Iron Man 2

Ken Not Kenny, Twin Kate and I trekked to the Kerasotes City North 14 this evening for a prerelease screening of "Iron Man 2," the ultra-hyped follow-up to the 2008 superhero mega-hit "Iron Man."

Admittedly, in addition to my new Apple iPhone and the pesky wad of Big Red that's been clinging to the bottom of my shoe for the better part of a year, I carried with me into tonight's showing a sizable grudge due to the fact that Terrence Howard would not be reprising his role as Lieutenant Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes because of contract issues. Although I consider his replacement, Don Cheadle, to be a dandy thespian, the recasting of a role for a sequel is my third biggest pet peeve trailing only people who chew like Rottweilers and magazine covers featuring anyone who's ever been on "The Hills."

The film picks up six months after the original left off with billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) savoring his role as an untouchable hero. Things turn ugly fast when Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"), a Russian mastermind with a hankering for vengeance and an affinity for swinging electro-charged whips, exposes Iron Man's vulnerability during a very public altercation. Eager to profit from Iron Man's weakness, Justin Hammer, Stark's chief business rival, hires the unhinged Russian to help him manufacture weapons. To make matters worse, Stark discovers that the arc reactor that's supposed to be keeping him alive is actually killing him, leaving him in dire need of an alternate source of power.

Like its predecessor, "Iron Man 2" is an unyielding fusion of combat and comedy, though both elements are exponentially heightened this time around. During one particularly intense battle sequence, Iron Man simultaneously saves a small child from certain death at the hands of an enemy robot and rapid-fires a howling wisecrack before bounding back into the sky for more action.

Downey Jr. is, yet again, perfect as both Tony Stark and Iron Man, though he's more of a force outside of the suit than in it, best highlighted by an overtly narcissistic monologue at the film's outset. Unsurprisingly, Rourke pilfers many a scene as the twisted villain, including perhaps the film's most memorable twenty seconds when we finally see what his character is capable of. The most pleasantly surprising aspect of "Iron Man 2" is the addition of Scarlett Johansson as Stark's saucy new assistant. She's equal parts sex and pain, both of which are on plump display during a joy-making fight scene near the conclusion of the film.

With the exception of a few unnecessarily overstated action sequences and one overly silly party scene, "Iron Man 2" is a grand-tastic burst of wit and pace that'll leave you wishing Apple would ditch handheld electronics in favor of iSuit development.