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OK, I saw Iron Man 2 on Saturday at my local theater, and I wanted to get my initial impressions down before they fade from my (less than stellar) memory.

WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie yet and you want to see it, don’t read any further. I will be revealing plot details that will spoil your enjoyment of the movie.

First off, it was nice to see most of the main actors return to reprise their roles from the first film. As I said then, I will repeat now: Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark. I cannot think of a better actor to play the role of the billionaire industrialist. Downey’s chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow (Virginia “Pepper” Potts) is wonderfully done and picks up where the first movie left off. The only major cast change is Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s friend and liason to the Department of Defense. In my mind, that is an upgrade.

The story takes place six months after the ending of the first movie. Iron Man has been busy securing world peace and is paying the price. The palladium that powers his chest piece is slowly poisoning him and he can’t find a suitable replacement. Faced with his impending death, Stark engages in reckless thrill-seeking to the dismay of those closest to him. In addition, a Senate committee, led by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) is after Stark to relinquish the Iron Man armor to the military.

Meanwhile…in Russia, Ivan Vanko, son of Anton Vanko, Howard Stark’s former partner, is building his own miniature arc reactor in an effort to avenge his father’s betrayal at the hands of Howard Stark. Vanko, in his new power suit complete with repulsor powered whips, confronts Stark in Monaco during the Grand Prix. The two battle it out and Iron Man defeats Vanko (a.k.a. Whiplash).

All of this catches the eye of Justin Hammer, a rival industrialist, who manages to release Vanko from prison and enlist his aid in creating a rival to the Iron Man suit for the Defense Department. Hammer also wants to discredit Stark in the process. The two begin to design and assemble an army of repulsor powered drones for presentation at the Stark Expo.

As all of this is happening, Rhodes is pressured by his superiors to either get Stark back into the role of America’s protector or secure the armor for the military. At Stark’s birthday bash, which Stark himself believes to be his last as he is dying from palladium poisoning, Rhodes confronts Stark. Stark refuses to play ball, and Rhodes dons the original Mark II armor and the two get into a fight that nearly destroys Stark’s home. Rhodes emerges victorious and takes the Mark II armor back to the military base.

What becomes apparent at this point is that Stark is, in his own unusual way, preparing for his eventual death. He earlier appoints Pepper Potts as his successor as CEO of Stark Industries, and his ‘battle’ with Rhodey is his way of naming Rhodes as the successor to the mantle of Iron Man. Somewhat content that his legacy will live on, Stark seems at ease and is willing to live out whatever remaining time he has. It is at this point that Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) makes an appearance. Fury tells Stark that his father indicated that the palladium powered arc reactor was only the first stage to something bigger; something that he hoped Tony would discover. After Fury reveals that Natalie Rushman (a.k.a. Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow played by Scarlett Johanson), Stark’s personal assistant, is really an undercover SHIELD agent, Fury convinces Stark to finish his father’s work.

What Stark discovers is that his father had a vision for a new element that would power the arc reactor in such a way so that it would be more efficient without the side effects of the palladium. However, his father was limited by the technology of his day. Stark is able to realize his father’s dream and creates a new element from the clues his father left behind. This new element is then placed into a new chest piece and Stark is able to avert death.

This turn of events comes none too soon as Hammer reveals the drone army at the Stark Expo in addition to a souped up Mark II armor with Rhodes at the helm. Unbeknownst to Hammer, Vanko has overridden all of the software in the drones and the Mark II, and he begins to unleash hell at the Expo. Iron Man shows up and lures Rhodes and most of the drone army away from the Expo, while Black Widow goes to Hammer’s facility looking for Vanko. With Black Widow’s help, they are able to ‘reboot’ the Mark II armor, and Rhodes (Warmachine) and Iron Man are able to beat the drone army.

The final battle is between Vanko, in a new and improved Whiplash power suit and the Iron Man/Warmachine combo. After a spectacular battle, the good guys win.

As the movie ends, Stark and Potts finally kiss and makeup; Rhodes retains the Mark II power suit despite Stark’s (relatively) weak objections; and Fury reveals a little more about the new Avengers Initiative. In that debriefing with Stark, Fury informs him that SHIELD wants Iron Man, but not Stark; claiming that Stark’s personality is not suitable for what they are trying to do. Fury does offer Stark the role of ‘consultant’, which Stark agrees to.

In the epilogue, Agent Colson is dispatched to New Mexico where he calls Fury to inform him that “they found him.” We catch a glimpse of a large crater and at the crater is the mystical hammer Mjolnir, which belongs to Thor.

I really enjoyed the movie. Unlike other action movie sequels, this one spent a little more time on plot and character development. There are some great fight scenes with Iron Man, but it really splits time with Stark and his development as a character.  While this may not appeal to some action junkies, I think it’s a plus in the movie. The film doesn’t have to be two hours of non-stop action to be good. What I really like about Marvel Comics and their heroes is that they’re human. They have faults and foibles like everyone else. Growing up and reading comic books, Superman and Batman were pretty much always about Superman and Batman. There was never much effort spent in fleshing out Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. However, in the Marvel universe, character was at least as important as action. My favorite Marvel hero, Spiderman, was interesting and appealing to me as Peter Parker as much as when he was Spiderman. The same goes for Iron Man.

In addition, just as Iron Man ended with a teaser for the Avengers Initiative, Iron Man 2 ends with a teaser for next year’s release of Thor. There was also a teaser in the movie for another Marvel movie coming out next year, Captain America. As a comic book geek, I love the way they’re tying in all these movies together. Marvel Studios is creating a cinematic version of the Marvel Universe. Marvel was one of the first to introduce the concept of a comic book continuum in which what happens in one comic title has ramifications in another comic title. For the past several years, Marvel has done annual cross over series which involved all or most of their universe. What we’re seeing here is the movie version of this; and so far it’s being done very well.

Here are the Marvel Studios movies so far:

  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  4. Thor (2011)
  5. Captain America (2011)
  6. Avengers (2012)
  7. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Having like the first three movies (to varying degrees), I can’t wait to see what is coming in the remaining four.

I give Iron Man 2 a 3.5 out of 4 stars!