will rust and eventually crumble. Given a little more than two hours, Iron Man 2 crumbles under the weight of a huge production budget ... and Scarlett Johansson. That is by no means a comment on Johansson's weight--for goodness sake, you can practically count her ribs when she slips into a skintight body suit. But somebody please explain her presence in major studio releases. Apart from her ability to not blink for what seems like eternity, she just looks bored. Johansson plays Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) new personal assistant, Natalie Rushman, and it's not giving too much away by saying that her character has at least three personas. It's too bad not one of them is the least bit interesting. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Stark's former aide and now CEO of his company, Stark Industries. Paltrow, who hasn't given a good performance since ... well, hmmm ... registers yet another performance that will probably result in the Motion Picture Academy recalling her Oscar. Johansson and Paltrow comprise a critical element to a superhero action flick: eye candy. But would it kill them to at least register a pulse? They are in a very tight race to be crowned queen of Hollywood adequacy.
Iron Man 2 jumpstarts the summer movie season and is built to roust the fanboys from their long winter hibernation. But the Batman, Spiderman and X-Men franchises all showed significant strength in their sequels. Ironman 2 simply offers more: more eye candy, more CGI, more villains.
Sam Rockwell, who plays Justin Hammer, is usually spot on, but in this go-'round, he just works the edges and never truly commits to his role as an ambitious war profiteer. Don Cheadle, who portrays James Rhodes, is undoubtedly one of the finest screen actors, but he may not be keeping Iron Man 2 on his resume for long. And what is Samuel L. Jackson doing here? About two reels in, Jackson appears as covert agent Nick Fury for no discernible good reason. And then there's Mickey Rourke as villain Ivan Vanko with a faux-Russian accent so overblown, he makes Bullwinkle's Boris and Natasha sound authentic. And here's a quick stock tip: invest in toothpicks--Rourke chews a forest of them in two hours.
Watching Downey as Tony Stark/Iron Man mug for the camera is too reminiscent of his lesser work (The Pickup Artist, Air America). There's no excuse. We've seen how funny he can be (Tropic Thunder) and how much complexity he can bring to even an average movie (The Soloist).
Director Jon Favreau spends a little too much time in front of the camera as Tony Stark's gofer Happy Hogan, and not enough time with screenwriter Justin Theroux. The Iron Man 2 script includes some questionable references to the effectiveness of the U.S. military. And they pilfer one story line directly from Superman II: When Downey's Stark revisits some filmed comments from his late father, Howard Stark (John Slattery), it's awfully similar to when Superman (Christopher Reeve) revisits comments from his father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando).
OK, the fights are impressive, as are the car crashes--they pile up more cars than a Toyota recall. But this isn't a video game. Favreau and his crew spent a lot of money on the special effects for Iron Man 2. Too bad they wasted their best effect: Downey's talent.