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It was hard for me to view Iron Man 2 with an unbiased mindset. Having loved and adored the first film, so much so I actually shelled out the extra cash for the special edition metal DVD case copy, it was hard to not set the bar high for this film as well.
The beauty of the first Iron Man was that it was great fun and yet it sent a powerful message about militarized weapons, and that combination creates a repeatable, enjoyable experience. Also, the number of treats thrown in for Marvel comic fans (i.e. Stan Lee's cameo as Hugh Hefner) didn't hurt either. Iron Man 2 was still a lot of fun, but what it wanted fans to walk away with is anyone's guess.
Let's start with the positives. Robert Downey Jr. didn't skip a beat. It's like Tony Stark is a suit in his closet that he slides into when he needs to. He's still the swaggering anti-hero we've come to know and love, bursting onto the scene in a cheezy, Broadway-esque way that's more leer than sneer. What Downey is able to do with Stark, which is not always successful in sequels, is remain true to what the core of the character is while creating more depth; showing us more angles. Jon Favreau, who helmed the first movie, takes care not to let us forget that Stark was taken down in a terrorist camp, and that experience still haunts him.
Don Cheadle steps in as Rhodey in place of Terrance Howard, doing such a great job that we really don't miss Terrance at all (sorry man.) Gwyneth Paltrow takes another spin in the vertigo-inspiring heels of Pepper Potts, and the chemistry between her and Stark is just as vibrant and inspiring as the last - seeing their relationship deepen as she exhaustively tries to keep it all together is one of the reasons this film is worth seeing.
The other major reason to see this film is Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. He is crude, rude and just plain doesn't give a damn. He is the heartbeat for the minimal plot line that keeps the film going and his sheer lack of regard for what anyone thinks is scary as well as inspiring.
There are fun tidbits aplenty: the portable Iron man suit wrapped up in the red pimped-out suitcase was pretty freakin' cool, as is the usual slew of Marvel references that will beg the DVD viewer to stop, pause, and zoom in.
Now for the things that don't work: too many unnecessary rock 'em sock 'em fights, too little Nick Fury, and too much Sam Rockwell. A particularly entertaining scene where Stark gets wasted in his Iron Man suit at his lush home in California is cut short by Rhodey crashing the party in one of the extra suits Stark's got lying around and the ensuing fight proceeds to break everything. The scene is necessary but completely overblown (no pun intended.) Also, how does Rhodey know how to work the suit? Is he just that cool? Really, Favreau, I think we could've had a better plot transition here.
And uh, what happened to Nick Fury? Besides getting one of the best opening lines of any character ("Stark, I'll have to ask you to exit the donut") you don't get to see much of him. I'd take out at least three scenes with Hammer, the unctuous rival weapons manufacturer who talks...and talks...and talks. I was waiting for Whiplash to put him through a wall at some point, but no. I know the guy is not supposed to be likeable, but Rockwell, come on. Overacting much?
Overall, it's a fun ride,and for all you guys out there you even get to see Scarlett Johannson do some Kung Fu. As a standalone film, it stands out, but as a sequel, I wish it had the same clear sense of intention like the first film. In Tony we trust, but hey Favreau, for the next go-round let's get Fury on board for most of the film instead of only 20 percent?
Oh yeah, and don't forget to stick around after the credits. Just sayin'.