Director: Jon Favreau Release Date: May 27 Rarely does a sequel surpass, or even live up to, the original. Once in awhile there are a few exceptions to this rule like, say, The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, Spider-Man 2, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but sadly Iron Man 2 doesn't make that list. Still, it comes pretty darn close. When Iron Man swooped into the theaters two summers ago it was like a breath of fresh air because director Jon Favreau was able to prove that a superhero film could still be well-made and have a serious tone even when it was bright, flashy and a little silly. Also adding to the film's playful charm was the charismatic and lively performance from Robert Downey Jr., who made watching billionaire weapons manufacturer and playboy Tony Stark become his metallic alter ego an absolute riot. All of these things can still be found in the second chapter, the only problem is Favreau tries to have a little too much fun, which makes the film come off as overly cheesy at times. (You'll know exactly what I am talking about when you see the scene where Stark celebrates his birthday with guests, alcohol and a turntable.) And those who are looking for Iron Man 2 to satisfy their craving for nonstop action will likely walk away with a stomach so empty you'll be able to hear it rumbling from a mile away. Favreau's movie, which has impressive special effects, comes close to redeeming itself in this category thanks to a nearly 25-minute finale that is a splendid feast for the eyes, but the rest of the running time lacks the jaw-dropping action one would expect from a summer blockbuster. Depending on what type of viewer you are, though, that could be considered a good thing or a bad thing. It's a bad thing if all you want is a continuous string of action scenes, but it's a good thing if you care about character development and storylines that actually makes sense. Me, I tend to fall into the latter group, and those who are in the same boat should be tremendously pleased because the screenplay from Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) sure has a lot on its plate. Now that the origins of Iron Man have been revealed and examined, Favreau's sequel sets out to introduce us to additional villains and sidekicks, more resourceful suits and gadgets, and new obstacles for our hero to overcome. Iron Man 2 picks up about six months after its predecessor left off, and at first glance life couldn't seem more perfect for Stark, who is adored by millions and has privatized world peace. But under the surface Stark is struggling with the realization that any day could be his last. The miniature arc reactor in his chest that is keeping shrapnel from entering his heart is also poisoning his blood, and this problem is exacerbated even further whenever he dons his suit to fight crime (or show off). Thinking he doesn't have much time left, Tony promotes his loyal assistant (and potential love interest), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), to CEO of Stark Industries, so he knows his family company will be left in good hands. With this change, however, his assistant position is left empty, but it doesn't take long before it's filled by the sexy Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), who just might be hiding some ulterior motives. Even though countries around the globe are happy Iron Man is here to protect them, the U.S. government wants to seize Stark's suits, which they view as dangerous weapons that could cause irreversible destruction if they fall into the wrong hands. Stark's longtime friend and military confidante, Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, who steps in for Terrence Howard, brings more gravitas to the role), wants to help him out, but even he is growing tired of Tony's constant antics. But as annoying as the pestering government can be, the biggest thorn in Stark's side is his competitor, Justin Hammer, an arms dealer who is played with a perfect balance of cockiness and incompetence by Sam Rockwell. Hammer is always the Wile E. Coyote to Stark's Road Runner, but he finally gets his chance to one-up his rival when he meets Russian physicist Ivan Vanko, who is seeking revenge against Tony for something his father, Howard Stark, did in the past. Sounds like a lot to wrap your brain around, doesn't it? I can't blame you, but thankfully Theroux and Favreau are able to handle the multiple, and I mean multiple, narratives in such a way that the movie hardly ever feels convoluted. (If they would've botched this aspect Iron Man 2 could have easily turned into a bloated mess like Spider-Man 3.) Favreau and Theroux spend enough time on each character so all of the bases are covered, but they are still able to prevent themselves from lingering for too long on one character or storyline. And, as was the case with the first Iron Man, Downey Jr. continues to be Favreau's strongest asset here. Tony Stark is so smug and outspoken that under normal circumstances you would want to hate him to death, but Downey Jr. has the ability to turn even the most serious situations into pure comedy, and the words he spits from his motor mouth are frequently the very definition of intellectually cool. It's hard to imagine what the Iron Man franchise would be like without the great Downey Jr. That's something I never want to think about, and luckily, we don't have to. As for the rest of the performances, you won't be hearing a single complaint from me. The acting is not something that is going to be recognized by the Academy Awards, but all of the major players fill their roles nicely, and their performances shouldn't divert your attention from what you should be focusing on. So what is this thing I speak of that you should be focusing on? Having a great time at the movies. And in that regard, Iron Man 2 delivers on the goods more often that not. Photobucket