I’ll just say this right now. I was not a huge fan of Iron Man when it came out in 2008. Namely, it suffered from a poor 3rd Act that practically ruined the film for me. Without Robert Downey, Jr. I’m not so sure if I would even regard the first film as being watchable. Besides, Iron Man has never been one of my favorite comic book characters and, in fact, I don’t think I’ve read a single issue of the Iron Man comic book series. So going into Iron Man 2, I had quite low expectations. Although many if not most fans and critics would seem to disagree, I think Iron Man 2 is an improvement over the first film. Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux (the screenwriter) have this time gone balls out with a intricate and ambitious storyline thats reminiscent of the kind of multi-issue stories you would find in the comic book series. I like that. However, the downside is that the film feels a bit convoluted. As interesting as they all are, the characters do not get a chance to fully develop and the subplots are forced to get resolved quickly to accommodate the film’s running time. All in all, Iron Man 2 is a mixed bag that weighed more towards being a good film than a bad film while at the same time being better than the first film.

In Iron Man 2, we are again introduced to the fast jetset world of Tony Stark, the industrialist billionaire who invented the Iron Man technology that now serves as America’s ultimate defense weapon. The U.S. government is afraid that this technology will soon fall into the wrong hands and so it asks Tony Stark to give the technology to the military so our government can make its own weapons based on the technology. Stark refuses and assures the government that his technology is totally safe and secure from falling into the wrong hands. However, he is soon proven wrong when a badass dude named Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) shows up wearing a suit based on Stark’s technology. This time, Stark has his hands more full than the last time. He finds out that the “heart” he invented to keep him alive is slowly poisoning him. There is also another rich industrialist (Sam Rockwell) who is competing with Stark by trying to create a weapon similar to Iron Man. Of course, Iron Man is assisted this time by his best friend, Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who dons the War Machine Iron Man suit.

I tend to like sequels to superhero films more than the originals because we can finally set aside the origin story and get down to telling a good story of good versus evil. Origin stories usually have a weak and shitty villain who takes a backseat to the main character’s origin story, which I think is one reason why I could care less about Jeff Bridges’ villain in the first Iron Man movie. Here, we jump right into it. We see the growing pressures on Stark to protect the world and to protect himself while also maintaining his carefree playboy lifestyle. At the same time, the Avengers Initiative is beginning to more fully develop and we see the germs of its origin starting to form (NOTE: MAKE SURE YOU STAY THROUGH THE END CREDITS FOR AN AWESOME SURPRISE). All of this reminded me of a typical Marvel superhero comic book story and this film captures the essence of the comic book perfectly.

However, what works for a comic book doesn’t necessarily work for a film plotline. We have seen this problem in past superhero films such as Spider-Man 3, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. The filmmakers try to juggle too much for a 2 hour film and in the end, we are left with a whole big mess. Thankfully, Iron Man 2 is nowhere near as problematic in its storytelling as those earlier films were. Even though we have many more characters and subplots to deal with in this movie, the filmmakers mostly succeed in maneuvering the audience through everything. With that said, the movie is not without its problems. As I mention above, some of the characters are not allowed a chance to fully develop. For example, Scarlett Johansson, who plays the Black Widow, is barely seen in the movie and we are left with knowing almost nothing about her (BUT, to give her credit, she has THE BEST action scene in the whole film). We also don’t see enough of Whiplash or learn enough about him other than what other characters tell us about who he is. More problematically, many of the subplots get quickly resolved to make room for everything else. As a result, many parts of the film feel rushed. For example, we learn that Tony Stark is slowly being poisoned by his Iron Man technology. After many scenes showing the dire nature of this predicament, Stark ends up solving his problem without breaking a sweat. Boom, problem solved. Where this becomes a more annoying issue is in the 3rd Act. Again, just like with the first Iron Man film, the end fight scene gets resolved quickly and in a very unexciting fashion. One thing that I hoped Jon Favreau would have learned since making the first film was how to stage a good fight scene. Sadly, he still has a lot of room for improvement because what he gives us here, although better than the first film, still falls far short of the fucking awesomeness that could have been. I wanted to see Iron Man and War Machine take on the villain through the whole city of Los Angeles. I wanted to see massive destruction everywhere (like the battle scene between Superman and General Zod in Superman II). Why didn’t we get that?

As with Iron Man and every movie he seems to make lately, the success of the film rides mostly on the shoulders of the very talented Robert Downey, Jr. Here we get a hint of Tony Stark’s alcohol problem (an issue that was masterfully dealt with in the comic book series that I hope will serve as the basis of the plot for the inevitable 3rd film) and it results in Downey, Jr. being funnier than ever. The actor’s style suits the Tony Stark character perfectly with his manic energy and fly-by-the-seat-of-your- pants lifestyle. However, this time we are also treated by the equally if not even more talented Sam Rockwell, who plays Justin Hammer. Rockwell has never failed to disappoint in anything he has done (NOTE: Check him out in last year’s Moon, which is a film that deserved a Best Actor nod). Here, he plays an asshole billionaire industrialist who reminded me of Michael Dell. He practically steals every scene he’s in and I hope to see more of him in future installments of the series. I am a big fan of Terrance Howard and I was disappointed to see him get replaced for Iron Man 2 even though it was by Don Cheadle, who I regard as highly as Howard. However, Cheadle does a fantastic job as Jim Rhodes, Tony Stark’s best friend.

So is Iron Man 2 a film worth watching? It has its problems, but it still holds up as a fun, popcorn experience that I ended up enjoying more than the first film. For you comic fans, there is plenty of Avengers-related surprises which I won’t give away. I wish there was more of it, but I guess it wouldn’t be an Iron Man movie if there were. Many of you may be disappointed by this film, especially if you were a huge fan of the first movie. For me it was a reverse and it probably explains why I enjoyed it more.