When asked how he gets into character for his role of Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies, Robert Downey Jr. replied in typically self-deprecating fashion, “I’m not even really an actor. I make faces for cash and chicken.”
Downey has always been an outsider and has never had much interest in interviews – unless he can find a way to turn them on their ear as he did here. But in the case of Iron Man 2, I don’t think he was kidding.
The movie is one long, extended excuse for having a handful of scenes where robots (or men in robotic suits) smash each other. All that was expected from what must’ve been a very expensive cast was to keep the audience interested when robots weren’t smashing each other.
Downey has never had so few emotions to express. He has a funny line late in the movie where he admits to being a complete narcissist. But we don't laugh so much with the line as at the line. It makes us squirm because all Stark is to us is a man insanely full of himself.
Scarlett Johansson is all curves upon curves and her scenes offer little besides showing off her lips, my vote for the most sensual lips in popular culture. But Johansson looks lost, just a free-floating image from a fashion magazine. When she finally becomes Natasha Romanoff late in the movie and gets to kick a bunch of bad guys around, you can hear her giggling with glee – and sighing with relief.
Samuel L. Jackson is totally wasted as Nick Fury. He has no character to play. He has almost no words to say. I kept waiting for words to twirl about on his tongue like his usual little dancers and kept finding nothing but an empty stage. Where was Quentin Tarantino when Nick Fury needed a rewrite?
Mickey Rourke looks promising as the heavy with wicked stuff to do, Ivan Vanko. He’s cool and imposing as he scowls in the middle of a Grand Prix track wielding electrified whips and dispatching race cars like a mad matador. But the screenwriter apparently spent all his words on that one scene, leaving Vanko and Rourke with nothing to do but simmer and sulk for the rest of the movie.
Most disappointing for me though was Sam Rockwell as the main bad guy Justin Hammer. He tries hard and fails completely to make us love to hate a guy who essentially wants to be a dark mini-Stark. But all I could think about was how brilliant Rockwell was last year in the science fiction future classic Moon.
Now, I suppose I’m leaving myself open once again to accusations that I’m taking a movie, a “fun comic book movie,” too seriously. “Lighten up and have some fun!” I hear people saying. And I wanted to do just that. I would’ve happily sat back and enjoyed campy performances if those scenes of robots smashing each other were fun.
But two things got in the way. The performances just aren’t campy. They’re tired. And the action isn’t exciting. It’s rote. The trailers before the movie included The Other Guy with Will Ferrell lamenting action movie clichés including characters nonchalantly walking away from explosions. I could still hear him whining throughout the feature presentation.
I hope everyone in the star-studded cast at least had a good time while making Iron Man 2. That they got plenty of cash – and that the chicken was tasty.