In a summer ruled and dominated by hype for a Dark Knight, Iron Man was initially looked upon as just another super hero at best. Then people saw the movie and thanks to a career resurrecting performance by Robert Downey Jr., it has joined the elite ranks of Superman, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and X-Men as an intelligent, fun, and defining movie in the Super Hero genre.  So of course a sequel was inevitable. As if the standards of the first Iron Man weren’t high enough, remember the company that movie keeps. In addition to being defining takes on the Super Hero genre what else do Superman, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and X-Men have in common with one another? Their sequels arguably surpass their predecessors. So, as you can see, Iron Man 2 has some pretty high standards to live up to. To keep things simple Iron Man 2 is not better than Iron Man. Does that make it a bad movie? Absolutely not. Is it good? Yes. Should you see it? Yes. And I’ll tell you why…Warning: Some Spoilers ahead!

All the ingredients that made the first Iron Man so good are in Iron Man 2. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is as arrogant, charming, and serious (when he wants to be) as he was the first time around. Whether it’s taking down the bad guys, courting models, or making an ass out of a Senator during a Government hearing, Tony Stark does is all with a cool flair and machismo that makes you admire him while being jealous of him at the same time. When the movie begins Tony Stark is on top of the world and where do you go when you reach the top? Down. Tony not only goes down, he falls down, and it is his journey to pick himself back up that is the heart of this movie.

Supporting him once again is Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts who is as loyal and cute as ever. The chemistry between her and Downey is just as strong as it was in the first movie. Pepper’s role expands quite a bit in this movie due to Tony placing her in charge of his company. So, in addition to babysitting Tony, Pepper has to run a multinational corporation that is under attack from both the government, corporate rivals, and a jilted son who is out for revenge. Understandably, it’s too much to handle and Gwyneth’s portrayal lets you feel the pressure she’s under the whole time.

Another returning character is James Rhodes, now played by Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard, who steps into the armor of War Machine. Picture Iron Man with more guns and you’ve got War Machine. Unfortunately Don Cheadle, as good an actor as he is, is not right for this part. Why? He lacks the commanding presence Rhodey is supposed to have, something Terrance Howard brought to the character and would have built upon due to the characters increased role.

A welcome new addition to the cast is none other than that modern starlet, Scarlett (rhyme intended) Johansson as Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow. What can I say about ScarJo? I love her. I want to meet her and if I meet her I’ll have the same reaction Tony had when he met her, I’d be speechless. (If you want to do an interview Scarlett, call me) But enough about how much I love looking into her eyes lets talk about the Widow. As a character,  the jury’s out on the Black Widow character in the Marvel Movie Universe. Why? Because we never got the full spectrum of her character. In Iron Man 2 she is a spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D.  on a mission to evaluate whether or not Tony is fit for the Avengers Initiative. For this reason we don’t get hear the Russian accent—which disappointed me the most. One thing is certain we haven’t seen the last of ScarJo in the Marvel Movie Universe. She’s apparently signed up for Avengers, Iron Man sequels, and a Black Widow movie.

Sam Rockwell has been one of my favorite character actors since Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and brings that quirky sensibility to Justin Hammer, Tony’s rival in the weapons game. The best way to describe Hammer is Bill Lumberg trying to be Tony Stark. A lot of humor is derived from his pathetic attempts to duplicate Tony’s charisma. Tool, absolutely but a slimy ruthless tool that will do anything to get a government weapons contract, including hiring criminals.

Which brings me to Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash. If you ask me Whiplash was never that strong of a foe. The only thing that stands out about him in my mind is his haircut. Here, director Jon Favereau had the opportunity to reinvent a Marvel villain and make him a stronger character like Sam Raimi did with Dr. Octopus. And Whiplash starts off strong. In the opening sequence we him duplicating Stark’s technology with a lust for revenge. His attack on the racetrack in Monaco was strong but from there he becomes background, which is where the flaws of Iron Man 2 emerge.

Acting and character wise Iron Man 2 is great.  The characters are so strong that you want to spend as much time with them as possible, but this is a Super Hero movie and a Super Hero movie needs action and sometimes that action feels forced. I felt the same about the first movie. But mainly, it is in it’s plot and storytelling where Iron Man 2 falters.

The best way for me to describe Iron Man 2 is it’s like cruising in a Ferrari until you make a wrong turn and have to get yourself back on the freeway. Where Iron Man 2 take the wrong exit is with its villains. The movie changes villains mid-story, throwing off it’s momentum and once a story loses momentum it’s very difficult to get back. From the trailers, the opening, to the first action sequence, Whiplash is the main villain. He has a blood feud with Tony because he believes Tony’s father stole his father’s technology, the Repulsor energy that powers Iron Man. Whiplash creates a Repulsor battery of his own and uses the technology to get revenge on Stark. Problem is after his first fight with Iron Man he is arrested. Obviously he escapes, but instead of making random attacks on everything Tony holds near and dear, he takes job with Hammer and builds his drones. Hammer does this by faking Whiplash’s death in the prison escape. Logically this makes perfect sense, unfortunately logic doesn’t always make exciting storytelling . By removing Whiplash from the chessboard, the movie loses its momentum. Super Villains in sequels spring up as a reaction to the presence of the hero. If the director moved the government investigation to after Whiplash’s initial attack and have Hammer use Whiplash to not only upgrade his drones, but make random attacks so the drones could save the day, you could have a solid middle and still have the final battle between Iron Man, War Machine, and the drones. That’s what I would have done had I written the movie but hey what do I know?

Good acting, flair, sleek action, good looking girls, and a solid 2 out 3 acts makes Iron Man 2 a movie you should see…but before I go I have one thing left to tell you. Yes, Samuel Jackson appears as Nick Fury but he’s called away to an incident in New Mexico. What that is? You’ll find out after the credits. It’s one more reason to see Iron Man 2.

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