Any IRON MAN sequel had a big suit to fill, following the original, which is one of the best superhero movies ever made. The story nicely builds on elements from the first film instead of rehashing the same ones. The second adventure is entertaining, especially in parts with a wisecracking Tony Stark, played once again by Robert Downey Jr.
Tony Stark is being pressured by the U.S. government to turn over his Iron Man suit. Stark argues that be has privatized peace and that he will do what he wants with it. His ego draws the attention of many adversaries. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER) has the biggest beef. He believes Stark's father Howard (John Slattery, TV's MAD MEN) stole the idea for the Iron Man suit from his father, so he builds his own suit and sets out to seek revenge. This validates all of the fears of Senator Stern (Garry Shandling, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), who doesn't want Iron Man armies in the hands of enemies. Stark's chief manufacturing rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, MOON) recruits Vanko, so he can get a leg up on the competition. Meanwhile, Stark's best friend Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle, HOTEL RWANDA) is given orders to get a suit for the military. If Stark didn't have enough problems already, the reactor in his chest that is keeping him alive is also poisoning his blood.
In this film, Downey gives Stark an even bigger playboy eccentric quality. Kind of like Bond after a few martinis. He's more interested in his public persona than running his corporation so he hands it over to his brilliant and dedicated secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, SEVEN). The seemingly bone-headed move inspires a great cameo. Of course now, Downey needs a new assistant so in comes the sexy and deadly Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson, GHOST WORLD), who is more than she seems. Even Stark's trusted driver Happy (Jon Favreau, SWINGERS) gets into the fray this time around. And lets not forget SHIELD agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, SPARTAN) are always keeping an eye on Stark's actions.
As you can see the film tries to tackle a lot in two hours. Sadly some of the best parts of IRON MAN have been lost. While the story advances Stark and Potts' relationship, it doesn't have the time to do it as compellingly as the first film. Paltrow was so good in the original that I really missed her here. Fury and Rushman feel like ads for upcoming movies. The story touches on Stark's alcoholism, but does so in a jokey way instead of dealing with the real ramifications of a drunk man in an Iron Man suit. In an effort to balance too much, the film feels a little bit like a product and not a rich story about a weapons manufacturer who finds his soul, which set the original apart. This film seems in search of a central theme. Stark deals with life and death, his daddy and go-it-alone/egotism issues, while the film skirts the surface of bigger issues with high-tech weapons in the hands of private citizens and bad guys.
That said the film does do a decent job of bringing all the elements together into a cohesive single story. It's not like SPIDER-MAN 3 where too many different stories seemed to be fighting for screen time. Downey is given some dialogue gems and he fits into the role perfectly. Cheadle comes into the franchise replacing Terrence Howard who played Rhodey/War Machine in the first film. He brings a great sublty to the role, giving it depth beyond the page. He is a man concerned for his friend and his country and the problem is they stand on opposite sides of an argument. Additionally, Rourke and Rockwell are wonderful baddies. Rourke oozes vodka from his pores as the Russian physicist who has nothing to loose. Rockwell, with his wonderfully bad bronzer tan, is a geek with big toys who wants the cool kid, aka Tony Stark, to pay attention to him.
As one would expect, IRON MAN 2 has great action and visual effects, but none as cheer worthy as the first installment. So overall, the sequel is thinned out from the original. It doesn’t have the newness. But like your favorite car you've had for years, you feel comfortable riding around in it. It doesn't have the punch it did when you first got it, but its original style is still there. With Downey behind the driver seat, it still attracts positive attention.