Yeah, that's how I roll.
If this were a Twitter 140 character review it would be: Not nearly as good as the first but a solid sequel.
Origin movies just always seem to work out better, and Favreau and company really sold me on the hero as scientist/inventor aspect of Tony Stark in the first "Iron Man" movie. Iron Man is a superhero that just never really clicked with me. Probably the same 'eat the rich' mentality towards billionaire heroes that makes me really dislike Batman as well (That control freak). My friends and I used to make fun of our our one friend who was an Iron Man fan during shellhead's West Coast Avengers, find-him-at-the-bottom-of-a-bottle, days.
That armor, though, was always pretty cool. I always liked the silver and red design, the rounded shoulder pieces, and triangle chest piece (didn't even realize that he had different shapes until this movie). It wasn't until recently, the Civil War crossover series in the comics in fact, that I really started to like Tony Stark's character as well; a man trying his best to do good and having it epically fall apart on him. He was flawed despite the suave and smooth exterior. Which is why Robert Downey Jr. is such a great choice for the role: he's just as charming yet troubled and vulnerable.
If the first movie was about a sheltered rich-boy putting on a suit of armor to protect himself from the frightening adult world of owning a legacy of violence and war, the second is about a man now defeated and deteriorating within his metal shell. Tony Stark becomes the armor, the smile and wave that hides the fact that inside, the technology is eating away at him.
The idea of legacy in the film is interesting too, because we get to see father & son reconnect, the passing on the wisdom of your elders that takes you from your present, brings you back to the beginning, and helps create a perspective that propels you from your current dilemma. The Stark Expo held at the site of the old World's Fair in Flushing, Queens is a great way to mix the old "anything is possible with science" idealism with the new "science as science-fiction," as that entire area is being gutted and reovated, changed for the 21st Century. (Oh, they blow the hell out of it by the end of the movie, so a great cinematic goodbye to a New York Landmark.)
The structure was pretty well laid out for an action movie, the first action scene on the racetrack is a phenomenal set-piece. Everything about that scene was amazing. From the suitcase armor, Happy Hogan driving on the racetrack, a supervillain attack, right down to Tony Stark gliding through the setup for the scene. It was bad ass.
Though it does really slow it down with the Mickey Rourke/Ivan Vanko scenes, considering his character is slightly underused.
The middle of the movie lingers for awhile and the down moments, the dramatic scenes, the character development and interaction, just doesn't have the punch that every scene from the first had. Every scene in the first movie was entertaining, even the subtle moments with Tony & Pepper. Though I must admit that the Tony/Pepper dynamic is just as good as in the first film--the dialogue between Downey Jr. & Paltrow feels real, and flows well as they try and talk right over each other.
In fact, Paltrow's performance, her reactions to the insanity around her, the disapproving looks swapped between Pepper and Tony, were really the highlight of the film for me. I can't help but smirk as Paltrow and Downey Jr. say more with a glance than they do when delivering dialogue.
Sam Rockwell drops in as industrialist Justin Hammer, doing his best smarmy used car salesman, but there isn't enough room in the film to allow him to utilize his full range. Same for Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson & Sam Jackson. They're pretty cardboard backdrops.
Nick Fury felt like Sam Jackson pretending to be Nick Fury, and not very hard. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow was fairly subdued through the whole film, she has one scene at the start that is fun, and her action scene was another amazing set-piece, in fact, it had many people talking afterwards (Reilly: 'I want to draw a scene like that!'). However, the first time we see her in the costume is in a donut shop, very matter-of-fact, and it just sort of kills what could have been a much cooler reveal of the character.
This leaves us with Don Cheadle as Jim Rhodes. Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard who played Rhodes in the first film, but Don Cheadle is a much better actor. That said, Cheadle's approach to the character left the Tony/Rhodey friendship feeling really flat. They start as reluctant enemies in act 1, and then escalate to physical enemies (though this should have been in a non-suit situation that developed into a suit fight) which gives us our act 2 fight scene.
It makes for a good demonstration as to what it means to be in a suit of powered armor where you can get hit, thrown, smashed through a floor, and it's not a big deal. You get an idea of the weight of the suits, and the power. The audience didn't really seem to get behind this scene, mostly for the drunk-at-a-party Iron Man lead-in that seemed to invoke Dark Peter Parker from Spider-Man 3 (which I enjoyed but most people hated).
The science breakthrough that Tony Stark makes just before act 3 is an interesting metaphor; creating a new element, giving birth, creating rather than destroying. The process as to how he figured it out was heavy handed though, and really felt like they were either trying too hard to be clever or were just being lazy. I liked it at the time, but thinking back on it, it seems pretty dumb finding the blueprint to a new atom layout, which is the same as the World's Fair layout.
Which all leads to the superwarfare ending. Massive military drones, Iron Man versus War Machine, the suit as protection vs the suit as a weapon. Lots of stuff is blown up, shot to pieces, smashed and destroyed. This is a comic book action scene. Unfortunately you see the highlights in the trailer, so there's not all that much added to the scenes to make it that amazing, except when they get down and dirty with the drones in the little botanical garden and beat the crap out of everything while pulling off some awesome video game fighting finishing moves.
The final showdown with Whiplash/Ivan was underwhelming. It was definitely one major step towards pulling off epic superhero battles, but it still left me wanting. Maybe it's just my exposure to final fight scenes like Jet Li's ten minute brutal battle at the end of "Fist of Legend," but I want to see the hero struggle and fight to the bitter end to win.
Overall, damn solid movie that works really well as a sequel to one of the best superhero movies ever made. And with the final ending surprise setup for the next Marvel movie...well, as far as comic book superhero movies go, Make Mine Marvel.
Here's some Iron Man extra goodies for all our loyal 'clubbers out there.
Build Your Own Arc Reactor
A Look At the Iron Man Suits from the Films
A Free Iron Man PDF Comic from Diesel