Downey's treat: Iron Man 2

The screenplay writers from the first movie may have gone, but the snappy, witty dialogue is still firmly in place, providing ample support for the A-list cast.

Iron Man 2, the Movie (2010) 
Directed by: Jon Favreau
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Iron Man 2

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke

It's fair to say that the beginning of Iron Man 2 sees Tony Stark on typical egotistical form. It's also fair to say that he's probably not being entirely truthful when he says in an early scene: "I'm not saying that the world is enjoying it's longest period of uninterrupted peace in years because of me… It's not about me, it's not about you, it's not even about us. It's about legacy."

Pompous and almost fatally narcissistic, Stark can be so obnoxious that it is almost surprising that Stan Lee's comic book creation has won such a fan base. But Robert Downey Jr's take on the roguish playboy is nothing if not charismatic, and barely two minutes into watching his performance as the chief executive of the fictitious Stark Industries, it's impossible not to warm to him. The character was created by Lee in the early 1960s and Downey's version surfaced in Iron Man, the 2008 worldwide smash, also directed by Jon Favreau. It was one of the biggest-grossing films of that year, bringing in just over $585 million (Dh2.2m), and its sequel reunites the star actors with the exception of Terrence Howard (as Lt Colonel James Rhodes, a role played here by Don Cheadle). Also joining the regulars is a host of new and equally enterprising characters, including a flame-haired Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman/the Black Widow, and Sam Rockwell as a money-hungry weapons manufacturer.

Kicking off where the last film ended - with Stark admitting to a full newsroom that he is Iron Man - the latest action-laden plot follows the now-unmasked superhero as he fights against a series of wrongdoers, all the while trying to woo the only woman he truly cares for: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Among the characters trying to make life hard for our rough-around-the-edges hero is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a heavily tattooed Russian physicist bent on killing Stark in a family feud involving both their fathers. The method actor relied on a number of unusual teaching tools in order to immerse himself fully in the role, which is apparently a combination of two of the comic hero's greatest nemeses, Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. From spending several hours cooped up in a cell in Moscow's infamous Butyrka Prison to his insistence that Vanko be presented as a tattooed parrot-lover with gold-plated teeth, Rourke's dedication to the role is a joy to behold. Aside from the occasionally questionable accent, he has created as entertaining a comic villain as you are likely to see on screen.

Rumour has it that Favreau's budget for the latest in his Iron Man trilogy (the third film is due for release in 2013) was $200m, up $60m on the reported budget for its predecessor, and it certainly shows. As a result, Iron Man 2 displays all the glossiness of any standard Hollywood blockbuster but, thanks to the efforts of the cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream), it avoids becoming robotic and soulless.

However, the main reason both Iron Man films work is Downey. His Stark is what we like to imagine would happen if you were to cross the business savvy of Donald Trump with all of Cary Grant - along with about 10kg of additional muscle. He was hand-picked by Paramount to take the role and it is widely believed that Favreau had hopes that Downey's Stark would become the Jack Sparrow of the superhero movie world. But unlike the pirate, whom Johnny Depp turned into a pastiche of himself over the course of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, Stark retains all the begrudgingly loveable ticks that attracted us to him in the first place.

That's not to say, though, that Downey - mesmerising as he is - deserves all the credit. The screenplay writers from the first movie may have gone, but the snappy, witty dialogue is still firmly in place, providing ample support for the A-list cast. With a franchise, there is always a worry that the second movie will not live up to the first. But Downey Jr does not just reshash his role here. With Stark firmly established in the introductory film, it is refreshing to see the character explore new depths second time around, as he deals with his mortality. Unfortunately, with the addition of more characters, there is always going to be a danger that several will end up underused, which is the fate of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury.

As a result, the movie could have benefited from losing several scenes, something that was not an issue in the first film. Regardless, this is a movie that can count itself as one of those rare sequels that equals - if not slightly eclipses - its predecessor. Iron Man 2 deserves its reputation as the thinking man's action film. In fact, if this is any indication, the best may be yet to come.