Neither better nor worse, just the continued adventures of characters we already like to watch.
The sequel opens with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) right where we left him: a self-made and publicly-revealed super hero. Months later, the US government wants the Iron Man “weapon” tuned over to them, but Stark assures everyone that he’s part of the technology and that no one is anywhere close to replicating it. Enter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) to show that world that not only is Tony wrong but neither is he a god, putting the idea that Iron Man as a mass deterrent to encourage world peace in doubt. Unfortunately, being seen as less than super human isn’t Tony’s biggest concern; the technology keeping him alive is also simultaneously poisoning him to death.
The anticipation factor is way up on this one, possibly even to the standard set by The Dark Knight (when everyone who didn’t see Batman Begins realized what they’d missed the first time around.) Everyone is back with a continued role except for the largely-publicized change out for the character of Rhodey now played by Don Cheadle. Still mining the rich history of the Iron Man comic, Marvel Ent. continues to prove that they still have the edge in storytelling when the creators are the ones making the films based on the beloved comic properties. The real question is, now that director Jon Favreau has caught lightning in the same bottle twice, will Hollywood give him the respect he deserves or continue to see him as merely a figurehead and not a driving force behind the franchise’s continued success?
The new film adds Scarlett Johansson as Stark’s new assistant and Sam Rockwell as rival corporate weapons maker Justin Hammer to the cast, while favorites such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, and director Jon Favreau’s own Happy Hogan all return with beefed-up roles now that their boss isn’t just making weapons but deciding when and how to use them. The biggest show stealer is revealed in the credits: Garry Shandling as Senator Stern, a typical politician who believes the government is better qualified to command Iron Man that its inventor (and the film does a fairly good job giving credence to both points of view.)
While the sets, the plot, and the action are all bigger, the overall effect doesn’t exceed the first. Fortunately, it doesn’t fall short, either, providing a memorable installment still on target to shore up Marvel Entertainment’s upcoming Avengers movie. Is it a slight to audiences and fans that this installment didn’t seem any bigger, or just careful planning to keep expectations reasonable rather than failing to deliver on trailer-made promises? Case in point: what happens to the “Iron kiss” in the back of the plane? Fans may point out that the film version of Tony Stark may be heading in a different direction than his comic book counterpart, but there’s no doubt that Robert Downey Jr. continues to own and entertain in the part he’s spent a lifetime preparing for.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)