Iron Man 2 just can't live up to the raised expectations.
When it comes to superhero movies, I fall somewhere in between. Yes, I like them, but I didn't grow up reading comic books by the hundreds, and I especially don't know the superhero universes where everything has already been set in stone so that a franchise must follow it to the letter. The problem with any successful franchise though is what to do after the first big success. You can't just duplicate the first movie. You have to do everything bigger and better. Director and supporting player Jon Favreau follows that idea by throwing everything into a script that never decides what to focus on and suffers because of it. Too much going on, too many characters, lack of any development with those characters, and surprisingly enough for a summer blockbuster, not enough action.
Six months since revealing that he is in fact Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has basically wiped out any sort of worldwide conflict. In doing so though he has the U.S. government and the Department of Defense on his tail to give up the Iron Man so that it can be a controlled commodity instead of one man's all-powerful weapon. That's the least of Tony's problems though as the use of the Iron Man outfit is slowly killing him with possibly a year to live. He turns over control of Stark Industries to secretary and girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and starts to live things up. It's hard to be the best though and rival weapons contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is using the talents of a pissed off Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) to create his own deadlier version of the Iron Man.
Now regardless of how this cast was utilized or underutilized, I can say that without a doubt this is one of the best casts ever put together for a summer blockbuster. Downer Jr. again cements himself as one of Hollywood's best actors here playing cocky, narcissistic, downright arrogant Tony Stark who somehow is still lovable. Paltrow isn't used as well here as the first one and seems like more of an afterthought than anything. Indie star Rockwell and rejuvenated Rourke are great choices to play the villains even though they're both underused, especially a scene-stealing Rourke. Then don't forget Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D, Don Cheadle stepping in for Terrence Howard as Colonel Rhodes (an upgrade from the 1st movie), and Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman (Black Widow, member of Shield).
Can you have too much of a good thing though? That cast is downright impressive, but other than Downey Jr. none of them are given a ton to do. They're introduced into the storyline, fade out, and then reappear later as needed. And from someone who is definitely looking forward to The Avengers movie, that whole subplot feels like it's being shoved down our throats as viewers. But that's the problem with the whole movie for me. There is a ton going on, and then nothing at all at the same time. For almost 90 minutes, nothing happens other than Tony moping around. Favreau has all these great elements and can't peg down what he wants to do with it. The first Iron Man certainly had some slower moving segments too, but here they're just more noticeable. At 124 minutes, this is a movie that could have been cut by 15 or 20 minutes and been a sleeker, more compact finished product.
Now to counter 90 minutes of basically nothingness, everything is thrown in the last 30 minutes, by far the best part of the movie and one of the better finales in an action movie around. Stark and Rhodes -- both outfitted in Iron Man outfits -- go toe-to-toe with Ivan's army of drone Iron Men in an epic showdown that never overdoes it with the CGI. It is an action scene where everything is visible and never moves too fast, keeping you interested even knowing we're watching computerized robots beat the crap out of each other. Add in Johansson in a skintight leather outfit (to be fair, every movie needs that) kicking ass against endless nameless security guards, and you've got quite a finale.
I can't put my finger on it, but something was missing from this sequel. It lacks a certain energy the first one had and never truly finds it's footing. It tries to one-up the original while sticking to its origins but can't find that all-important middle ground. Downey Jr again is solid, Cheadle is an upgrade, Johansson is beyond gorgeous as the eye candy, Rourke and Rockwell are above average talents, and the action-packed finale is a whopper. But for whatever reason, it doesn't add up. Worth watching, but I was disappointed here.
Iron Man 2 <---trailer (2010): ** 1/2 /****