| The highly anticipated sequel to the 2008 box office sensation kicks off the 2010 summer movie season with enough goodwill that the built-in fan base will accept anything put on the screen just to spend a couple of hours with the characters again.
Director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. in the title role as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark are reunited along with the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s loyal assistant and possible romantic interest Virginia “Pepper” Potts. Actor Justin Theroux takes over the reins as screenwriter, and Kansas City native Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony’s pal and military liaison in charge of weapons procurement.
A lot more humor is injected into this dialogue-heavy film with only three major action scenes. The various plotlines and multiple new characters make things messy and confusing.
The movie takes place six months after Tony has revealed his identity as a superhero. His popularity has soared to the level of a rock star. He gives the keynote speech at the Stark Expo held at the same site as the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
He is running out of time and options because his body is rejecting the palladium core of the miniaturized arc reactor in his chest that keeps the shrapnel out of his heart. His blood toxicity is rising to a dangerous level. He displays erratic behavior and makes a fool out of himself by getting drunk in public.
With his health teetering on the terminal abyss, he sees the need to name a successor to run Stark Industries. He signs the necessary paperwork delivered by sexy, red-headed paralegal Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) making Pepper the chairman of the board and CEO of the company.
Rushman becomes his new assistant. She has a secret identity that is revealed later.
Stark’s driver and bodyguard “Happy” Hogan (Favreau) returns to the fray with a more expanded role including that of boxing sparring partner.
The government wants Tony to turn over his armored suit and he receives a subpoena to appear before Sen. Stern (Garry Shandling) and the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is a manipulative rival competitor scheming to ruin Tony’s company by getting his hands on the blueprint designs. He forms an alliance with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a demented Russian physicist with his own revenge motives against the Stark family.
The media is always present to help tell the story through C-SPAN, CNN, press conferences and political commentary from Bill O’Reilly. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee has a cameo as Larry King.
Samuel L. Jackson playing Nick Fury, the head espionage guy of S.H.I.E.L.D., finally shows up to fill in the blanks for the non-comic book readers still in the dark over what has taken place.
Those seeking exciting action, pyrotechnics and CGI-enhanced special effects will have to be satisfied with the Monaco Grand Prix segment and an explosive culminating battle pitting mechanized drones led by Whiplash against Iron Man and War Machine.
Although not as exciting and suspenseful as the first film, there is enough entertainment value in this adventure to have you coming back for second helpings.
Downey seems to have found a comfort zone, and his enjoyment combined with a charismatic personality transcends the screen. Eye candy is dished out with the attractive sexiness of Paltrow and Johansson, who joust for affectionate testosterone-fueled responses.
Acting laurels belong to Rockwell as the over-the-top villain who ties all the strands together. The rough-looking Rourke sports a toothpick in his mouth and a body adorned with tattoos. He mumbles his lines with a thick Russian accent, making his character unintelligible.
The choreography, stunt work and the scenic filming locations are key strengths. In addition to trying to squeeze in too much material, the movie suffers from wildly uneven pacing and sags in the middle with a lot of unnecessary filler to kill time.
The concluding scene is a teaser for the lesser-known “Avengers” that include Thor, a giant hammer-wielding Viking, and Captain America, a guy dressed like an American flag. There is a final Easter egg zinger for insatiable comic book geeks following the end credits.
The IMAX version is available exclusively in Johnson County at AMC Studio 30 in Olathe.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"