This movie is Awesome.
Really, for comic book fans the only thing that they need to know about the sequel to the hit movie adaptation of the comic book hero Iron man is that it delivers the good by building on what the first movie set up and that it is Awesome.
When it comes to everybody else I shoud probably go a little bit deeper than that.
Like I said, it builds on the previous movie which ended with our portagonist, Tony Stark/Iron man, announcing his secret identity to the entire world on national television. The sequel begins with Tony riding the fame that's come with this revelation, apparently after scaring terrorists all over the world into a temporary peace, and opening the "Stark Expo" where the inventions to be used to improve the world are demonstrated.
However, as with everybody who becomes popular people are starting to, for better or worse, want a piece of Tony. But we'll get to those soon. Besides this problem Tony has another rather fatal problem. The power-core that's keeping him alive and helps to power his suit is slowly killing him. So it's a bit understandable that he's stressed out at the start of the movie.
This is still Robert Downey Jr's movie and with good reason. Downey's Stark is still as entertaining before as being hero hasn't made him any less eccentric, but there's something else that one might miss if one blinks. With death looming over his head Tony is trying to secure his legacy in various ways that he hides well by passing them off as his eccentric ways or unloading his work onto other people. In short, Tony's trying to do something responisble while masking that he is in fact being responsible and it's rather well-acted. At the same time he is looking for some sort of stupid thrill, like people that know that they're going to die soon tend to do (I'd imagine). Which leads to some of the more questionable choices in the movie.
Really, the movie is more of a character portait of Tony Stark than anything else. How he deals with the world knowing and wanting his secret while trying to maintain his own life as best as he can. So yeah, it's great that Downey is able to play the role as perfectly as he does.
Alongside his personal problems Iron man is faced with two widely different opponents, just like in the frist movie, in the form of the revenge craving russian Ivan Vanko (Micky Rourke) and jealous former rival weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
Of the two Ivan is by far the more intimidating as he has the intelligence and skills to match Iron man and an overall frightening appearance with metal teeth and stripey hair. Rourke plays him as a very ruthless and sinister individual that you're not meant to pity, despite his sad introduction. You're supposed to fear this guy.
Hammer on the other hand is a bit disappointing. He is much less sinister than his comic book counter-part and rather dorky. He has the resources to be a big time villain but falters due to his personality. That doesn't mean that he's entertaining or a bad villain. He's just not what I expected, but I'll chop that up to lack of experience as this is his first step into villainhood. But really, he's just an annoyance to the hero and a vehicle for Ivan Vanko to reach greater heights of comic book evil. That they have these roles however is a sign that Iron man 2 isn't just repeating the previous movie.
In the first movie the more passive villain was the foreign terrorists that held Stark captive while the American bad guy turned into that film's ultimate physical threat. In the sequel it's the foreigner that acts as the powerful physical threat while the american takes the more passive role in the duo. In short, they're not just rehashing ideas but mixing it p a little.
On the other side of the equation we have Iron man's allies.
Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Tony's confident Pepper Pops. I really love this version of the character along with Paltrow's acting. She's a strong woman in her own right that can match wits with just about any one in the movie while at the same avoding being a super-mega badass. Nothing against that type of female character, but it's nice to see that a woman can be strong without having to be able to kick your ass. Also, her interactions with Tony Stark are among the most enjoyable moments in the movie.
Now if you do want an ass-kicking lady as well Iron man 2 supplies that as well in the form of Scarlett Johansson's secretive secretary. Really, her action scenes are among the most impressive in the entire movie. She switches between cool professional and skilled but awkward seamlessly and it's all around a good performance. Also, she is REALLY hot. So... yeah.
Samuel L. Jackson once again, he's in the after-credits scene in the first one if you didn't know, plays the role that was pretty much made for him, litterally, Nick Fury. Jackson gets to do the thing that he does best, if you ask me. He talks a lot. He's cool, funny and and smart. Everything you'd expect from Jackson AND Nick Fury. He's just great fun to watch.
Lastly there's Don Cheadle who takes over from Terrance Howard as James Rhodes, who in this movie becomes Iron man's partner War Machine. Personally I don't really see the need for the change as I think that both actors did good jobs with the role. The road that's taken to turn Rhodes into War Machine is an interesting one and well-woven into the main plot of the movie.
Speaking of the plot it does take move along at a surprisingly calm pace compared to the first one. But it doesn't feel at all slow. The situation is carefully built up and supplies the audience with everything before moving into high gear with some truly comic book style action scenes that become even more dynamic due to the previous leisurely pace.
The action scenes has been greatly improved for this one, they were good in the previous movie but could've been better. A greater sense of urgency and speed has been added along with better coreography. But at the same time some of them feel a bit cluttered and blurry. Jon Favreau seems to be on a learning curve when it comes to these things. The point is that he's getting better but he's not quite there yet. There's still loads of good stuff here for action fans.
Where the action was the first movie's weaker points the sequel's seem to be the jokes. They just feel less sharp and witty in this one. Again, they're still funny or so bad that they're funny, but they could be better.
Another criticism is that one of the mistakes in Superman Returns appears in this movie as well. There's way too little interaction between Downey's Tony Stak and Rourke's Ivan Vanko. The one or two scenes where they do talk to each other is great stuff but I wanted more damnit.
All in all, a great movie and a worthy sequel to the first movie. It continued the story in a well-done fashion and expanded on the Iron man movie universe. Oh, and stay behind to watch the after-credits scene. That one expands the Marvel movie universe... and makes nerds shout with joy to the terror of non-nerd movie viewers. ':)
Overall score: 9/10.