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.
Downey is on fine form as a guy whose arrogance and charm leave everyone either hating or loving him. As before, his scenes with Paltrow simmer with chemistry, as their banter hints at the issues between them. And Johansson steps between them effortlessly in the film's best role as a sexy lawyer with a terrific secret. Meanwhile, Rourke and Rockwell deliver full-on performances in side roles that are packed with intriguing subtext even if they're not really allowed to develop.
Director Jon Favreau wisely keeps the action more character-based this time, with less focus on the extremely cool effects and more attention to detail. Sure, a couple of pointlessly destructive clashes are here just for the fanboys, and there's more shattering glass than is strictly necessary. But most set pieces are exhilarating, mixing sharp comedy with grim brutality in a way that keeps us glued to our seats.
It"s a fun watch with no questions needed to be asked about how certain things are possible, well it"s a big ticket movie after all, so just go and enjoy it.
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle
Rating: 3.5 out of 5*