Dir: John Favreau. US. 2010. 125mins


Iron Man 2 is in prime position as one of the early-summer blockbusters to make a significant dent at the box office, but whether this superhero adventure will capture the same good-will and return viewing of the 2008 original remains to be seen given its rather scattershot story which feels diluted due to the multiple storylines. The all-star cast, smart effects and ‘must-see’ appeal will go some way to making this Paramount release a hit, but there are also question-marks about the franchise’s appeal.

It remains entertaining, glossy and noisy – the three most important aspects for any would-be summer blockbuster.

There is a niggling sense that almost too much has been added into this sequel resulting in a film that lacks a certain focus and allows itself to be carried along with a series of spectacular set-piece action sequences. But it remains entertaining, glossy and noisy – the three most important aspects for any would-be summer blockbuster.

The original Iron Man movie proved to be something of a left-field success, with the impressive effects-work and the quirky casting of Robert Downey Jr. as playboy Tony Stark, the weapons’ inventor who creates an Iron Man suit to escape from captors, and who takes the unusual superhero route of revealing his identity to the world.

His sparkling and quirky take on playing a superhero clicked with audiences who were submerged in lycra-clad do-gooders (Batman, Spider-man, Superman, X-Men etc) who took their superhero duties oh-so seriously. Plus director Jon Favreau did a great job in re-formulating the Iron Man tale, with a solid story and no over-reliance on effects-driven action moments.

It all starts intriguingly enough as heavily-tattooed Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is seen building a mysterious something in the grungy Moscow flat, while some six months later Iron Man makes a starring appearance at the Stark Industries Expo, as Stark telling the cheering masses how he has brought about world peace.

But Stark has problems at home. The US Senate, encouraged by businessman Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell in nicely over-the-top form) wants him to give up his Iron Man technology, plus there is the little matter of the energy pack in Stark’s chest causing him health problems.

With seemingly only a blow-torch, hummer and a couple of computers, Vanko builds his own super-villain suit, and with revenge on his mind (his father used to work with Stark’s father and always felt cheated) and heads off to Monte Carlo where – for some unknown reason – Stark decides to drive a race car at the Grand Prix.

Iron Man wins out against Whiplash (as Vanko dubs himself), but the Russian is taken away from local police by Hammer, who realises he can utilise the technology. So while Stark is worrying about his health and wallowing in drunken self-pity, Hammer starts developing a new type of armoured robots.

Plus Stark’s best-buddy Lt. Col James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle, who replaces Terrence Howard in the role) is ordered to take one of the Iron Man prototypes; Stark’s relationship with ladyfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is deteriorating, and eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), the boss of secret agency SHIELD, is pestering Stark to join new superhero gang The Avengers.

Phew. Yes, a whole lot of stuff is going on in the film’s middle-section. And that is without not even mentioning the arrival of Pepper’s sultry new assistant (played by Scarlett Johansson), who is not entirely as she appears.

The all-action climax, which sees Stark and Rhodes teaming-up in their respective Iron Man outfits slug it out with a mini-army of heavily armed robotic drones controlled by Vanko is suitably exciting, and naturally the final scenes leave the way open for an expected sequel…or at least allows segue-way into a first Avengers movie.

Robert Downey Jr., plays Stark with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of fun, but can’t quite stamp the same authority onto the film as he did in the first version. Sam Rockwell (who has a nifty little dance-scene towards the climax as he addresses an assembled group of onlookers) overpowers a relatively low-key Mickey Rourke for the film’s over-acting award, while Don Cheadle has the gravitas but never seems to be having fun…until his one very amusing pay-off line at the end of the film.

Scarlett Johansson is shamefully underused as the as the apparently mild-mannered young aide Natalie, who turns out to be – don’t think this is a spoiler really – Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow, an agent of SHIELD. She only gets to wear her skin-tight leather jumpsuit in a few scenes (which will at least please the fan-boys) and only has one fight scene (an impressive one nonetheless). Then rest of the time she seems to be battling with Gwyneth Paltrow for the ‘tightest-fitting-business-skirt’ award as the pair of them totter round looking as executive as possible.

In fact director Jon Favreau has almost as much on-screen time as Johansson as he plays Stark’s friend/driver Happy Hogan, though his on-screen job is to deliver a few laughs, and he does succeed on that score. He also directs impressively, though could have been advised to keep this sequel leaner and meaner rather than as cluttered as the film actually feels.

Production company: Paramount Pictures, Marvel Entertainment

International distribution: Paramount Pictures

Producer: Kevin Feige

Executive producer: Alan Fine, Stan Lee, David Maisel, Denis L. Stewart, Louis D’Esposito, Jon Favreau, Susan Downey

Co-producers: Jeremy Latcham, Victoria Alonso

Screenplay: Justin Favreau

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Editors: Richard Pearson. Dan Lebental

Production designer: J. Michael Riva

Music: John Debney

Main cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L Jackson, Clark Gregg, Garry Shandling, Leslie Bibb, Paul Bettany (voice)