This Iron Man sequel picks up from the first movie after Tony Stark (played as cocky as you’d expect by Robert Downey Jr.) had announced to the world that he was the man in the iron suit. Things are not great for the fantastic Mr. Stark even as the world/U.S. sees him as a hero. The government comes after him for his technology; a bitter Russian villain (played with just the right amount of greasy hair and grunting by Mickey Rourke) wants revenge for past offences; and competitor Justin Hammer (played as a sillier, second-string version of Downey’s CEO wunderkind by Sam Rockwell) allies himself with both opponents to take down the Iron Man. Add to that, Stark’s blood isn’t getting any less poisoned, so his body is trying to kill him too (good thing he’s such a brilliant scientist!). Lucky for him he has the help of the ever-faithful Pepper Potts (played adequately by Gwyneth Paltrow) to help Stark save his company, and his good buddy Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle rather than Terrence Howard) to try to save him from his self-destructive ways. In the end, the Hero triumphs over the Villains (and the government) despite himself.
There is a valiant attempt to balance the action scenes with the character scenes in this movie, but they still seem a little bit mismatched. From a big-budget blow-up point of view, there are huge sequences where Iron Man and his enemies are flying around, shooting off repulsor blasts, missiles, bullets so much that it can make your head spin. My reaction to those scenes was excitement (“So many things going boom!”) and it seemed like that’s what a comic book movie should be about. It shouldn’t be about senate hearings or press conferences, or even about the hero sullenly drowning guilt in a bottle of scotch. It’s about good guys fighting bad guys… but I quickly realized that a little of that goes a long way on the big screen.
Unfortunately, the non-action scenes were a bit campy and over-the-top. As the senator trying to get his mitts on Stark’s tech, Garry Shandling doesn’t really have the same kind of severity that you might find in a similar character on 24. Add to that, Stark himself is putting on a show as well (which is so ridiculous for a CEO to be doing), playing the crowd at the hearings. (I could totally empathize with Pepper Potts rolling her eyes with concern over her boss’s hijinks.) Then when things get rough, he hits the bottle and it goes downhill from there. It’s hard to give the right kind of time and pace to serious topics in a movie that is also trying to race its way to the fireworks in the last act. As a result, this movie suffered from a jerky pace and the feeling like it was clipped together from two or three different movies. (I haven’t even mentioned how the teaser from the first movie — Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury recruiting Stark to join the secret government super-agency SHIELD — plays out in this movie.)
In the end, how much you enjoy this movie really depends on your expectations. What you can expect is some slick CGI, lots of gunfire and things blowing up and flying around, plus a pretty fun scene from Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (makes me miss Alias a lot… ) (3.5 out of 5)