I went into the first Iron Man with a fair share of non-enthusiasm, as I'm not a comic book guy, nor some Robert Downey, Jr. fan. Never hated the guy, I just didn't think he could carry a superhero role. Well, by the end I was convinced of Downey's abilities to pull off a hero role and was pleasantly surprised that not all comic book movies are terrible pieces of tripe (now video game movies, I defy you to find a good one in the bunch, but I digress).
So as Iron Man 2 approached I was pretty stoked to see what they could do with a sequel. I'm an unabashed Jon Favreau fan. His films (and him) on screen are usually endearing at their very worst. To add to that, I'm usually an advocate for the struggles / plight of the sequel and the angst they face by simply being a sequel. However, once the credits rolled (and we watched the little tidbit at the end of the scroll. I won't tell what it is, in case that really is some big super secret. All right, fine, it's a tiny glimpse into Thor - there, ya happy?) I found myself overall kind of whelmed by the film. I really had no reaction other than that, just plainly whelmed. It wasn't that I hated it; there was a fair amount of it that was entertaining and just as much fun as the first. Of course the unexpected stuff is all gone by it being a sequel, so you have to wash that out right off the bat, but really it was just kind of an alright movie. It wasn't anything terrible (a la Kick Ass), just nothing that I'd rush to buy on DVD or watch a second time. It's a good rainy day movie when you're flipping around on the channels, but nothing to pop in as a go-to kind of movie.
My main problem with it was the same problem I seem to run into with every new film past 2000. It's just too long. I don't know when the uber-comfortable span of an hour and a half got usurped, but I kind of long for the return of the concise movie that length often produced. There were moments in the movie that felt like filler, times when I kind of wondered why they interjected a scene other than just to make the movie longer.
Some of the military scenes felt extraneous, while some scenes I felt were sorely missing. There were a couple scenes where they reiterated the military's interest in the Iron Man weapon and by the third time I kind of thought, "Okay, made your point, let's move on". The Senate scene with Garry Shandling (who looks uncomfortably bloated, but did a good job as a slimy politician) explained the interest of the government very well, quickly and strongly enough for me to have that to work off of.
In regards to the military and the characters within that - I never saw how Don Cheadle's Character (Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes) ever learned how to fly the suit explained well enough to me that I could buy his role as Iron Man's eventual sidekick. There were some times in the movie Favreau kind of jumps to places to speed up the story, only to go back and drag it out with scenes that felt like filler. File under personal gripes of no consequence: I can't believe they didn't throw in Kiss' "War Machine" when Cheadle donned the War Machine outfit and joined the fight.
One other major problem I had with the film is that they just threw way too much information about S.H.I.E.L.D. at you. While it was an obvious lead-in to the Avengers movie slated for later release, it had the distinct flavor of a movie that forgot to put that info in, then at the last moment decided to inundate the audience with copious amounts of it.
Major problem #3 was the daddy issue suddenly exposed in this one. Unless I'm not remembering correctly, Tony Stark kind of revered his father in the first film and never really had this Everclear-esque daddy thing going on. So to make this move towards father reconciliation felt completely out of place to me. If they were to go that route, I kind of wished they made the crux of the movie explaining why he had this issue and then resolve that. Then they can throw in a bit more about the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. (a pain to type that by the way) thing towards the end of the flick. That way when part three comes out you can move the whole thing into the realm of the whole Avengers/ S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline.
To that effect, Scarlett Johansson's character, while sultry and fairly alluring felt like she was way too much a part of the movie. Again, I feel that if she was a smaller role, then was revealed at the end as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (alright if I have to type that again, I'm killing the periods) it would've had more impact and the audience may have been hungrier for more from her in the next installment. The way they exposed her façade so early gave way to far too much exposition of S.H.I.E.L.D. and made the movie stray from its established spine.
Acting-wise, you can't lose with Don Cheadle, he was a marked improvement over Terrence Howard (who isn't bad, but give me Cheadle any day), and Downey was fun again. His knack for the quick-witted, fast-talking thing is more than fun to watch. It makes up for some otherwise average scenes.
Mickey Rourke's turn as Whiplash was also fun. His portrayal is a good counterpoint to the fast-talking wittiness of the other characters revolving around him. He plays a good brooding balance to the hectic pace of the world he joins. His growls and sneers were well played. His accent was on the mark enough. Above all, right when you thought you've had enough of him, either the scene cut or he's gone. (P.S. - Rourke's fingers are disturbingly weird). Mostly, he was a good fit for the smoldering baddie alongside Sam Rockwell's obnoxiously jealous Justin Hammer.
Speaking of that, Rockwell was all right in the role, playing the same snidely guy that both he and Greg Kinnear have cornered the market on. No I'm not comparing the two; Rockwell blows Kinnear away but in this role, Rockwell felt like a placeholder. I got the feel that he's there to add a recognizable face into a role that would have otherwise been an evil twin type character to Downey's Tony Stark. He's powerful enough, but at no point did I feel like Rockwell was really letting loose on the sleaziness of his character. Even with little to do though, Rockwell makes the most of it and provides a decent straight-laced, neurotically obsessed counterpoint to our hero. Most of my gripes with Justin Hammer exist solely because the movie's pacing was pretty herky-jerky at times. If it were a touch more fluid, I feel like any complaint about Rockwell's character would've been forgotten.
The action scenes though, are expertly directed. Michael Bay would be served well to watch how Favreau does a great job of balancing panicked close-ups with nice distant shots to give the audience a real good immersive feel of the fighting and nuttiness going on around them and the characters in the fight. In particular the climactic fight scene between Cheadle, Downey and the drones was really fun to watch. The other action sequences, Cheadle and Downey's fight in his house, the Whiplash at the races scene (my favorite, the score had a lot to do with it there - great cut in that scene) were all riveting to watch. Even the over-used slow-motion in a fast-paced world part during the Monaco race scene is riveting to watch. Actually, now that I think about it, the action is fun to the point that I wish the rest of the movie had that kind of pacing.
When Iron Man 2 does decide to kick into gear, either by dialogue or action, it's a very fun movie. However, when it slows down, it feels like it trips over itself in order to cram in way too much information. I think the movie could've done well with one or two more re-writes before production began. But with these types of flicks you have to strike while the iron's hot before the public forgets you. Unfortunately, it suffers from that notion. Simply put, Iron Man 2 is the typical "worse than the original" sequel that puts too much on the table at once.
That's not to say it's bad, the good moments outweigh the bad. Downey holds down the fort well and Cheadle, once he's let off the leash a bit keeps up all right too. Paltrow, Johansson and Rockwell all feel along for the ride most of the time, but they're supposed to be that way. The backbone of the character strength Downey, Rourke and Cheadle bring are really the engine that makes Iron Man 2 work better than it should.
In the end it's a good popcorn flick. Albeit not one that goes down in the books as a fantastic sequel, it's still above average.