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Iron Man 2 doesn't fly as high as the original, but it still delivers

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With the original Iron Man a surprise hit during the summer of 2008, Iron Man 2 isn't exactlyIron Man 2 going to sneak up on anybody like its predecessor. Due to the monster success of the first film (which grossed over $300 million in the US), it's needless to say that this much anticipated sequel has lofty expectations. And to the delight of comic book fans everywhere, it passes most of them quite nicely.

On the surface, life seems pretty good for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as the film begins. He has re-launched the Stark Expo, which was started by his late father, and his status as the world's premiere weapons manufacturer is further enforced in a humorous scene at a Senate hearing.

Behind the scenes however, Stark's life is falling apart. The government is pressuring him to surrender his technology. The armor that was once designed to keep Stark alive has now become the same device that is killing him, and his relationship with former assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has become strained. Moreover, Stark has a new assistant named Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), who is not at all what she appears to be. Just when things can't get any worse, Stark is ambushed while racing in Monaco by Ivan Vanko-Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke), whose late father carried a vendetta against the Stark family which he took to his grave. Shortly after a brief incarceration, Vanko is recruited by Stark's rival manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who hires Vanko to create an army that will attempt to upstage Stark at his Expo. Hammer's plan eventually backfires, setting the stage for a climactic showdown between Iron Man, Lt. James Rhodes-War Machine (played by Don Cheadle), countless droids created by Vanko, and Vanko himself.

Downey's performance is again the high point of the film, and one of the main elements as to what has made the original (and most likely Iron Man 2) a box office success. Downey portrays Tony Stark exactly like the ego-maniacal, narcissistic playboy Marvel Comics  made him out to be when the character was first introduced in 1963. Not many actors have equally great chemistry with each actor they share scenes with during the course of a movie. Downey is one of those rare finds, and it's hard to believe that there was any discontent Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2. Photo: http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/090715/Mickey-Rourke-Iron-Man-2_l.jpgamong Iron Man's loyal fan base when he was first cast in the role of Stark.

What makes the Iron Man franchise different from your usual run-of-the-mill super hero films is that it doesn't rely on action scenes to muscle its way through two hours. Director Jon Favreau  instead relies more on comical banter between Downey and the supporting cast to the point where it almost seems you are watching outtakes from Swingers. When you have an actor of Downey's caliber as your lead, this works almost all of the time. However, this can be a double edged sword, and the action scenes in Iron Man 2 sometimes leave you a little uninspired. In saying that, the scenes in this film definitely get the nod over its original. Although Jeff Bridges  did not disappoint as embittered executive Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man, he didn't make for a very compelling villain.

Rourke on the other hand, portrays Vanko as if he was born to play the part. His character's battle with Iron Man at the beginning of the film is the best fight scene of the movie. The only drawback is that Downey and Rourke only share a handful of scenes together.  The rest of the star-studded supporting cast fulfill their roles nicely. At times, Iron Man 2 falls into the same formula as some other super hero sequels (Superman II, Spider-Man 2) in which the protagonist loses their way, but gets his act together just in time to save the day. It also would have been nice to have an actual comic book character in the movie (Vanko's character was derived from several different characters), but Favreau claims that this will happen in the third Iron Man installment.

These lesser points however, are only trivial, and do not dilute the quality of the movie. While Iron Man 2 does have its flaws and at times lacks the charm of the original film, it is never boring and will keep you entertained for its entirety. Definitely one to watch.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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