The second film takes place six months after the events of the first. Iron Man has, more or less, "privatized world peace" and become a target for the U.S. government, who want to seize his suits and designs in order to produce a fleet of Iron Men for the military. Stark, however, is not interested in giving up his pride and joy.
To make matters worse, a new corporate rival is doing everything he can to supplant Stark from media fame, and Stark's health is taking a downward spiral that has nothing to do with his drinking habits. And if that weren't enough, Iron Man has found a new enemy in Ivan Vanko, a Russian with a chip on his shoulder--a very big chip. While Stark is busy keeping the government off his stuff and convincing people that the world is safe, Vanko is busy building the weapons he needs to take down Stark for good, with a few friends in high places to help along the way.
Iron Man 2 is far from perfect, but it does succeed in a number of areas. The visuals are fantastic, and they are significantly more complicated here than in the first film. If you've seen the trailers, then you know what I'm talking about. There are dozens of new suits, a new bad guy, and a lot of action that succeeds precisely because the visual effects are superb. Iron Man, War Machine, and Vanko's various suits are believable from start to finish and the various action sequences flow well and look beautiful.
Likewise, the cast is right where it should be, with some exceptions. The banter between Stark, Pepper, his body guard, and the various other characters who make an appearance in this film, is often hilarious and perfectly timed. But, you probably already knew that having seen the first film. Where the film's cast succeeds is in its additions. Mickey Rourke as Vanko is a perfect choice; his accent is spot on and his presence on the screen is menacing and dark. Throw in a little Sam Rockwell, who plays an eccentric business man, and you've really got a recipe for success. Rockwell is hilarious, ridiculous, charming, and deliciously hate-able. It's unfortunate, though, that so little was done with Don Cheadle as Rhodey, but I suppose the film was too packed to make much use of the various secondary characters, particularly since the primary focus is and always has been Stark.
Beyond this, however, Iron Man 2 does have a few problems, which, I would argue, don't ruin the film, but do give it a rating less than 4 out of 5. The plot, while not as absurd and convoluted as that of Transformers 2, does get carried away. There are a lot of things going on, and some of the major points don't aren't resolved in the finale. Hopefully we'll see more resolutions in Iron Man 3, but as a viewer, I did want to see a bit more from the ending and from the middle sections. The inclusion of S.H.I.E.L.D. in this movie was particularly problematic because it introduced new conflicts in Stark's life that, while important, really needed more time for an adequate resolution. The plot is thick enough with Vanko, the U.S. government, Stark's health, his life as Iron Man, and his relationship (or lack thereof) with Pepper. Now we have S.H.I.E.L.D. doing whatever they do, Stark's daddy issues, and a whole lot of connected stuff that seems a little convenient. We all know Stark is a smart cookie, but I felt like the film could have given us more of the genius we saw in the first movie. Instead, there's S.H.I.E.L.D., which existed, I felt, to waltz in and give Stark the answers to some of his questions.
Lastly, I had one minor issue with the final battle. While overall the fight is rather lengthy, the actual face-to-face fight between Iron Man and Vanko was, in my opinion, a little too short and anticlimactic. Here we have the villain of the movie spending little more than a minute or two fighting the hero, despite the fact that the villain is brilliant and, I think, slightly more wicked than Stane from the first film. We needed more. Reducing a conflict like that to a few minutes, especially when you consider that Vanko is essentially given a second chance to take a shot at Stark, is really unfair to the character and to the audience. Still, the battle was entertaining, just not as long as I would have liked.
Overall, I enjoyed Iron Man 2. It had some minor flaws, sure, but I think its positives helped dispel much of my misgivings about the film. It has a lot going for it. With a great cast, wonderful visuals, and a plot that manages to entertain, despite its flaws, it's not hard to see why Iron Man 2 is selling loads of tickets. It's definitely a film I would recommend seeing on the big screen, if you have the chance.
If you've seen the film, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!
Adaptation: N/A (I haven't read enough Iron Man to make this judgment)
Value: $7.00 (based on a $10.50 max)