Screened hours after our press deadlines, Iron Man 2 opens Friday, but we're giving you the review hot off the digital presses.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man

WW Critic's Score: 67

Maybe it's because of its frank occupation with the research, construction and patenting of shiny new gizmos, but Iron Man 2 feels far more like industry than art. Like its predecessor, Jon Favreau's second box of Marvels gets in its digs at the dangers of military privatization, but that warning doesn't feel so heartfelt this time—it's lost in the whir of spinoff production. When Iron Man 2 ends, we're not merely positioned for an all-star Avengers picture, but for Captain America and Thor as well. This is less a movie than an R and D department. I was reminded of that line from Jaws: All this machine does is swim and eat and make little superhero movies.

With all the business being conducted, it's a wonder the movie finds time to entertain, but it does, here and there. The dialogue is quicksilver swift, the action set pieces function smoothly, and Mickey Rourke gums up the works enjoyably as the vengeful Ruskie badnik Whiplash—his grin, with its easy charm disfigured by hard living and alloyed teeth, has a gleeful nihilism, as if all he has left to enjoy is smashing everything still pretty. The whole film, in fact, strikes a posture of reckless hedonism, with the offered excuse that our hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dying from palladium seeping from his artificial ticker into his bloodstream. When he and Army pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle) have a falling out, they get into metal costume and obliterate his waterfront mansion with the gusto of two heirs who don't know how much anything costs.

Downey continues to preen as the wisenheimer made good; he's still relishing his redemption tour, and who can blame him? But this is a less invested performance than his last one (his new character arc: I'm dying! Now I'm not!), and I wonder how long he can keep playing the smartest guy in dumb, loud rooms like this and Sherlock Holmes before taking some kind of creative risk. (The only potentially brave project on his plate is an Edgar Allen Poe biopic directed by Sylvester Stallone, and even then it's not like he's working with the young Orson Welles.) He knows exactly what he's doing, but has no idea why he's doing it. His confusion merges with the movie's: It mocks Tony Stark's Übermensch delusions, but can offer no alternatives. Would you prefer your national security cooked up by a narcissistic businessman, or by an unscrupulous military? I'm not hungry, thanks.

On another level, of course, Iron Man 2 knows precisely its motivation. It wants to set the table for that Avengers movie, which is coming in 2012 with (vapors!) Joss Whedon directing. He'll have his work cut out for him: The scenes here with Scarlett Johansson as baby dominatrix Natasha Romanoff are almost wholly without interest, not because of her performance, but because they're shot like Esurance commercials. Much better—the best thing in Iron Man 2 by far, actually—are the appearances by Sam Rockwell as a rival tycoon. Rockwell coos and purrs like a teenager trying to borrow his dad's car. In a completely artificial movie, he's the only player who's sincerely insincere. Everybody else is a cog in the cool factory. When Thor's hammer appears in the post-credits final shot, it doesn't feel like superheroes are teaming up—it feels like a corporate merger. PG-13.

Opens Friday at 99 West Drive-In, Broadway Metro 4 Theatres, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century at Clackamas Town Center, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, CineMagic Theatre, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lake Twin Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Roseway Theatre, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, St. Johns Twin Cinemas and Pub, Tigard 11 Cinemas and Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.