When Iron Man came out in 2008, critics and audiences pretty much lost their damn minds over it. And why not? The film was exquisitely cast—everyone had already previously acknowledged just how fantastic an actor Robert Downey Jr. is, but watching him embody the brilliant, witty and debauched Tony Stark, one had to agree that the actor and character seemed a perfect fit. Plus, there were other acknowledged “serious” actors in it (Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow—yes, her too!); that, combined with a clever, streamlined script, made Iron Man the rare blockbuster that was safe for both fan-boys and cinephiles alike to openly enjoy. It promptly made a kabillion dollars (or, to be more accurate, $585,133,287 worldwide). In other words, its sequel has an awful lot to live up to.
When one hears that you’ve seen Iron Man 2, one of two things (and usually both) is said. The first: “Is it as good as the first one?” Which is usually followed by, “Oh, but wait, don’t tell me anything.” Let’s take these things one at a time:
Iron Man 2 is not quite as good as the first one (though it comes pretty close), and I think a lot of this has more to do with the fact that the surprise oh-my-God-it’s-so-good element has been replaced by let’s-see-if-it-can-live-up-to-the-first-one hype, along with some draggy subplots.
However! The good news is that Iron Man 2 is an awful lot of fun, and particularly in the wake of only so-so recent comic-booky films (think The Losers or Kick-Ass), it remains in a different class of action movie altogether.
As for the other concern, I’ve never really understood how it’s possible to ruin a movie plot like Iron Man’s—it’s not exactly The Crying Game—but, that said, I will try and remain spoiler-free. Stark (Downey as rakish and irresistible as before) is now living with the world knowing that he is Iron Man.
This brings up some rather interesting problems. The government is unsurprisingly unhappy and wants him to turn over his suit; at the same time, other countries (and competing weaponry organizations) are trying to come up with their own version of the Iron Man. Then there’s Mickey Rourke, as a believably scary Russian who is out to destroy Tony, and, to cap it all off, there’s Tony himself, who continually flirts with metaphorical and literal self-destruction.
In addition, there are some nice new characters: a dapper, villainous Sam Rockwell (who threatens to out-awesome Downey at various points in the film); Don Cheadle (replacing Howard) as concerned friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes; Scarlett Johansson as the mysterious Natalie, who kicks ass in a way I would never have expected; and, perhaps in the single best casting move, Mad Men’s John Slattery as Tony Stark’s father, who is as hilarious and perfect as you probably would expect. (I’d also like to take this moment to give a shout-out to Paul Bettany, who provides the disembodied voice of Jarvis, Tony Stark’s computer system, who is smarter than all of these characters put together.)
What else can I tell you? There are amazing gadgets! And chase scenes! And a lot of things blow up! Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t annoying, there’s more Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury—raising delicious franchise possibilities—and Flushing, Queens, has never looked so appealing. It is all very, very, very entertaining.