After Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. blew away audiences with the box office smash “Iron Man” in 2008, fans almost instantly demanded a sequel to the metal hero’s first outing.  Making the follow up to such a monumental action film though, seemed like an uphill battle when Favreau’s return as a director seemed uncertain and actor Terrence Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle as Tony Stark’s pal Jim Rhodes.

Thankfully Paramount got its priorities straight and decided to lure Favreau back for another movie.  However an ambitious release plan for May 2010 meant a screenplay would be hastily assembled so that production could begin as soon as possible.  This worried fans that a slapdash effort would result in a subpar sequel.

Despite a fast production schedule, “Iron Man 2” is completely on par with its predecessor.  It uses the same winning formula that made the first one so entertaining: lighthearted banter, jaw-dropping special effects, and intense action sequences.

“Iron Man 2” picks up just about where the first one left off.  After revealing his secret identity to the world, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has amassed immense fame and appreciation.  With his notoriety comes tremendous pressure from the United States military to turn over his Iron Man suit in the interest of national security.

Since the world learned of Iron Man, imitators have attempted to make a similar combat suit, with little success.  At the forefront of these copycats is weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).  With Stark out of the weapons business, Hammer has the financial resources and the support of the U.S. government on his side.  Envious of Tony, he lusts after Stark’s secrets and his limelight, but Hammer's most diabolical trait is that he is willing to cut corners to get what he wants.

Enter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian physicist seeking revenge against the Stark clan for its past wrongdoings to his own family.  Replicating the equipment used to power the Iron Man suit, Vanko stuns the world when he challenges Tony Stark.  Vanko has the scientific knowledge and killer instinct Hammer needs for his operation, thus the two join forces to make Iron Man obsolete.

The intense stress of these elments combined with personal problems lead Stark to overcompensate for his insecurities by acting reckless.  As a result Tony alienates himself from his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his best friend Colonel Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), both of whom begin to question his sanity.

Tony is forced to confront his personal demons and to save face with his friends, because without their help,  he realizes he is not is strong enough to challenge the Hammer/Vanko team.  The biggest lesson he learns from this experience is that no man is an island, nor should he be. 

Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant again as Tony Stark, making the most of his trademark smug sarcasm.  Downey Jr. is convincing as a scientist and techno-wiz, while still showing us Stark has an immature side.  He effortlessly worries those around him with his wildly impulsive behavior.   

Stark’s perfect foil is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer.  Rockwell leans towards sarcasm as well, but it’s more of a socially awkward type.  Compared to Stark, Hammer looks like a bumbling used car salesman.  Unable to create working technology of his own, he relies on grunt workers to do the heavy lifting.  Hammer represents the sleazy arrogance that Stark could possess if he were a lesser man.

As a whole the film tries harder than the first one to be funny, but thankfully in most cases it succeeds in that quest.  Its special effects are rock solid and its technology is incredibly cool looking.  Stark's holographic displays seem like they would be a blast to play with.

If you like “Iron Man” you will certainly enjoy “Iron Man 2” because it uses the same elements that made the first one so great.  From a story perspective however, it shifts focus to a new chapter in Tony Stark’s life, where the character grapples with personal issues like he faced in the comic.  “Iron Man 2” is thoroughly satisfying sequel that has the distinction of being of one I enjoy just as much as the original.    

My Grade: A