More. More. More. There's more villains, more plotlines, more iron men, more action setpieces and more commercials. Yes, commercials. We'll get to that in a sec.
The villains number four. Sam Rockwell is Stark's weapons dealing nemesis Justin Hammer. Mickey Rourke (making great use of The Wrestler career momentum) is the Russian physicist genius "Whiplash" who builds his own arc reactor and nearly kills Stark with it in the first action setpiece. Garry Shandling is a Senator hellbent on taking Stark's suit into US custody. And, depending on how you read the film, Tony Stark is also an evil bastard or at least his own worst enemy.
more stories here than any film could do justice to. They tend to crash into each other just like men encased in armor are also prone to do. People are already bitching about the movie's talkiness but the constant chatter isn't the problem at all, especially not with this many fine actors assembled. They sell the broad character outlines with pizazz.
The problem is in both the structure of the plotting and the abundance of it. Stark's iron suit is poisoning him. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a huge promotion she's ill equipped for (hi sexism!). Rhodey (Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard) has a crisis of conscience and keeps flip-flopping sides. Justin Hammer is trying to nab a lucrative new arms contract. Whiplash is plotting revenge for ancient events involving Tony's father Howard Stark (John Slattery) who is himself sending secret messages from the grave. There are senate hearings about the iron man weapon. The new secretary Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) is not what she appears to be. Finally — though I'm sure I'm forgetting something in the plot pile up — Nick Fury keeps popping up to sell the upcoming Avengers movie talk about "The Avengers Initiative".
This last plotline is a shameless commercial. The Avengers (coming to a theater near you in 2012?) is the most awkwardly integrated story element. The screenplay from actor Justin Theroux has the right idea about grafting it onto the main plot but it still juts out awkwardly, always working against the movie's ease and speed. In the end, perhaps due to its annoying frequency, it plays like a cynical con job "Here's another movie you'll love to see! And another! And another!" It's fitting that the movie takes place at and during the annual Stark Expo because like the grandiose corporate
event that houses it, this movie is an expensive commercial. While attempting to sell Iron Man 3, The Avengers and two other superhero films (I shan't spoil which), the film forgets to really close the sale on Iron Man 2.
That said, it's still as reasonably fun as something this unwieldy can be. The action scenes are pedestrian, failing to bring much grace or rhythm to the iron clanging and palladium banging, but that was a problem in the original, too. They just don't soar. You can thank the crisp colors, good performances, genre goodwill and light touch that the movie still works. While this sequel doesn't feel effortless like its predecessor, its best moments are arguably stronger. Just don't complain about the talking when you leave. Iron Man 2 has the good sense to keep placing its famous faces front and center, even during the metallic mayhem. Without Rockwell's desperate verbal diarrhea, Rourke's menacing Russian threats, Downey Jr's charismatic yet abrasive self-regard, and Paltrow's screwball frustrations, this behemoth wouldn't fly at all.