Stark Industries is booming now that Tony has revealed to the world that he is Iron Man, and has become a National celebrity and the lone deterrent from International terrorism and nuclear attack. But he is also under pressure from the Government to turn in the designs for his suit and his 'weapon' for the military to utilize and cease his lone vigilante campaign. Stark refuses to cooperate, believing that competitors are at least five years away from replicating his inventions. Stark's major competitor is Hammer Industries, administered by Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. During the hearing he attempts to undermine Stark's abilities and reveal the limitations that one man acting as National Security has. Hammer, jealous of Stark's prestige, wants his own designs to be used in the Pentagon to lead National Defense. Stark publicly shames Hammer, and this becomes the primary motivation for Hammer's collaboration with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) later in the film. Vanko is the son of a previous business partner of Tony's father who was disgraced and deported back to Russia. Ivan is raised to believe that Stark betrayed his father and seeks revenge on Stark Industries, and cares little for Hammer's quest.
Vanko builds a suit that comes close to standing up to Iron Man's suit, and in a stunning early sequence at the Nascar in Monaco, he enters the track and takes down a number of cars in an attempt to kill Tony. Barely surviving, the attack proves that his competitors are closer to replicating the Iron Man suit than Stark believed, and Vanko is taken to death row content with the attack. But he is broken out by Hammer's men and instructed to build the suits Hammer wishes to use in his Expo demonstration. As expected, Vanko overwrites the data of the drones and uses them to try and take down Stark, in what is a truly spectacular climactic sequence. The dual villains are both quite well established and provide worthy antagonism to the plight of Iron Man. Both deliver fine performances, especially Sam Rockwell, who does a great job matching the charisma and arrogance of Stark in such a way that makes them both similar men but with Hammer working out of jealousy and greed, and Stark through his established identity and fame.
It is through the other plot arcs that the film is let down slightly and becomes convoluted, with too many ideas established and being examined at the same time. Much of this is unnecessary and lacks depth. We retreat into the past and find out more about Stark's father and his dreams for the company and it's origins. Stark's father has had previous ties with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is included for the benefit of the confirmed future Avengers film, and Scarlett Johansson's pointless character was also an extension of this. Placed within the Stark party as an assistant, she is an associate of Fury and becomes another ally for Tony, whose incredible athletic abilities in a world ruled by the assistance of technology, seemed out of place. Johansson's wooden performance, as well as Jackson's sarcastic ranting weren't too impressive.
Starks inner demons are also examined in this installment, and his continuing complex relationship with his assistant, and eventual successor at Stark Industries, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who looks incredibly plain) is also briefly touched on. Tony keeps his impending death from Pepper and makes her the new CEO, and as his condition worsens throughout the film and he becomes more desperate to find the correct combination of elements to cure it, he falls into a state of depression contemplating his death. During a party in his honor at the mansion he becomes grossly intoxicated, dresses in his suit and uses it as a novelty to entertain the guests. After his embarrassment at the hands of Vanco, which leaves his friend Lt. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) covering for him, his drunken binge angers Rhodes and the pair fight out their emotions in Iron Man suits. It's a very impressive sequence, that is also quite hilarious and it shows, albeit in one sequence, that Starks's dual life is wearing him down. Of course, reaching the climax, Tony finds a way to reverse his condition, and re-power his core to regain his abilities.
The visual effects during the fight sequences are spectacular, especially the Monaco race sequence, and the final battle where Stark and Rhodes eliminate a small army of Hammer's drones controlled by Vanco, and then ultimately an armoured Vanco himself. The middle hour of the film, which deals with Stark's death and the involvement of Nick Fury does get bogged down and feels like it drags. But the film's humor remains throughout. Matthew Libatique's cinematography must be commended, and the screenplay, written by actor Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive) manages to cram in lots of material. RDJ's performance is fantastic, and the fact that he is the most likable of all the cast superheroes indicates why the Iron Man franchise has maintained it's success in the genre, dominated by the grossly overrated Spiderman franchise, and the subsequent horrendous outings of The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and X Men Origins: Wolverine. I would recommend seeing the preceding film first, but Iron Man 2 is solid entertainment, and worth the trip to the cinemas.
My Rating: 3 Stars