and a half
Let's get down to brass tax: a lot of movie sequels suck. There are exceptions, but generally ideas start to run dry and more money gets thrown at the screen to compensate. Watching the trailers, that was the impression I had of Iron Man 2. More characters! More special effects! Probably a mind boggling story that results in predictablity! Still, I like the first movie and have always liked 'ol shell head from the comics so I hunkered down for more of the same.
So I have to say with surprise that I liked Iron Man 2. I liked it quite a bit. Returning director Jon Favreau does a good job of continuing the momentum carried from the first flick and staying true to the comic roots. Most of the cast from the original (Robert Downey Jr, Gwenyth Paltrow, and all those supporting folk) return in addition to Scarlett Johanssen and Samuel L Jackson. And a soundtrack heavy with Ac/Dc and The Clash? Pretty good stuff.
Most of what Iron Man 2 does is right. New baddies are added in with a fine Mickey Rourke chewing up scenery as a disgruntled Russian scientist turned evil (he has electric whips tied to him) and I think it was Jeff Fahey as the greedy sleazy corporate arms dude (may be wrong, don't feel like looking up who it really was). Favreau does well in balancing a multitude of characters running around at once. The action is as fast and fun as ever. And a nice sense of humor carries the middle of the flick as Downey Jr pulls us into the silly pathos of a seemingly doomed man (see Iron Man drunkenly dance and perform party tricks!).
In order to keep drama running, Tony Stark battles I guess battery poisoning from his arc powered chest and his anticipated mortality that comes with it. He also is in a dogged fight with congress about the proprietary rights to the Iron Man armor (which allows for entertaining trade offs between Downey Jr and Garry Shandling as a super conservative senator). Don Cheadle is one of my favorite working actors and he does not disappoint taking over the role of Rhody from that guy who won an Oscar playing a rapping pimp. The first two thirds of the film focus more on characters than action, a rarity in the short attention span world of summer movies. Maybe a little too long, I started itching for some action a good 20 minutes before it actually happened.
There are some wrong notes hit here or there, mainly Scarlett Johanssen as a foxy but stilted Black Widow. She looks really hot, so it's too bad she delivers lines with such empty intent that it sucks the life out of her scenes. When she starts talking about how she's a SHIELD agent and has secured the perimeter, it's done with lazy conviction like she's expecting one of the other actors to call "bullshit" on her. And the movie never delves into an obvious subject with Stark publicly revealing he's Iron Man. Why doesn't someone take Stark out with a sniper rifle when he's not dressed in armor? Stark saunters out in one public arena after another stripping off his armor in broad day light. Instead of investing all his damn time and resources into building electric whips with limited range, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) should have just bought a gun and shot Stark while he was showboating. I mean, Stark doesn't know Whiplash exists or is coming after him and apparently Whiplash can buy off people to get into secure locations with his heavy duty metal coils on his body. So just take a gun with you and shoot Stark while he dances for the crowd. Not too hard, kind of a no brainer. Oh well...
Iron Man 2 is a good film that fits in with the first film nicely. Not as good as the first of course and like many sequels grittiness has been replaced with humor to ensure a wider audience. At the end of the flick I felt very entertained, even if not much happens that's terribly original. Better than average for a superhero movie, Iron Man 2 blows up stuff with aplomb.