starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson
screenplay by Justin Theroux
directed by Jon Favreau
by Walter Chaw A multi-million-dollar machine carefully engineered to generate the ridiculous amount of money it's about to, Iron Man 2 is kept from total, instant obsolescence by its "too good for this shit" cast, which cleverly manages to distract from the fact that this flick is a tone-deaf, laborious mess. Front and centre is Mickey Rourke as wronged Russian physicist Ivan Vanko, an amalgam of two Iron Man villains and so enigmatic a presence that although the dumbass screenplay (by actor Justin Theroux) takes pains to make Vanko's angst father-based, it's hard not to be distracted by the more mysterious depths of Rourke's performance. Similarly good are Gwyneth Paltrow, whose Girl Friday Pepper Potts is given the keys to her boss's Stark Industries and burdened instantly by expectation and cable-news notoriety; Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, again playing himself as a tech billionaire; and Sam Rockwell as an unctuous, fake-baked rival defense contractor. Not so great are the bland set-pieces, the misguided attempt to parallel Vanko's avenge-daddy motivation with Tony's make-dead-daddy-proud motivation into one legacy-based leitmotif, and a series of convoluted plot mechanisms (Tony's dying! Tony loves Pepper! No, he loves dead-eyed, one-note-but-hot Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)! Tony's company is in trouble! Tony's in trouble with the government! Tony likes to get drunk!) that grind the whole enterprise to a standstill at short intervals. If you can maintain your interest during an extended sequence in which our Tony plays with a bunch of virtual computer screens while building a long tube, you either drank the Kool-Aid that makes you care whether Tony lives or dies, or you've slipped blissfully into a coma.