At the Cinema | Iron Man 2

Hero or scoundrel: Robert Downey Jr’s still a Marvel

Robert Downey Jr squeezes back into billionaire playboy inventor Tony Stark’s incredible suit for Marvel superhero sequel Iron Man 2 – and his charismatic presence gives the movie a bigger boost than his character’s jet-propelled boots.

Played by any other actor, I reckon Stark would be insufferable. Inside the suit, he’s an armour-clad fighter for justice; when he takes it off, he’s a wisecracking, womanising braggart with a dodgy ticker. Yet thanks to Downey Jr’s sly humour and louche charm, you end up liking him all the same. He seems to have made it his calling – both on and off screen – to win forgiveness for his damaged bad boys.

“I successfully privatised world peace,” boasts Stark in the new movie, surrounded by his own troupe of high-kicking cheerleaders. With almost anyone else, it’d be sleazy. Downey Jr somehow gives the spectacle panache.

He’s by far the best thing about the sequel, which picks up six months after the first film ended and finds the US government eager to get its military-industrial mitts on Stark’s invention – as is his smarmy business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

The action get puts on hold, however, while Stark wrestles with his demons and prepares to hand over the reins of his company to trusty right-hand woman Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Iron Man 2 - Scarlett Johansson plays the Black Widow in the Marvel suuperhero blockbuster

Things get livelier when Scarlett Johansson’s impossibly voluptuous paralegal Natalie appears on the scene. You just know there’s more to her than meets the eye – and, sure enough, before long she’s wriggling into figure-hugging black lycra. But it’s when Mickey Rourke’s Russian baddie Ivan Vanko (alias Whiplash) turns up at the Monaco Grand Prix wielding a pair of electrified titanium whips that the film really sparks into life.

On general release from 30th April.

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