In the United States, the buzz about a new superhero called Iron Man has reached fever pitch, and the strong rumours surrounding billionaire businessman and design genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) have become too much for him to deny. It is for that reason that he arranges a press conference to admit that he is indeed Iron Man, and the news goes wild with this, even reaching Russia where one scientist is less than impressed. He is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who is living in poverty and blaming the Stark family for his situation - but what if he could use his skills for revenge?
Of all the Marvel superhero movies of the new millennium, Iron Man was one of the most popular thanks to its high-spirited action, keen sense of humour, and plentiful effects making it the perfect antidote to The Dark Knight's doom and gloom. A sequel was ordered, and the whole comics company universe was beginning to take shape in cinema form, with a team up promised between the characters of those hit movies to get the fans salivating in anticipation. However, would it be true to say that there were signs of the winning formula showing a few cracks with Iron Man 2, which boasted more of the same from part one, only with a great big dip in the middle of its action?
Not that director Jon Favreau and his screenwriter Justin Theroux were wanting for things to do in this second instalment, it's just that they were pretty cheeseparing with the novelties from about half an hour into the movie to about half an hour from the end. Luckily, the climax was spectacular enough to bear this stretch's weight, but more than one audience member found themselves twiddling their thumbs while waiting for something to happen. Something other than the protagonist wrestling with a number of issues, as if the filmmakers had trouble making up their minds precisely what the overriding theme of the story should be, and had settled on throwing them all in to see which one stuck.
So we were offered Stark's budding romance with his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow back and with an orange tan) which went absolutely nowhere until the last ten minutes, and that's including the credits, Stark wondering if he's living in the shadow of an unresponsive father (John Slattery) who only appears on vintage film reels thanks to him being dead, and Stark considering how close he should be to his best friend Rhodey Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard after some fall out or other), and whether he needs a sidekick who is so far into the military when that self same military are demanding Stark hand over his secrets, something he is reluctant to do.
This is all very well, but if you want to see Iron Man in action, there isn't much of that here. You could argue there wasn't much of it in the first film either, but that was carried by Downey Jr's charisma and big-headed charm, whereas here his character suffers with a heart problem which sees his superpowered replacement poisoning him, leaving an alternative much needed - there you go, yet another issue. As before, the musing over the extent that the latest technology is fuelled by weaponry research is there, but not so much that it overwhelms the drama with angst, as there were plenty of other sources of angst to be dealt with. As if backing up the franchise as ideal for middle aged movie stars to prove they can do just as well as the younger ones, there were quite a few such performers here, accompanied by Scarlett Johansson in an ice queen role that didn't give her much room to manoeuvre. For all its faults, Iron Man 2's strengths were enough to forgive, but did leave you wishing for an experience as sleek as the robot suit next time. Music by John Debney.