Movie Maniac

Essential 'Iron'

It took wise-cracking billionaire playboy Tony Stark a few tries before he could master flying in his "Iron Man" suit. Hey, nobody's perfect.

But the film itself had no problem rocketing into orbit, raking in more than $580 million worldwide. That's a lot of iron, man.

It was a risky gamble, though. The film was based on a Marvel comic book that didn't have the massive following of, say, Spider-Man. It starred Robert Downey Jr., who wasn't exactly at the top of the list of actors known for action hero roles. And it was directed by Jon Favreau, an actor whose few previous directing credits included the Will Ferrell comedy "Elf."

But everything paid off. "Iron Man" received glowing reviews and became the surprise summer hit of 2008.

The sequel opens Friday in theaters, and it has some big Iron Man shoes to fill. Here's what we can expect:

The story: Stark's secret identity as Iron Man is now public knowledge, and he's under pressure from the government to share his superhero technology with the military. But Stark is unwilling to divulge his secrets for fear that they will fall into the wrong hands. (They always do.)

Familiar faces: Downey is back as Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as his faithful assistant, Pepper Potts. Favreau (who also again directs) returns as Stark's driver/friend "Happy" Hogan.

The only casting change is Don Cheadle, who takes over the role of Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, played by Terrence Howard in the original.

New faces: Sam Rockwell ("Moon") stars as Justin Hammer, a scheming businessman who stepped in to fulfill military weapon contracts with the government when Stark Industries abandoned arms development.

Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") plays Ivan Vanko, the son of a Soviet physicist who has a vendetta against Stark and his legacy.

And Scarlett Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), who seems to be one of Stark's brightest new employees but is actually a spy. It's always the pretty ones.

New technology: Stark doesn't have superhero powers (unless you count being incredibly rich), but he does have some pretty awesome toys. If the trailers are any indication, the high-tech technology in "Iron Man 2" looks to top the original, mainly with the invention of a new arc reactor (the thingy that powers Stark's Iron Man suits). And look for even cooler vintage cars.

War Machine: Rhodey will step into the War Machine suit seen in the comics, so Iron Man will have an ally. And sparring partner, perhaps.

More romance: Don't gag too much, guys, but the romantic relationship that was hinted at between Stark and Potts might be further explored. Or at least, further hinted at.

An after-credit sequence: A short scene after the end credits of the original "Iron Man" revealed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who showed up wanting to talk about something called "the Avengers Initiative." (He returns in "Iron Man 2").

That scene spawned much fanboy speculation, and it hinted at big-screen outings of some of the other members of "The Avengers" comics. We now know Captain America and Thor movies are in the works (we've already seen a reboot of the Hulk with Edward Norton).

Earlier this week, several websites leaked video of the post-credit sequence in "Iron Man 2," angering fans who wanted it to be a surprise.

The video was uploaded to YouTube but then snatched away by Marvel faster than a Tony Stark pickup line.

At least we know there will be one, so don't leave during the end credits.

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