SPOILER ALERT, KIND OF.
A cool fan of mine asked if I was gonna do an Iron Man 2 review, and I thought that was a neat idea. For anyone that cares what I think, that is.
It's very much become a cliche to say "the original is better" when it comes to just about anything, and there's a reason for that; it's usually true, and it applies here. However, Jon Favreau and the energetic cast, especially Robert Downey Jr., give Iron Man 2 just enough sparkle to make it a very worthy addition to the superhero movie library (where The Dark Knight still reigns supreme, but anyway...).
As soon as you see Robert's face in his first sequence when his suit is being disassembled on the stage of the Stark Expo, he gives a charming little look to the audience that gets you invested into his character immediately, and he keeps that level of energy throughout the entire film which really holds it together (I really consider him one of the greatest actors alive). In fact, the entire cast is fantastic, and you can tell that they're having a lot of fun together both in front of and behind the camera which bleeds into the film.
Mickey Rourke is captivating as always (if you haven't already, watch The Wrestler -- it kicks ass), but I felt his talents were somewhat wasted here -- I would've liked to see a lot more of Whiplash. In fact in some ways, Whiplash felt a bit tacked on to the story, though the montage of him building his suit with the whips with the powerful orchestral backing was an awesome opener. I was pretty disappointed that his final battle with Iron Man and War Machine was very short and predictable.
Scarlett Johansson, cute as a button, plays the Black Widow, the first on-screen female superhero I actually respected. Without any idiocy or unwarranted sass, she gets her jobs done and kicks a lot of ass while doing it.
Another thing that really helped hold the movie together was the chemistry between Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony Stark. I was worried that this time around that the crew weren't going to give their relationship the attention that they gave it in the first film, but they did, and even surpassed it in some ways (except for the annoying lack of Pepper Pots around the middle of the film when she's pissed at Tony).
I'm a fan of Sam Rockwell, but for some reason I found Justin Hammer's character quite annoying and forgettable.
I didn't mind the sub-plot of Tony Stark's technology killing him at the same time it was keeping him alive, but I felt it wasn't executed as well as it could have been. We didn't really get to see Tony too torn up about it, not only for himself but the fact that the entire Stark legacy would abruptly end. It wouldn't have taken much either, and it wouldn't even need to have much dialogue, if any; just a simple tiny scene where we can see the pain behind the strong, confident exterior would have been enough. It would have made Tony's path of self-destruction and following recklessness and drunkenness at his disaster of a house party much more interesting and painful to watch.
Don Cheadle did a better job taking Terrence Howard's place than I originally expected. His back-and-forth with Tony definitely worked.
One of the huge draws of the film is the fact that all the dialogue feels very natural. Jon Favreau is very generous with the ad-libbing and the cast, Robert especially, are happy to oblige. You don't ever get the feeling that dialogue is being read from a page.
Jon Favreau flaunts himself a bit in front of the camera this time around as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's assistant and limousine driver, but it's okay. As the movie buff from Family Guy playing Yoda in the show's parody of The Empire Strikes Back hilariously put it, Jon Favreau seems like the type of guy that would do your laundry if you asked him, so his appearance is more than welcome. And given that Jon's the director, I personally love seeing him having so much fun making his own movie. It gives me the feeling that there's a very good, playful, and passionate energy that underlies the film.
The middle of the film felt a bit messy to me, I can't quite put my finger on it. The fact that Nick Fury kind of came out of nowhere bugged me a bit. I didn't feel any immersion into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., the members of it were just kinda... there. However, the first act and the third act parenthesizing the film were very well done.
I also wish they fleshed out the story of Tony and Ivan's fathers a bit more rather than just being referenced occasionally, as it's Tony's father's past research that leads to Tony's significant discovery around the third act that allows Tony to save his own life.
Jon Favreau is a genius behind the camera, and a particular sequence comes to mind near the end of the film with Iron Man and War Machine in a botanical garden. Before the drones come and attack, there's a brief period where they're alone and talking back-and-forth trying to strategize for their retaliation and take proper positions. It's a big-budget shot as both characters are in their full armor walking around, but the camera very generously stays on them with nothing happening around them for a few minutes and they banter very genuinely; it's as if Jon Favreau is subtly telling the audience that he hasn't forgotten that these two armor-plated fighting machines are dynamic human beings, and their banter plays very nicely against the visual effects involved in the suits that they're wearing.
It's not quite the film the original was (the first Iron Man had flawless pacing), but as sequels go, Iron Man 2 is a great effort from Jon Favreau and crew that's definitely worth seeing and I eagerly anticipate the third installment, with fingers crossed that they never sacrifice character for plot. I'm pretty sure Jon knows what he's doing though. He's a smart guy, and currently one of my favorite directors.
Well, that was my impression of the film.
Yeah, I'm not good at conclusions.
P.S. If you're stoked for The Avengers, stay for the end of the credits.