Let’s get one thing straight: Iron Man 2 is a comedy with explosions. Not that I’m complaining—it plays to the strengths of the team assembled: director Jon “You’re so money” Favreau; star Robert Downey Jr, who makes narcissism look endearing; and screenwriter Justin Theroux, who wrote a role for Downey in madcap Tropic Thunder that had him in black face and got him an Oscar nomination. Without the banter and screwball timing, this sequel would be flat, average: a basic revenge story filling time until Iron Man 3 comes out. But every time Downey opens his mouth, you have to admit: You’re having fun. Probably as much fun as the producers had making it.
The plot’s easy enough to follow: Billionaire badboy/genius Tony Stark (Downey) has managed to “privatize world peace” with his Iron Man suit, and he’s riding that high horse all over town: into a Senate subcommittee meeting, where Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) is itching to get his hands on the “Iron Man weapon”; to a tech expo in Flushing, Queens, where icky competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) practically whimpers with envy. Stark’s begging to be knocked down, and the man up to the task is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of a Russian scientist who worked with Tony’s father. Vanko blames the Starks for his father’s death, so he tinkers in a dark, dingy room in Moscow on a suit of his own. With his mouth full of metal and tattooed limbs, Rourke’s villain (Whiplash, for all the fanboys out there) is both menacing and a mumbler. Even he gets laughs.
Speaking of fanboys, they’ll be sated with the (otherwise inexplicable) addition of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his S.H.I.E.L.D squad, including triple agent Natalie Rushman, a spandex-clad Scarlett Johansson who’s actually plausible as an ass-kicker. You get the sense the Favreau crew had fun filming the scenes ScarJo shared with Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Tony’s secretary-turned-CEO; in one lingering shot of both ladies in skin-tight pencil dresses, you watch them stride up a set of stairs, hips rocking back and forth like metronomes. See, it’s still a comic book movie.
Hint: Stick around until after the credits. Iron Man 2 opens nationwide May 7.