Around 40 minutes in, Iron Man 2 is shaping up to be the best comic-book movie ever. Robert Downey Jr is nailing every scene as returning hero Tony Stark, Scarlett Johansson has made a slinky impression as his new assistant Natalie and Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash – a heavily tatted Russian with a grudge against Robert as big as his biceps – has brought the Monaco Grand Prix to a devastating halt with his electric cat o’ nine tails. So far, director Jon Favreau and Tropic Thunder scribe Justin Theroux have not put a foot wrong. If this keeps up, you think, we may just have another X2 or Dark Knight on our hands.
But that’s about to change. Because the next hour of Favreau’s follow-up to his 2008 hit is surprisingly dull – a wasteland of nothing that makes you wonder if the dodgy mechanics imperilling Tony’s life have somehow spread to the camera. Yes, there’s a mildly diverting metal-man smackdown between a drunken Downey and army pal Don Cheadle that reduces Stark’s Malibu pad to rubble. And there’s a tidy jail break that allows Rourke’s terrific villain to team up with Sam Rockwell’s annoying defence contractor and build a legion of robot soldiers.
Mostly, though, it’s just endless talk. Tony talking to loyal aide-turned-Star Industries CEO Gwyneth Paltrow. Tony talking to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in a donut shop. Tony talking to his sentient computer, voice by Paul Bettany, or being talked to by his long dead dad (Mad Men’s John Slattery) bia some old home movies. It’s as if Favreau has forgotten how to make an action blockbuster and has defaulted to Swingers.
Things rally in time for the finale, with a power-suited Downey and Cheadle taking on Rockwell’s droids and Scarlett’s S.H.E.I.L.D. vixen dispatching goons in a figure-hugging catsuit. For all that, you’re likely to feel short changed – not only by that frustrating midsection slump, but also because you won’t have had nearly enough Mickey for your money.