The reason a sequel exists (other than to make a quick buck for the studio and the producers) is to provide fans with more of what they fell in love with and at the same time up the ante so they feel they are experiencing something new.

Swing too far to either side of the scale – losing focus of the story in favour of greater technical and special effects or fail to introduce bigger and better concepts, playing things too safe – and the sequel will not succeed.

It’s an exercise fraught with pitfalls and one that must be navigated carefully or the balance can be upset beyond repair.

I will admit to having high hopes for Iron Man 2. When the trailer was released late last year, I was immediately hooked despite knowing that trailers (for the most part) can be extremely deceptive. So, how does the film fare?

Thankfully, it does extremely well with only brief moments of instability.

Picking up six months after Tony Stark boldly declared that he was Iron Man, we find him as arrogant and self-assured as he was in the first film (before, of course, being forced to reexamine his own and Stark Industries’ business practices).

The reason Tony has reverted back to old habits is twofold, one of which I won’t reveal here (spoiler). The other, and most obvious reason, has to do with the fact that Stark has, “single handedly privatised world peace,” by using the Iron Man suit to keep the earth safe. This has brought him worldwide recognition but also placed him in considerable danger from a new enemy, his own government and even his friends.

Take what you know and remember from Iron Man and then multiply that by two. That’s the most concise way to describe the scope and feel of this sequel, exhibiting more of what you loved about the first outing; greater story depth (Tony’s relationship with his father is fleshed out); greater action set pieces (including an awesome Monte Carlo racing sequence) and; more great tongue-in-cheek dialogue and humour.

Things get wobbly, however, when director Jon Favreau loses control with certain set pieces, specifically with regards to crowds of people. In the awesome Monte Carlo racing sequence, for example, I became painfully aware of poor performances from extras in a crowded bar setup. You can only see the same over-rehearsed reaction (look for the blonde in the scene) before it begins to detract from the film. The film’s finale also suffers considerably from growing too large in scope with its masses of hysterical, running people.

It’s visible (although limited) examples like these that weaken what is ultimately a great sequel.

As always, Downey Jr. is in fine form along with the rest of the impressive ensemble cast (which includes Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson). The visual and special effects are stellar and Iron Man 2 is a great way to spend your time.

If the Iron Man franchise does become a trilogy as Jon Favreau has indicated (and I have no doubt it will), then parts one and two form an extremely solid foundation upon which to establish another – balanced – sequel.

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