What makes Iron Man stand apart from other comic book screen superheroes is the savoir faire of the title character's debonair alter ego. Billionaire inventor Tony Stark is always quick with the clever quip, whether reacting flirtatiously to the arrival of a new employee ("I want one!"), impulsively entering the Monaco Grand Prix ("What's the point of owning a race car if you can't drive it?"), or dismissing an insufferable adversary ("You look like you have friends in low places.").
This makes the movie a delight to watch not only during the obligatory fight sequences but the rest of the time as well. Credit in this regard must go to Robert Downey, Jr. for lending an abundance of natural charm to the role and to director Jon Favreau for ostensibly encouraging his star's inclination to augment his scripted lines with lots of inspired ad-libs.
Besides Downey, other returning cast members include Favreau as Stark's chauffeur Happy Hogan; Gwyneth Paltrow as his employee and potential love interest Virginia "Pepper" Potts; Leslie Bibb as reporter Christine Everheart, Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson; and Samuel L. Jackson in an expanded capacity as General Nick Fury. And foremost among additions to the A-List ensemble are Don Cheadle who replaces Terrence Howard as Stark's pal Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes; Mickey Rourke as his nemesis Ivan Vanko; Sam Rockwell as his business rival Justin Hammer; and Scarlett Johansson as the inscrutable temptress Natalie Rushman.
The sequel picks up right where the original adventure left off, with Iron Man serving as a formidable deterrent to those even thinking about causing trouble anywhere on the planet. Because his identity has been revealed, Stark is soon subpoenaed to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee by a showboating senator (Garry Shandling) demanding that he share his secrets with the military. But the suspicious genius inventor, feeling that he has successfully privatized world peace, refuses out of a concern that the state-of-the-art technology could fall into the wrong hands.
Meanwhile, half a world away, Ivan Vanko, a maniacal Russian physicist with a personal grudge to settle with the Stark family, is meeting with frustration while working on his own impenetrable suit of armor. His limited resources and lust for revenge conveniently dovetail with the needs of munitions manufacturer Justin Hammer who has plenty of money but not the know-how to compete with Stark Industries.
This straightforward setup hints at the inevitable battle royal between the forces of good and evil. En route to that spectacular, special effects-driven showdown, expect to be engaged by a variety of intriguing subplots revolving around everything from Tony's failing health to Rhodey's loyalty to Pepper's promotion to CEO to Natalie's true identity.
Overall, a satisfying sequel signaling a promising start of the summer blockbuster season. Just be sure to hang around clear through to the end of the closing credits for a big clue about which Marvel superhero might be adapted to the big screen next.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense sci-fi violence.
In English and French with subtitles.
Running time: 125 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
To see a trailer for "Iron Man 2," visit: