If Iron Man 2 is the first tent pole of the summer of 2010, Hollywood should sigh a huge sigh of relief.
Iron Man 2 may be the best movie sequel since James Cameron's Aliens. I would invoke The Godfather 2 - possibly the greatest movie sequel ever - but, like Aliens, Iron Man 2 is still fun, retaining all the chills, spills and thrills of the original while spiffing up the whole enterprise with some honest-to-goodness grown-up angst, and taking it up a notch.
There is so much that could have gone wrong with this sequel. Rushed into production after 1's surprising and unexpected success in 2008, Iron Man 2 is in theaters a scant two years later. To put this in perspective, The Dark Knight, the one billion dollar gorilla of the summer of 2008, won't be back in theaters until 2012. Usually, rushing an unscripted sequel to the box office this soon leads to Batman and Robin size debacles.
But such is not the case. Iron Man 2 snaps, crackles and pops with the ebullient insouciance that made 1 such an unexpected delight. Everything is better in 2. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko is better than Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stone, Don Cheadle is a significant upgrade in the James "Rhodey" Rhodes role, Sam Rockwell is his usual cock-squirrelly best as Justin Hammer (Solieri to Stark's Mozart) and there may not be a better melding of actor to character than Robert Downey, Jr. essaying his role as industrialist/bon vivant Tony Stark.
Unfortunately, while Scarlett Johansson scores as super-efficient Natalie Rushman/Romanoff, she is less effective in her Black Widow catsuit. Favreau and his team employ some funky special effects to augment her limited martial art skills and it is more disorienting than impressive. Yet, even this scene is saved by the visual and verbal quips frequently provided by writer Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder).
It is action that sells this type of enterprise and the "two men enter one man leaves" ethos of the first Whiplash/Iron Man "cage match" and the War Machine/Iron Man clash-of-the-titans are visceral and brutal. The only thing better than the mano-a-mano is ol' Shellhead standing back-to-back with Rhodey as Danko and an army of war machines advance on them.