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Photos: ‘Iron Man 2’

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  1. I ... am ... Iron Man!

    Robert Downey Jr. is back as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in "Iron Man 2." In the first film, Stark was kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists who wanted him to make them a weapon. Instead, he created the Iron Man suit and used it to escape. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Iron Man' returns

    Stark's pal, Lt. Col. James Rhodes, has been recast -- Don Cheadle, here completely hidden behind the Iron Man "War Machine" armor, replaced Terrence Howard. Entertainment Weekly reported that director Jon Favreau and producers spent a lot of time cutting and reshooting Howard's scenes. The magazine also reported that Howard made more money than any of the other actors in the first film, including Downey. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Ready to roll

    "Iron Man 2" features a dramatic scene set at the Monaco Grand Prix and filmed in Monaco. Formula1 fans, cover your eyes -- several of the sport's beautiful cars do not survive their encounter with Iron Man and his new rival, Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke). (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. This race is over

    Iron Man first comes into contact with Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Rourke), also known as the supervillain Whiplash, at the Monaco Grand Prix. Whiplash holds two repulsor-based whips that play havoc with an unsuspecting Stark, who manages to get his Iron Man suit on to make the battle a little more fair. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Not very 'Happy' today

    Jon Favreau not only directs the film, he plays Stark's bodyguard and driver, Happy Hogan. He boldly drives into the middle of the first battle between Whiplash and Iron Man to try and rescue his boss. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Fighting for his life

    Stark must use his inventor's savvy to save his own life. The arc reactor implanted in his chest is slowly poisoning his blood, and he's on a desperate search to find a new way to power the device that keeps him alive. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Which suit today, sir?

    Stark keeps a lineup of Iron Man suits in his laboratory, a practice which works out well for Lt. Col Rhodes when he decides he needs to suit up to calm down a drunken Iron Man. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pepper spices up the company

    Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark's personal assistant, Pepper Potts, who finds herself receiving a giant promotion she's not sure she's ready for. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. From Scarlett to Black

    Scarlett Johansson takes on the role of Natalie Rushman, known to fans of the Avengers as Black Widow. When Pepper Potts is promoted, Rushman takes on the role of Stark's personal assistant -- without revealing her secret identity, of course. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Put the hammer down

    Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) can't stand to be bested by Tony Stark, and at Stark's own Expo, Hammer displays a small army of drone robots, one for each branch of the U.S. armed forces. They were created by a psychotic supervillain, so what could possibly go wrong? (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Hit me with your best shot

    Ivan Vanko's father worked with Tony Stark's father in their younger days, but both father and son were deported to Russia and imprisoned. Mickey Rourke reportedly researched his role by visiting Moscow's Butyrka prison. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Waiting for the battle

    After terror breaks out at the Stark Expo, Stark and Rhodes must battle an army of Iron Man-like drones, created by Whiplash under the direction of Stark's business rival, Justin Hammer. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Spicing up the plot

    Pepper Potts and Tony Stark have a working relationship that's laced with flirtation, and their repressed feelings come to light in a scene in the sequel. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pass the donuts

    In a scene at L.A.'s famed Randy's Donuts, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) talks Stark down from his seat inside the shop's giant iconic donut sign, and talks to him about where he might fit into Fury's organization. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 5/5/2010 2:42:06 PM ET 2010-05-05T18:42:06

Lots of things get blown up and torn apart in "Iron Man 2," as you would expect from any self-respecting blockbuster kicking off the summer movie season. The magnitude of destruction far exceeds that of its predecessor — from rows of cars to armies of drones to Tony Stark's cliff-top Shangri-La — and includes repeated instances of characters walking away from a massive fireball without looking back. 'Cause looking back is for wimps.

But that's not all that gets obliterated here. The substance of the original "Iron Man," the brain and the soul that set it apart from the typical seasonal fare and made it one of the best films of 2008, also have been blown to bits.

Tony Stark had purpose back then, and despite the outlandish fantasy of his Marvel Comics-inspired story, as a person he had a believable arc. Crafting the high-tech suit and transforming himself into a superhero gave this selfish industrialist and self-destructive playboy a sense of drive, a reason for being beyond just his whims and indulgences.

Here, he's purely arrogant once more, with some glimmers of mortality and daddy issues. And Robert Downey Jr., so irresistibly verbal and quick on his feet in the first film (and in pretty much every film he's ever made), seems to be on autopilot. Sure, he's got a way with a one-liner, and his comic timing is indisputable, but he's done this song-and-dance routine before and seems rather bored with it.

Then again the character — and the sequel itself — are less defined this time. Narratively, "Iron Man 2" is a mess. Director Jon Favreau, working from a script by Justin Theroux, throws in too many subplots, too many characters — and what a waste of that cast, actors who can really act like Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson in an eye patch as Nick Fury, offering a bit of foreshadowing to "The Avengers" film. (For more Marvel movie geekery, stick around until the end of the credits.)

As we recall from the last line of the first film, the whole world knows that Stark is indeed Iron Man. Now the government (led by Garry Shandling as a sniveling senator) wants him to turn over the suit for the military's benefit, and his best friend, Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Cheadle in place of Terrence Howard) can only do so much to protect him.

Why not more scenes with Downey and Rourke?
Meantime, there's a new foe in the form of Russian bad guy Ivan Vanko (Rourke, buried beneath tattoos and a Boris-and-Natasha accent), who's built a suit of his own in his dank Siberian abode, complete with electrified tentacles; sadly, he and fellow acting heavyweight Downey spend most of their screen time apart. In no time, Stark's rival, Justin Hammer (Rockwell, turning on the smarm) snaps up Vanko and asks him to build an army of Iron Men for himself.

Then there's the battle Stark is waging internally, as he reflects on his own weakening body and the memories of a scientist father (John Slattery, glimpsed in old movies) who didn't love him enough. And speaking of love, "Iron Man 2" also tries to find time for the blossoming relationship between Stark and his right-hand woman, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), while dangling the possibility of a dalliance with a mysterious new assistant (Scarlett Johansson).

So yeah, there's a lot going on here. The enemy — the focal point of the whole movie, for that matter — remains murky, making you realize about halfway through that it's unclear exactly what "Iron Man 2" is supposed to be about.

Favreau seemed to handle all the expensive toys effortlessly the first time, an exciting discovery given his previous work on smaller films like "Made" and "Elf." The strain shows now in a lack of momentum and a reliance on generically bombastic action sequences. (The final showdown looks like several blips of light, chasing each other around the skies above New York's Flushing Meadows.)

The cinematography from Matthew Libatique is, once again, an engaging mix of bright, crisp exteriors (especially in IMAX, the way "Iron Man 2" was shown to Los Angeles critics) and tangibly gritty intimate moments. But the big, shiny action sequences — the reason audiences get giddy for movies like "Iron Man 2," ostensibly — too often look cartoony. That's especially true of the initial showdown between Stark and Vanko at the Grand Prix of Monaco, with its cars tumbling end-over-end before — you guessed it — bursting into flames, just as it seems the "Iron Man" franchise itself is doing.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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