Too many stories going on, some have said. Nonsense. It’s really not all that hard to follow.
We have Robert Downey, Jr., again shining as egomaniac but still heroic Tony Stark/Iron Man, who has learned the technology that saved his life in the first film and gave birth to a superhero is killing him.
There’s Mickey Rourke as Russian Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, a villain not over-the top at all, driven by revenge in the name of his father, who, in his eyes, was cheated by Stark’s father (there’s also a Stark father-son subplot that’s really quite good -- daddy Howard seen as Howard Hughes meets Walt Disney).
And then we have Sam Rockwell as smarmy, scheming corporate competitor Justin Hammer (who's a scheming, nasty old man in comics), and you just love to hate ‘em, he’s such a slime-wad, sort of like what you expect those Goldman Sachs scum-buckets are like. Too much of director Jon Favreau? No. He played a small role as Stark chauffeur Happy Hogan in the first film, and yes, is seen much more this time out because Happy is a character right out of the comics who’s looking out for his boss. He’s fine. In fact, he nails it. Ditto for the switch from the missed (but that’s the way it goes) Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle as Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who becomes War Machine in his own suit of armor, giving kids especially double the thrills for Iron Man times two.
"Scarlett Johansson isn’t there for a reason." Uh, did these people see the same film? It makes perfect sense -- so does her low-key yet smoldering presence at first, until the reveal as to why she’s working for Stark and who she’s really working for – Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. Minor flaw: she’s never called “The Black Widow” by name. Least they could’ve done was toss us a “code name” line as a bone. But again, she’s right out of the comics (though a scene of her with Rourke exchanging verbal salvos in Russian would’ve been a smart move).
Jackson’s Fury was another case of you wanted to see even more of him, while Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts was a little flat and screechy (though for good reason in one mayhem-filled scene), though the slow-burn chemistry between her and Downey was still there. Plus, let’s hear it for Gary Shandling’s unctuous U.S. Senator -- another slime-ball, possibly from either party -- you decide which. And finally, too many “Easter eggs”/tidbits for the eventual Avengers film, gathering Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk and some other heroes, too? No. Wrong again. That stuff was great for any comic book fan. And if you didn’t get it, that’s fine, down to the final post-credits tease bit that sure had me grinning along with an excited little boy also in attendance.
It's notable that the credits include nods to the source material too, starting with writers Stan Lee and his brother Larry Leiber and artists Jack Kirby and Don Heck, who started the whole thing. There's also acknowledgment of works by other Marvel writers and artists, such as contemporary Iron Man scribe Matt Fraction, comics art legend Gene Colan, and illustrator John Romita, Jr.
For me, this kind of things counts as much as giving credit to those key grips and best boys (who all, of course, deserve kudos too, down to production assistants). With those comic creator credits in mind, part of the film is drawn from the classic "Demon in a Bottle " alcoholism story arc from Iron Man comics of the late '70s by writer David Michelie and artist Bob Layton, Romita, and another comics legend, Carmine Infantino.
It's possible we may see more of that subplot in an Iron Man 3, which will happen, Favreau has already said, and also may include the techno-age villain the Mandarin. Overall, however, the movie’s pacing did seem off at times, and despite Stark’s life-threatening challenge, the gravitas found in the first film as he learns the weapons he made were being used on innocents was just not there. This is, indeed, a bit fluffier. Some one-liners are funny, some a bit middle-school, yet it’s still a fun ride and a swell “popcorn movie.” Iron Man 2 may not be as great as the first installment, but it’s good, leaving a true fan waiting for a third movie as well as the other upcoming Marvel films featuring a certain God of Thunder and a star-spangled shield-slinging living legend of World War II.
'Iron Man 2' is in theaters now from Marvel/Paramount Pictures