Iron Man 2: The CEO as Superhero

05/07/2010 4:00 AM |

The story-scripted by Justin Theroux, a fine actor who might have asked his uncle for some writing advice-involves Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a Russian national with expensive highlights and a fondness for cockatoos. Seems Vanko’s father once assisted Stark’s father (John Slattery as a combination Roger Sterling and Walt Disney) in creating the prototype of the Iron Man suit. Rourke’s villain wants—what else?—revenge. There’s some additional dramatic hokum about Stark’s increasing blood toxicity, but anyone in the audience worried that Downey’s meal ticket is going anywhere doesn’t understand that Iron Man 3 is a fait accompli.

Pushed to the back burner this time around is Stark’s romance with his personal assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). In the first movie, Paltrow was so visibly uncomfortable in her scenes with Downey that I imagined that whenever director Jon Favreau called cut, she’d shriek, “Ewww, get him off of me.” The two hardly touch in IM2, and when Downey does go in for a kiss during the finale—she rebukes him when he tries earlier—I swear you can see Paltrow’s face tighten.

Favreau’s solution—that is, in addition to giving himself a larger role than last time as one of Stark’s employees—is to fill the babe void with Scarlett Johansson’s new hire over at the Stark Industries legal department. Johansson’s character is some kind of triple-agent, which I guess means she’s supposed to be all mysterious and inscrutable in the scenes where she flirts with Downey’s incurable horndog. At least this conceit plays to her strength as one of Hollywood’s leading inexpressive line readers. But let’s be honest: ScarJo’s there to be ogled, not just by the men in the audience but also by those up on the screen. Pepper’s quip about a potential sexual harassment suit would be a lot funnier if it weren’t so apt.

As for Downey, no one can accuse him of phoning it in, even if a reformed lout isn’t much of a stretch for him. And yet lately the career path he has taken too closely resembles Johnny Depp’s for comfort. Both actors once cultivated an image of artistic integrity—an image largely deserved—while beaming with a subversive streak no studio could suppress. These days, however, they’re both grasping unabashedly for their share of the franchise pie. Don’t count on getting your share, though. Any investment you make in Iron Man 2 will yield nothing but diminishing returns.

Opens May 7