Picking off where the first film ended, billionaire genius Tony Stark has just revealed to the world his identity as the armor clad superhero, Iron Man. Now he reaps the whirlwind consequences of his actions as both the military and unscrupulous competitor Justin Hammer vie to obtain the secrets of Stark's Iron Man technology for their own gain. Too add to the flames, Stark soon discovers that the very technology that is keeping his heart alive is also poisoning him. As he tries to salvage a life that is slowly falling to pieces and his growing feelings for his long time assistant Pepper Potts(Gwyneth Paltrow), Starks has to contend to with a foreign weapons genius named Ivan Vanko who seems to bear a deep seated grudge against the ailing billionaire; a grudge that stemmed from the legacy of Tony's father, Howard Stark.
Whatever was good in the first movie is carried on in true sequel fashion. The acting and chemistry among the cast is definitely the highlight of the whole film. Robert Downey Jr IS Tony Stark, though less of a playboy following his "change of heart"(figuratively and literally) in the first movie, but still the same wisecracking, smirky eccentric. Everyone is just so natural in their roles including the villains, especially The character of Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. Hammer had all the makings of a silly one dimensional villainous caricature, but manages to be a well rounded scumbag of a corporate competitor, providing some excellent comic relief while still presenting a credible threat to the hero.
That being said, the script is just littered with witty banter, intelligent jokes and a good number of "Easter eggs" for the long time comic book fans. Writer Justin Theroux had a good number of interesting themes going for this movie, most notable of which is the theme of "legacy", of what people leave behind when they are gone; their impressions on their successors and how the effects of their past actions would echo down the years long after one has passed. Stark himself, faced with his inevitable demise, does not want to leave a legacy of death as a weapons designer. Aside from that, we see how the legacies of both Stark's and Ivan Vanko's fathers have affected their present lives.
Now, Vanko's (played by Sin City's Mickey Rourke) is a truly tragic tale. It is easy to pass him off as a "darth maul" type character with no other purpose than to provide the hero with a powerful opponent for the mandatory climax. But to the more attentive viewers, one can see how Vanko is basically the dark opposite reflection of Tony Stark. Both are geniuses, both are where they are because of their respective fathers yet different circumstances in life brought them down entirely different paths. The parallels between his origin story of creating the "whiplash" powered armor from scrap, getting captured(in a similarly explosive manner) in order to develop weapons for one man to bring down his competitor all the way to his cunning escape plan and his mistaken impression about his dearly departed father are all uncannily similar to Tony Stark's experiences in the first movie that led up to his debut as the hero Iron Man and his mistaken impression about his own father.
The one thing viewers might not appreciate is that this sequel seems to lack that sense of "fun" that the first film had, taking on a more serious tone at times to dish out the more complex themes and even a romantic sub-plot. It really is too bad that the more complex themes are there but not really expanded upon. This leaves a lot of "could have been more" moments hanging by the time the show ends. At least the action is satisfying high octane eye candy as Jon Favreau's steady directing hand brings out the intensity of every battle scene. Special effects are top notch as usual except for a couple of cartoony looking moments that do require some suspension of disbelief, for example the briefcase that transforms into an iron man armor with armor parts seemingly appearing from out of nowhere.
By the time the all too familiar final battle is over and the credits start rolling, one gets the impression that Iron Man 2 could have been a lot more than the sum of its parts. A little longer running time would have fixed most of the story kinks but perhaps Marvel is merely using this movie as a money generator and spring board to something greater.(Blatant teasers are thrown into the narrative itself almost like a running catalog of future Marvel film projects).
Topping the first film is no easy feat and of course Iron Man 2 would disappoint a few here and there. But it is nonetheless one of the most entertaining comic book movies that mixes action, wit, drama and cast chemistry so well. If widespread appeal is its purpose, then Iron Man 2 has fulfilled that function magnificently in that even a newcomer to the franchise can kick back and enjoy the show. Marvel studios has started a new legacy beyond great comics. Here is a legacy of comic book movies, true to the spirit of its source material yet tailored nicely to the tastes of the modern movie audience.