The secret to the success of 2008's 'Iron Man'? The unexpected delivering big time: Robert Downey Jr., action star? Gwyneth Paltrow meets CGI? Director Jon Favreau trading in swingers and losers for superheroes? Yes, yes and yes.

But how do you make a sequel just as fresh? Start with the villain and cast an actor pulling off a Downey-esque comeback of his own ('The Wrestler' himself, Mickey Rourke, as villain Ivan Vanko.) 'Iron Man 2' also includes some back story on Tony Stark, the complicated, armor-coated do-gooder played by Downey. 'Mad Men's' John Slattery shows up in flashbacks as Stark's hip dad. Rounding out the cast are Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson.

Downey is coming off a Golden Globe win for another big budget effort, 'Sherlock Holmes.' There's probably no other actor right now who can jump so seamlessly between studio tentpoles and the award-worthy ('Good Night, and Good Luck' and his 2008 Supporting Actor nomination for 'Tropic Thunder.') Of course, the star of 2008's Best Picture will try to do just that next month when 'No Country for Old Men's' Josh Brolin takes on DC Comics' 'Jonah Hex.'

Critics can be a sequel's biggest nemesis -- let's see what they're hurling at Iron Man. The secret to the success of 2008's 'Iron Man'? The unexpected delivering big time: Robert Downey Jr., action star? Gwyneth Paltrow meets CGI? Director Jon Favreau trading in swingers and losers for superheroes? Yes, yes and yes.

But how do you make a sequel just as fresh? Start with the villain and cast an actor pulling off a Downey-esque comeback of his own ('The Wrestler' himself, Mickey Rourke, as villain Ivan Vanko.) 'Iron Man 2' also includes some back story on Tony Stark, the complicated, armor-coated do-gooder played by Downey. 'Mad Men's' John Slattery shows up in flashbacks as Stark's hip dad. Rounding out the cast are Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson.

Downey is coming off a Golden Globe win for another big budget effort, 'Sherlock Holmes.' There's probably no other actor right now who can jump so seamlessly between studio tentpoles and the award-worthy ('Good Night, and Good Luck' and his 2008 Supporting Actor nomination for 'Tropic Thunder.') Of course, the star of 2008's Best Picture will try to do just that next month when 'No Country for Old Men's' Josh Brolin takes on DC Comics' 'Jonah Hex.'

Critics can be a sequel's biggest nemesis -- let's see what they're hurling at Iron Man.

Entertainment Weekly: "The 'Iron Man 2' story expands from a lot to a whole lot. Along the way, Stark becomes obsessed with reviving his father's plans for a showcase for the humanitarian uses of cutting-edge technology. [ ... ] With all that heavy payload, 'Iron Man 2' begins to burst at its own galvanized seams ... Grade: C+"

Roger Ebert: "Mickey Rourke gives us all the Ivan Vanko we could possibly wish for, unless he had a third arm to provide space for more tattoos. His performance features flashing his gold teeth in mirthless laughter, and lots of growling. ...You want a sequel, you got a sequel."

'Iron Man 2' trailer


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The New Yorker: "If necessary, Downey is happy to charm himself, should there be no one else around to play with, but 'Iron Man 2' finds an upsized role for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, his exasperated assistant, and Favreau does well to stand back and let the pair of them duck and weave, turning their flirtation into overlapping chat ...]"

Rolling Stone: "Iron Man 2 knows how to jump the hurdles and have you smacking your lips for more. For that, all credit to Downey. As Tony Stark, the playboy weapons-manufacturer-turned-pacifist-superhero, Downey never tries to be likable, like Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, or to throw a pity party for himself, like all the actors who climb into the Batman suit. Downey plays Stark like the horny, hard-drinking, self-destructive narcissist he is."

New York Magazine
: "The script isn't all fluff. There's a wonderful exchange in Stark's private plane: He's slowly dying (the palladium plug that keeps him alive is also poisoning him), and he begs Pepper Potts (Paltrow) to go off the clock and spend a few days in Venice -- only she thinks he's being his usual, boyishly irresponsible self. "We can recharge our batteries," he pleads, and she answers, with a sad smile, "Not everyone runs on batteries, Tony."

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