Not that Iron Man 2 is bad. Far from it. The entire cast is terrific, the action scenes are big and often exciting, the special effects are dazzling, and the direction is spot-on. The film simply suffers from an ailment I call sequelitis. It's very common and easy to catch. The symptoms are a rushed production started immediately after a specific film becomes a big hit, trying to copy whatever worked best on the original, and having one too many plots. An especially ugly symptom is re-casting a main character for the sequel. While Iron Man was thrillingly original and followed no rules, Iron Man 2 can't help but be the lesser film because it tries far too hard to be a sequel and not its own film.
This one opens where the first film left off, with Tony Stark (the pitch-perfect Robert Downey, Jr.) revealing to the world that he is in fact the superhero Iron Man, propelling his fame through the roof. From there, the film splits itself in several different directions. On one side, the government wants Stark to hand over the suit, believing it to be dangerous. In Russia, a dead scientist's son is proving them right by using Stark's designs to build his own version of the suit, with electromagnetic whips. On another side, Stark promotes his assistant Pepper Potts to CEO of his company so he can focus on other things. He hires another hot young thing to be his new assistant, in the form of Scarlett Johansson as ass-kicking Natalie, who has a secret. On yet another side, his business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, in a splendidly enthusiastic performance) is trying to build Iron Man suits of his own. After a failed assassination attempt on Stark, Hammer enlists Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler) to show him the secret. Rourke's comic book villain is very dark and often silent, which is supposed to show intensity but comes across as him just looking bored in all of his scenes. Oh, and Stark's power source is giving him a rare blood disorder that is slowly killing him.
As was foreshadowed in the first movie, Stark's buddy Rhodey gets his own Iron Man suit, but beyond this plot point, his presence in the movie seems pointless, especially since they recasted Terrence Howard for the older and less hip Don Cheadle. Samuel L. Jackson also appears, acting very Samuel L. Jackson-y as the eyepatch-strutting Nick Fury, still trying to recruit Stark into the Avengers.
The best part of the movie is the humor, most of which still comes from the fast-talking Downey. Director Jon Favreau expands on his own cameo as Stark's lackey Hogan. It's a self-serving mood, but at least we get a few laughs out of it. For all its faults, the movie delivers on all its promises, by offering several good action scenes, my favorite of which is the Stark vs. Rhodey smackdown in his mansion. The finale sequence is tight and exciting, and there's even a great in-joke about Captain America. Fans of the comic books will want to stay for a short but great here's-what's-next scene at the end of the credits.
Iron Man 2 is not a great film, or even a great sequel, but it is good solid summer entertainment that demands very little from its viewer and gives a lot back in return. It's exactly what you'd expect from it, nothing more and nothing less.
I would recommend this film to fans of comic-book movies and of Robert Downey, Jr.
You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNQowwwwYa0