US (12+). Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke
The X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman movies have proven that the second instalment is where a comic-book blockbuster series finds its feet: with all those pesky origin details out of the way, the filmmakers can focus on raising the stakes, deepening the characters and ramping up the action. And for the first 45 minutes or so, this is where Iron Man 2 looks to be heading. Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is under investigation by the US government following the public revelation of his superhero persona, while his arch rival Justin Hammer (Rockwell) is scrambling after his technology and mysterious, Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Rourke) is up to unspecified no-good.
A major problem is the number of characters: Downey, Rockwell and Rourke are obviously all enjoying themselves enormously, but the same can’t be said for Don Cheadle as Stark’s redundant buddy and sidekick Rhodes. Nor do the others seem to be having much fun: Gwyneth Paltrow is underused as Stark’s assistant, Pepper Potts, while Scarlett Johanssen’s Natalie is slinky but pointless. The less said about a perfunctory appearance from Samuel L Jackson as some sort of shady inter-agency bigwig the better.
Iron Man 2 is a lot of fun: it’s shiny, likeable and never boring. But it’s also wildly uneven and unnecessarily convoluted, leaving the viewer unsatisfied and hungry for something more substantial. Let’s hope a promised third instalment can fulfil the series’ undeniable potential.