Iron Man is back, a little lighter in both material and structure, a little darker in tone and deed, yet at the heart of it all beats a decent summer thriller that should satisfy more than a few.
It's been six months since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealed that he is Iron Man. The resulting world peace accord is greeted around the globe with great excitement, but governments, particularly Tony's own, are nervous that all of this power lies within the hands of one man.
The military wants his suit to study, but Stark says no. Behind the scenes, he's discovered the palladium element that powers his internal arc reactor is having a dire effect on his body. Unless he can find a substitute, the thing that gives him strength will eventually kill him. Unfortunately, he's tested every element known to man and nothing works.
On the other side of the world in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) watches his brilliant physicist father Anton die from a long, deteriorating disease. Anton Vanko created the arc reactor with Tony's father, Howard (John Slattery), but the two had their differences and Anton was deported in shame.
With revenge in mind, Ivan, also a brilliant scientist, develops a similar arc reactor with specially designed whips that produce massive charges of electricity that can cut through anything. The two will meet in Monaco -- Tony intends to drive his Grand Prix car through the city streets, and Ivan plans to cut him into pieces at his earliest convenience. Yikes! It's a great scene and it doesn't end there.
Ivan will eventually get some high-tech help from another weapons company headed up by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival of Stark's.
Tony will get some help from S.H.I.E.L.D., a top-secret agency that apparently involves other superheroes a la the Avengers. Its leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), along with his superagents, have a much bigger presence in this film, leading to an "Avengers" movie just around the corner (May 2012).
Unfortunately, it looks like Iron Man is taking a back seat IN HIS OWN MOVIE to Fury and friends.
Other disappointments: too little suspense and buildup to the action scenes, the story line feels choppy, the fights are filmed in a way that seems to copy Michael Bay's dizzying style, Don Cheadle is too clever and funny to be used in such a sullen and sparing role, and the big finale battle scene is almost over before it starts.
Other than that, I liked it.
The effects are nicely upgraded, Rourke makes a great villain, Robert Downey Jr. is his usual charming self, Cheadle is better than Terrence Howard (who wanted too much money) and Jon Favreau gets more face time as Happy Hogan.
So, I was content with "Iron Man 2." I went with low expectations, based on what I'd read, and it managed to exceed those, which is tough for any follow-up, especially one that comes on the heels of such a wildly successful original film.
P.S.: Stay through the closing credits.
Steve Salles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.