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Iron Man 2

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STARRING Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson
WRITTEN BY Justin Theroux
DIRECTED BY Jon Favreau

After 2008’s Iron Man rocket-booted to more than $318 million at the box office, a sequel was a no-brainer. Exactly what that sequel would be about, though, wasn’t. ”After an origin story, some people tend to think that the best part of the character’s world has already been blown and doused,” says Robert Downey Jr., who stars again as billionaire playboy-turned-superhero Tony Stark. ”I thought, No, that can’t be it. There’s so much left unresolved.”

The character’s comic-book canon didn’t offer a clear way forward, so Team Iron Man came up with a fresh story. Stark is struggling with his newfound fame and running up against two new enemies: a Russian inventor who creates his own deadly suit (Mickey Rourke) and a wealthy weapons manufacturer (Sam Rockwell) who joins forces with him. ”We didn’t want to have just another armored suit for Tony to bounce off, because we’d already done that,” says director Jon Favreau. ”Secret identities are pretty well picked over, so we went the other way: What happens to a guy who’s already bigger-than-life who then becomes exponentially more famous? That was our starting point.”

The PG-13 sequel also introduces a beautiful new assistant for Stark, the deadly superspy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and gives Stark’s pal Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, taking over for Terrence Howard) his own superhero alter ego, War Machine. But Favreau says he tried to stay true to what worked so well in the original: ”On one side, you have Spider-Man, which has its charms, and on the other side you have The Dark Knight, which has a complexity to it. We’re somewhere in the middle. There’s a certain humor, irreverence, and panache to Tony Stark. That’s what’s unique to us.”