Tony Stark (Downey Jr.), billionaire playboy-cum-narcissistic savior of the free (and, for now, relatively untroubled) world, is back, starring in this Iron Man
sequel. Despite its high tech sheen and overstuffed cast of characters, played by some of the best actors in the land, this mega-mecha melee manages to give short shrift to both the airborne action set-pieces that define Iron Man's zoomy panache and
incoming supervillain Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko (Rourke). The scarred and increasingly feral Rourke is perfectly cast as the ink- and soul-stained son of a Russki engineering genius once affiliated with the Stark paterfamilias Howard Stark. However, his interactions with Iron Man and Iron Man knockoff/upgrade War Machine (piloted by Cheadle's Col. Rhodes) seem poorly thought out, and the climactic battle scene, in which Iron Man and War Machine fight off Whiplash and a horde of drones, busies itself with explosions and comes to a perfunctory conclusion. It's admittedly tough to follow up the slam-bang snark of Favreau's initial Iron Man
, which surprised critics and audiences alike with its streamlined summer fun. Thankfully, Downey is every bit as good this time around as he was previously. It doesn't hurt that the former wastrel gets to sink his choppers into a comic/tragic, alcohol-fueled meltdown midway through this outing, marking Tony Stark as one of Marvel Comics' all-time great flawed heroes. Also on hand for some seriously excellent catsuited butt-kicking is Johansson's Black Widow, agent of SHIELD, the covert government agency run by Jackson's Nick Fury. In a comic-book universe crammed to bursting with almost 50 years of Stan Lee's four-color melodramatics, Iron Man 2
, while no slouch in the summer matinee department, finally feels like a setup for the upcoming Avengers
movie (indeed, Captain America's red, white, and bruised shield shows up at one point). That doesn't make this a total wash by any means, but, almost by definition, the deeper we delve into Lee and Marvel's sprawling wealth of 10-cent backstories, the more likely upcoming films are going to start feeling like action-heavy telenovelas with (we can safely assume) some splendidly kickass action alongside the tears and trials of the friends of ol' Marvel. Which somehow seems rather appropriate. Excelsior, redux.