?Short version: Iron Man 2 isn’t as good a movie as its predecessor, but it’s just as fun and significantly more action-packed. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I can totally recommend it.
If you’re concerned, the only reason I say IM2 isn’t as good as the first is because it’s too busy — packed with too many characters and plot threads and winks to the fans to be as character driven and narratively focused as the original. But unlike, say, Spider-Man 3, where all those random bits were just thrown on screen in hopes no one would notice all the cracks, these myriad stories and characters and such all do come together in the end of Iron Man 2 pretty well, and even if they’re not all that necessary, at the very least they’re all fun and don’t disrupt anything. Overall, it’s a very good time and a worthy sequel. A longer review (with a few spoilers) is after the jump.
Bear with me while I compare Iron Man 2 to Spider-Man 3 a little more. I think one of the reasons SM3 failed is because it was two separate (and not especially good) movies, smashed together. While Iron Man 2 has just as much stuff in it as SM3, it’s more like it has two movies worth of stuff — so the movie doesn’t have much time to spend on all these elements, but they all do work together reasonably well. For instance, Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow — she does almost nothing in the movie except for one kick-ass fight scene in the end, and that could have easily been skipped. But it was cool, and it worked in the movie without throwing it off kilter. So why not include it?
Are there problems? Yes. There’s certainly some plot holes — if Stark suddenly decided to race his own car at Monaco, how did Whiplash know to impersonate a technician to be on the track? Why did Tony’s dad just happen to know the one element that could save Tony’s life? And why did he hide that element as the map of the Stark Expo? But the movie moves fast enough that these aren’t completely jarring, and the excellent performances help smooth them over further.
I will say that having Mickey Rourke as Whiplash and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer was a great pair. Whiplash is the true villain, and Justin Hammer is just kind of an asshole whose jealousy of Tony Stark causes him to hire Whiplash/spring him from jail and set up the big battle at the end. It actually works great. Frankly, Sam Rockwell is just as entertaining as Robert Downey Jr. in this film, which is kind of insane. As I said on Twitter, I would happily watch a movie of either RDJ as Stark playing on his awesome computers of Rockwell as Hammer just being a dickweed, because they are that entertaining to watch. No armor or fight scenes needed.
Speaking of, the fight scenes are awesome. You’ve pretty much seen all of the first one, where Stark uses the Iron Suitcase to fight Whiplash, then there’s a second where he fights War Machine while drunk — which is both awesome and meaningful (both in terms of Tony’s character development in the movie and to the fans), meaning it’s pretty much perfect — and finally, there’s a great, huge battle at the end which is just totally, totally awesome. Genndy Tartakovsky helped design it, and it shows — it makes the end of Iron Man 1 look like the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie. So no troubles there.
And speaking of nods to the fans, there are tons of them in the film — drunk Tony Stark, War Machine, a totally gratuitous Black Widow, etc. —
without breaking the film overall — although mass audiences might be confused about why this Nick Fury guy keeps showing up to talk about some Avengers thing, or what the deal is with the hammer at the end. I’m certain nerds don’t mind, but I also think that Iron Man 2 is so swiftly designed that’s not too unwiedly for mass audiences.
To sum up (and repeat myself): Iron Man 2 is very much a comic movie sequel. the first one set up the premise, the characters and the world, now the sequel focuses on being bigger and more badass. Iron Man 2 certainly does that and does it very well, making it totally entertaining. I don’t think I’m wrong for wishing that IM2 was a little slower and more character driven, but I also don’t blame you if you like IM2 better because it is significantly more awesome than the original. Maybe the reason I’m complaining about this is that RDJ’s Stark is such a great character I wish I could have spent more time with him in the sequel. If so, that’s a hell of a good problem for the Iron Man movie franchise to have.