The first Iron Man was so successful mainly due to the success it brought to Tony Stark's transformation into the big red and gold suit, anchored by Downey Jr.'s magnetic central performance. Number 2 sadly does not step up the proceedings a la X2 (2003) or Spider-Man 2 (2004), which both developed the central story even further, as well as adding better characters/villains and amping up the action. Iron Man 2 disappoints on all of these fronts. Stark's gradual 'maturing' throughout the course of the first film was relatively perfect in terms of pacing and execution, but this is replaced here by Stark dealing with some dull daddy issues (although Howard Stark is played by Mad Men scene-stealer John Slattery), and Stark's concerns about his poisoning, which confuse above all else.
Of the three new main additions, only Rourke's Whiplash is remotely successful, yet is kept oddly muted throughout the movie as he sets up shop in Hammer's workshop, carefully engineering a not-very-surprising attack at the upcoming Stark Expo. Hammer's over-the-top sliminess fits in with the shift in tone, moving away from the grounded feel of the first, and entering the more supernatural realm of the Avengers' world, where we have to accept intergalactic journeys and a character like Thor. Scarlett Johansson's Nastasha Romanoff does little apart from looking good in Lycra and bringing Stark into S.H.I.E.L.D., which heralds the return of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury in what is nothing more than an extended cameo,
So we are ultimately left with James 'Rhodey' Rhodes, this time played by Don Cheadle, who came in to replace Terrence Howard. Their relationship forms the best aspect of the film, and also leads to the best moment in the film when Rhodey finally dons a Stark suit (becoming a premature War Machine), and attempts to restrain a drunken Stark, dressed as Iron Man. It's the only scene with any real heart. Still, it's still quite fun overall, and it's interesting to watch Marvel's big plan slowly move closer together, with glimpses of Captain America's shield, the Hulk ripping it up on a news report, and Thor's hammer. When the credits rolled, I felt like I'd been slightly ripped-off by the climax, which pales in comparison even when compared to the first film. But it still left me wanting more, which can't be a bad thing.
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke