In “Iron Man 2,” Tony Stark may be self-obsessed and troubled by mortal thoughts — rightly so, considering the mechanical heart that’s keeping him alive is slowly polluting his body with lethal toxins — but he’s no Bruce Wayne.
As played by Robert Downey Jr., he combines a sly sense of humor with natural showmanship. He enjoys being a superhero, and soaks up the spotlight with a narcissist’s glee.
It’s refreshing. Stark has a dark side, but he is hardly morose. He is intoxicated by the adoration of his fans and tickled by the trappings of fame and obscene wealth. And he’s not afraid to toot his own horn. As he brags to a less-than-smitten Senate committee, “I have successfully privatized world peace.”
Well, almost. The rise of Iron Man and his famously flamboyant alter ego seems to have neutralized global tensions, but one man — Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a revenge-minded Russian physicist who blames the Stark family for his father’s forced stay in Siberia — isn’t celebrating.
A man of few words (grunts, really) and dozens of tattoos, Vanko wants to make Iron Man bleed on the grandest of stages, for all the world to witness.
Vanko is high on Tony’s list of concerns, but not alone.
There’s a rival entrepreneur, the hapless Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who is willing to kill for valuable defense contracts; the formidable shadow cast by Stark’s late father (John Slattery, of TV’s “Mad Men”); and the temptation presented by a ravishing legal aide (Scarlett Johansson), whose talents include martial arts and mixing a stiff martini.
That’s to say nothing of Tony’s feud with longtime Army pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard) that begins as a drunken argument and escalates into a small-scale war.
Indeed, “Iron Man 2” packs plenty of plot into two solidly entertaining hours, and though some might question its pacing — it is neither as lean nor as relentlessly action-driven as its more focused predecessor — Jon Favreau’s follow-up rides a wave of unhurried momentum.
There’s never a sense that any of his nemeses poses a serious threat to Tony or his empire, lovingly overseen by former assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
If anything, Tony Stark seems more bedeviled by his personal demons, with which he struggles in self-imposed solitude before taking them public at an ill-fated birthday bash.
Certainly his viability as centerpiece of a Hollywood franchise isn’t damaged by “Iron Man 2,” a winking sequel, with a hard-rocking soundtrack, that relishes Iron Man’s misadventures as much as he does.
Iron Man 2
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke
Written by Justin Theroux
Directed by Jon Favreau
Running time 2 hours 4 minutes