Who’s new in “Iron Man 2”

Mickey Rourke (and has any actor ever been more qualified to play a supervillain than this guy?) gets to play big-time baddie Ivan Vanko, better known to the world as the ultra-nasty Whiplash. Proving that the Cold War isn't really dead, Vanko is a Russian who doesn't take it lying down when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reveals his secret identity to the world and brags about how great his Iron Man is. So he creates an iron suit of his own, and it's one nasty piece of business. And unlike Stark, he's not interested in being a force for good. The name Whiplash comes from a pair of whips, powered by the suit's glowing chest piece, that make Indiana Jones look positively quant.
Terence Howard reportedly was unhappy in extremis with his lack of screen time in the first "Iron Man," as well as with the lackluster appeal of his character, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Well, "Iron Man 2" takes care of those problems, and then some, by turning "Rhodey" into War Machine, an Iron Man-ally equipped with repulsors, force field, Gatling gun, flamethrower and just about everything the well-armored superhero would want, save for a nuclear bomb (and there's probably one of those hidden somewhere). Too bad Howard's not around to see all the improvements, as he's been replaced by Don Cheadle. Another good guy who drops in to help Iron Man in his fight is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, below), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). He first showed up onscreen in a post-credit cameo in "Iron Man," and will be a key player when "The Avengers" hits the screen, potentially in 2012.
The Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) has been a staple of Marvel Comics since she was introduced way back in 1964 (making her only a year younger than Iron Man himself) as a non-costumed Soviet spy; she later became a force for good (usually) and acquired a skin-tight black leotard that didn't exactly hide her identity, but sure made her look good while practicing the martial-arts moves that make evil-doers cower. A former love interest (in the comics pages) for Daredevil, she shows up in "Iron Man 2" (played by Scarlett Johansson, subbing for Emily Blunt, who was otherwise engaged) as a spy working for S.H,I.E.L.D. who's hired as Tony Stark's assistant. Naturally, she and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) don't much like each other.
Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, who was once on director Jon Favreau's short-list of potential Iron Men) is, like Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist with a titanic ego. Ticked-off that Stark keeps getting all the glory, he bankrolls Ivan Vanko, and couldn't be happier when it turns out the Russian man of iron looks able to beat the tar out of his American counterpart. In the comics pages, where Hammer was introduced in 1979, he once gained remote control of Iron Man's armor, and has remained a thorn in Tony Stark's side for decades.
Chris Kaltenbach

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