Robert Downey Jr., left, stars as Tony Stark AKA Iron Man and Don Cheadle plays Col. James Rhodes AKA War Machine in “Iron Man 2.”
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the wisecracking, lovably narcissistic billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark in “Iron Man 2,” with director Jon Favreau again overseeing the explosive action and witty banter with a clever and steady eye.
Not quite as entertaining as its 2008 predecessor but still loads of fun, the hotly anticipated sequel gets the summer blockbuster season off to a promising, bombastic start.
“Iron Man 2″ gets rolling before the Paramount logo even gets off the screen, replaying the final moments of the first film, in which Stark goes against everyone’s advice and reveals his heroic alter ego.
That rash decision earns the scrutiny of the U.S. government, particularly smarmy Sen. Stern (Garry Shandling), who wants to force the weapons developer to turn over the Iron Man suit to the military. Stark’s refusal puts him in conflict with his best pal, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, authoritatively stepping in for Terrence Howard, who originated the role), even when Tony produces evidence that the rest of the world – including weaselly rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) – is years away from successfully copying his high-tech armor.
Tony’s big reveal also brings him to the attention of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a troubled Russian physicist whose father worked with Stark’s late dad. Vanko blames the Stark family for his own clan’s downfall and plots to take very public revenge on Iron Man.
When Vanko’s dying papa provides him with plans for the mini arc reactor that runs the Iron Man suit, the vengeful son creates his own power unit and a set of nasty mechanical whips. After an explosive battle between Iron Man and Vanko AKA Whiplash – one of the movie’s best setpieces – Hammer reaches out to the fledgling supervillain.
And Tony becomes increasingly withdrawn and self-destructive, puzzling his loyal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he makes CEO of Stark Industries, and her sexy successor as Tony’s PA, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who is harboring a secret.
Tony has a secret of his own: Only his supercomputer Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany) realizes that the palladium in the arc reactor that keeps him alive is slowly poisoning him. Tony desperately searches for an alternative power source, getting help from superhero overseer Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who appeared after the final credits of “Iron Man”). Fury believes the answer to the life-or-death problem lies in some of the personal effects Tony’s father, Howard Stark (John Slattery), left behind.
Like many superhero movie sequels, “Iron Man 2″ comes a bit overstuffed with baddies and explosions and it can’t quite recapture the charm of our first meeting the larger-than-life characters. But it still qualifies as a fantastic and fun follow-up, with a mystery in the middle that lets the audience get to know the smart-alecky Stark a bit better.
The action sequences are thrilling, the one-liners zippy (even if some of the good ones in the trailers didn’t make the final cut) and the casting superb. And Marvel fans definitely should keep their seats all the way through the end credits.
The second installment makes me look forward to Favreau, Downey and the rest hopefully kicking off another blockbuster season with “Iron Man 3″ in a couple of years.