Reviewed Apr 27, 2012
Iron Man 2 should have worked, and I've rewatched this movie a few times in the past couple of days to figure out why it didn't. Robert Downey Jr. continued to possess all the qualities that made him the perfect Tony Stark in the first film, Don Cheadle gave the character of James Rhodes a massive upgrade, and Sam Rockwell is entertaining enough to make even the dullest, most clichéd script (which Iron Man 2 had) seem brilliant. Even Scarlett Johansson, who caught a lot of frankly undeserved flack for this movie, proved herself to be a very effective Black Widow (and improves the second time around in The Avengers). Some have said the problem is Favreau's unnecessary self-insertion, which I didn't even mind. (His directing is another issue entirely.)
The problem with this movie is that it spent too little screentime on Iron Man and too much on the villain, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). The thing is, Whiplash never really seems to be much of a threat for Iron Man. Especially compared to the insidious charisma of Jeff Bridges's Iron Monger. Why this movie chooses to devote a good chunk of its screentime on some cliche card-board cutout of a villain instead of focusing on its other, more promising and interesting storylines-- of which there were many, and perhaps there's another problem-- is beyond me.
Tony Stark was not only facing his own mortality in this film, but he was being pressured on all sides from, A. The US government/military, and by extention his best friend, B. His girlfriend/company, and C. Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. I found the threat of forced seizure of the Iron Man suit by the US government, Rhodes working with Hammer to develop the suit's technology, and, OH YES, the fact that Tony Stark was dying of palladium poisoning, FAR MORE threatening than Rourke's baritone Russian mumbling. Had the movie had less Rourke (or none at all), it could have worked. With a tighter script a different director.