When the original Iron Man blasted its way into theaters two years ago, the film — like its armored antihero — was most definitely flying below the radar. Robert Downey Jr. was not yet the roguishly charming, bankable leading man that he is today; Iron Man wasn’t exactly a superhero with a gargantuan built-in fan base like, say, Superman or Batman; and, speaking of Batman, there was that other comic-book movie, The Dark Knight, also opening in summer 2008… and the anticipation for that may have overshadowed Iron Man just a wee bit. So imagine the near universal delight of moviegoers when Downey’s bravura turn as hard-living-smartass-weapons-manufacturer-turned-not-so-secret-superhero Tony Stark helped Iron Man explode expectations, catapulting the comeback kid (well, comeback adult) back onto the A list in a big way and setting up soaring expectations for a sequel.
A couple years and one hell of a stacked cast later, that sequel has arrived, steeped in such ridiculous buzz it might seem destined to crash and burn. Well, exhale deeply and smile — because Iron Man 2 is pretty darned good. Sure, the two-hours-plus running time could have been trimmed down and the various intertwining plots wouldn’t have suffered from some tightening, but all the goods that made the original such a hoot are still there. Badass action: check. RDJ (that’s what we call Robert Downey Jr., because we’re pals) at the top of his one-liner-spewing game: check. Palpable sexual tension between Downey’s Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts: definitely check.
When part two of the saga begins, Tony Stark is reveling in his newfound national-hero status. He’s basically achieved world peace and, unlike pretty much every other superhero that’s ever graced a movie screen, he’s not opposed to being worshiped for it. He’s a less altruistic Superman, he’s what Batman would be if Bruce Wayne dressed up in costume, got hammered and entertained party guests by blowing stuff up with his neat-o weapons (oh yes, that happens in this movie). Stark is happy to yell from the mountaintop — or to a Senate hearing committee chaired by Gary Shandling — that “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” And that’s what makes this superhero character so intriguing: He doesn’t want an alter ego; he wants credit for his good deeds.
The witty script, from Tropic Thunder scribe Justin Theroux, highlights Stark’s lovable narcissism, giving Downey plenty of great moments for grandstanding (emphasis on the grand), at the same time that it depicts his more vulnerable side. You see, this time around Stark has three foes: Cackling Russian baddie Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who’s got a vendetta with the Stark family, a brain as sharp as Tony’s and a weird fondness for cockatoos; rival weapons developer Justin Hammer (a comically snide Sam Rockwell); and, perhaps most lethally, toxic side effects from the very heart that’s keeping him alive.
The plot goes something like this: Vanko wants to kill Stark, so he builds his own suit in the hopes of whiplashing Tony into oblivion. Meanwhile, the U.S. government wants the Iron Man technology for itself, so it hires Hammer to work on a prototype. Vanko, in need of better resources to execute plan Obliterate Tony Stark, joins forces with Hammer, who’s the kind of guy who wipes his butt with Benjamins, eats elegant meals in airplane hangars, and wants to build a whole fleet of iron men to fight in the U.S. armed services. At the same time, Tony is living like a man with a death wish and trying to find a cure for the deadly side effects of being Iron Man. Oh, and Samuel L. Jackson still wants Tony to join the covert S.H.I.E.L.D. force, and Tony’s got a new assistant in the shapely form of Scarlett Johansson, who — surprise, surprise — is a skintight-leather-wearing undercover agent named Black Widow.
If that sounds convoluted, that’s because, well, it kind of is. But it won’t take away from your enjoyment one iota. If you liked the first one, you’ll be Stark raving mad for the second.