Iron Man 2: A Love Letter to Ronald Reagan?

America just might have found itself its truest superhero. Who needs Superman when there's Iron Man 2? Tony Stark isn't just a patriot and a lifesaver. He's bold, he's clever, he's rich, he's a capitalist individualist defender of property rights. And he likes to give speeches surrounded by dancing girls.

Iron Man was fun but Iron Man 2 is even better, with a script (by Justin Theroux) so laced with wit that it if you took away the fireballs and just had actors reading it on a bare stage like a Noel Coward piece, it would still be an entertaining evening.

The main flaws of the first film -- let's face it, the finale with Jeff Bridges was a bore, and so was Terrence Howard, the blandest buddy since Robin -- are gone in the sequel. This one features nifty fireworks -- including a nifty Monte Carlo race scene -- plus two excellent yet very different villains (Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke), the superb Don Cheadle stepping in for Howard (who reportedly demanded more money than the producers were willing to pay), just enough Nicky Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to make us want more, and a blowout of an ending.

Oh yeah, and the movie is also a virtual love letter to Ronald Reagan.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., whose performance seems meant to school Christian Bale in the art of playing things loose) finds himself in trouble with a weaselly senator (Garry Shandling). The lawmaker accuses Stark, who has been boasting to the world of his ability to keep the peace, of purposely developing an offensive weapon that he misleadingly calls a defensive weapon.

That this is exactly the argument liberals (and the Soviets) used to excoriate Ronald Reagan and his SDI plan is delicious -- but it gets better. As played by Shandling, the senator, who is from Pennsylvania, bears more than a slight resemblance to Arlen Specter, the classic Capitol Hill weasel who called himself a Republican for as long as he found it convenient and is now not only a Democrat but one of the most reliably liberal members of his caucus.

Still better: In front of Congress, which Tony rightly mocks as his intellectual and moral inferiors, he delivers a stout defense of private property when the senator demands that he simply turn over the blueprints to his Iron Man suit. Stark points out that the country is doomed if it has to rely for its defense on the government's chosen contractor, headed by a corporate tool named Justin Hammer (Rockwell) who thinks he is as smart as Tony but isn't, quite.