In its second outing, the Iron Man franchise is bigger, louder, funnier, darker and more emotional than before. So much so that you hardly notice how thin and choppy the plot is.
After saving the world, cocky arms-maker Tony Stark (Downey) is riding on his laurels and fending off attacks from his smarmy competitor (Rockwell) and a pushy senator (Shandling). Then a mysterious Russian (Rourke) nearly kills him with technology that matches his own.
But Tony has another secret problem: his mechanical heart is killing him. He won't confide in his faithful assistant Pepper (Paltrow) or his best pal Rhodes (Cheadle), but he prepares to leave everything to them. Then the shady Nick Fury (Jackson) offers him another option.
Of course, all of this will boil over into a mammoth, whiz-bang action finale in which all of the strands come to a head while laying the groundwork for part 3. And even if this film feels like it suffers from attention-deficit disorder, leaping randomly through various under-written storylines, the film is lively and visually impressive, helped hugely by the emphasis on relationships between the more fleshed-out characters.