The rare bad guy opening montage kick-starts Iron Man 2. Mickey Rourke (as Ivan Vanko) works on a mysterious project, hunched over heavy equipment, pictures and articles of Tony Stark framing his muscled silhouette. Then, boom, we're whisked off to Tony Stark's playboy lifestyle. Is it a cheap way to avoid building character? It is. Is it also effective, placing us immediately in the thick of it? Yes, that's also true. Will I stop asking myself rhetorical questions and just start the second paragraph already? It's a deal, but only because you asked so sweetly.
Iron Man 2 is a better film, overall, than Iron Man, but only because it avoids the obvious missteps the original foisted upon the audience near the end. You know of what I speak: Pepper Potts running around like a '30s housewife, Jeff Bridges cackling like he'd been ripped directly from the pages of the hit magazine Cliche Weekly. The sequel doesn't have those issues -- though, in fairness, it probably doesn't hit the highest of the high notes the origin story did. But I'll take the consistently solid Iron Man 2 over the somewhat erratic Iron Man. It will come down to how you like your superhero films; you've got to make the call, be it nuanced or more pulpy.
The things I didn't dig about Iron Man 2 are rather trivial. I didn't like Jon Favreau calling it a "Jon Favreau Film" in the credits ... followed, about two minutes later, with a "Directed by Jon Favreau." I get it, fella, it's your movie. Contractually obligated or no, that's a bit too much ego. I didn't love the closing credits either, the ones you've got to sit through to see the "special scene" -- because they are about five minutes long. I'd just google that extra scene as it is a tad underwhelming. Also problematic is the amount of content jammed in, and the logic employed throughout. Even for the current short attention span and science-light universe we're living in they go too often to the overtly silly .
There are many angles to appreciate, however, starting with Robert Downey Jr. He's great, again, and I'd argue that his portrayal of Tony Stark is the best in the superhero business. Bale's Batman films are better, but Downey is doing more for his movie overall. The rest of the cast is worthy of accolades too, from Rourke's aforementioned brooding Russian psycho to Paltrow's much more balanced (this time around) Pepper Potts. Don Cheadle takes over the reins for Terrence Howard, expanding and improving the character. Sam Rockwell is good in everything he does, including this, and I enjoyed Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, though neither was given much to do. There's also a dandy car-racing scene in Monaco, a technical marvel, tossing you right in the action. Yes, there's much to like in this summer opener.
Iron Man 2 is a big and blustery movie without much in the way of flaws, and as such, it's a film that should easily earn a place in the pantheon of comic book adaptations. Tony Stark dancing in front of an American flag, poking fun at a Senate Arms Committee, Iron Man and War Machine teaming up -- iconic images that stick with you and provide maximum enjoyment. The film isn't shooting for enlightenment, but it is ebullient and entertaining. In a world where people pay good money to bring nonsense like Ghost Rider and Spider-Man 3 to the big screen, it's enjoyable to see a quality superhero dynamically and enthusiastically rendered.