Short Review: A thoroughly satisfying and entertaining comic book super-hero movie.
Medium Review: "Iron Man 2" bucks the trend of super-hero sequels bettering their original installments, but remains a fun, satisfying experience. Director Jon Favreau manages to work in multiple heroes and villains without making the movie feel crowded or silly, and brings back most of the elements that made the first movie such a treat. Still, it doesn't quite hit the emotional or adrenaline highs previously seen, and in spots felt like it meandered a bit. Overall, though, an excellent super hero comic book movie that's well worth a full price admission.
Long Review: Since I consider "Iron Man" possibly the best super-hero movie ever made, it's not surprising that I wouldn't think the sequel is better -- that would be a tall order indeed. But it is very good, giving us what we want: Lots and lots of things blowing up, accompanied by Robert Downey Junior's excellent Tony Stark attitude. I'd rank it with movies like the original "Batman", the most recent "Hulk", and the original "X-Men", as a movie that does a great job translating the spirit and fun of the source material into a new medium.
The special effects are all excellent again, as you'd expect.
I enjoyed all the acting performances, although Downey Jr. doesn't quite hit the highs he did in the first film. I said at the time that he was the catalyst transforming that movie from just very good to exceptional, and this time around he felt at times like he was going through the motions a bit. Gwyneth Paltrow remains the best female lead in any super hero movie series, although again she wasn't quite as "on" this time around.
I tend to run hot and cold with Scarlett Johansson, and the same was true with this performance. Sometimes she seemed to be zombie-walking through her scenes, and at others you got flashes of that hot, saucy vibrancy that forces you to watch. I think her "walk of pain" down the long white corridor in the last act was probably the highlight of the movie, for instance. On the other hand, those classic Black Widow wrist thingies were horrible, I couldn't take my eyes off them either, but not in a good way. They looked clunky and awkward, like some kind of Cold War relic next to all the shiny, spiffy gadgets from Stark Industries.
Sam Rockwell made the movie from an acting perspective, at least for me. I expected to really hate the performance for some reason, but he really nailed it, bringing an odd and engaging sense of character to what could have been a very stereotypical and flat role.
Mickey Rourke was appropriately menacing and thuggish, although I frankly have to wonder sometimes if his face isn't entirely computer generated, because he honestly doesn't look human sometimes.
What I liked most about the movie (beyond the aforementioned explosions) was how Favreau managed to fit in two villains and two new heroes while making it all seem very natural. Whenever one of these super-hero comic book movies comes out with multiple characters, I always wonder if we're in for another episode of "Schumagasm", as when Joel Schumacher tried to jam the entire contents of "Who's Who In the DC B-List Villain World" into his latest Bat-nipple-festooned travesty. But Favreau managed it exceptionally well, I can't imagine Whiplash without Hammer, or War Machine without being piloted by Stark's friend Rhodey.
I do feel, though, that it all felt a bit like "What, this again?" at times, particularly in the big fight at the end, specifically when Whiplash lands in yet another suit of armor (speaking of which, where the hell did that come from!?), and pops the mask open yet again to leer and posture. I halfway expected Jeff Bridges to be in there. Next time around I think we need some non-armoured people running around just to relieve the sameness of it all.
Having said that, I still enjoyed it very much, and can highly recommend it. It doesn't reach the heights of the original, or even the best of the classic super-hero comic book sequel movies like "Dark Knight" or "X-Men 2" or "Spider-Man 2", but it's still a thoroughly engaging and entertaining experience that's well worth your time.