Iron Man 2: A Love Letter to Ronald Reagan?

And yet still better: Tony has his own Shepard Fairey-style "Hope" poster. It says "Iron Man" -- a cheeky rebuke to an America that can elect a commander in chief who thinks perpetual apologizing is a bargaining position.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a terrifyingly single-minded Russian named Ivan (Mickey Rourke, who as he did in The Wrestler uses his wrecked looks to excellent effect), whose deceased father had a blood feud against Tony's late dad (John Slattery of Mad Men), develops his own knockoff Iron Man suit and comes looking for Tony. He finds him, at the Monte Carlo car race that Tony joins on a lark.

But thanks to the twin high-voltage whips that Ivan can use to strip the side off an armored car, Tony, his bodyguard (director Jon Favreau), and his best girl Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) find themselves in danger of being outgunned by this snarling, almost wordless psycho. Naturally Justin Hammer and Ivan soon join forces -- as Tony notices with his typical heedless bravado that a flaw in the power source he uses to operate his mechanical heart is slowly, fatally poisoning him.

That's a lot of story -- and I haven't even mentioned Tony's mysterious new assistant (Scarlett Johansson). But it all comes through clearly in Theroux's fast-moving script. The action scenes are robust, especially the finale at the old World's Fair site in Queens, N.Y., that also inspired the big finish of Men in Black, and Downey makes his many one-liners zing (he tells Nick Fury he doesn't want to join his "superhero boy band"). Yet Rockwell is his equal, particularly in a hilarious monologue in which he describes his favorite weapons like "Uncle Gazpacho" (so called for the chunky red mess it tends to make of enemies) and "the ex-wife."

Iron Man 2 is a big, brash, exciting, and brainy adventure, supercharged by its love for core American values. When the liberals huff that Tony Stark is a "lone gunslinger," you know what he's thinking: "Senator Weasel can have the rights to my Iron Man suit just as soon as he pries them out of my cold, dead hands."