IRON MAN 2, as numerous reviews will tell you, lacks the just-opened effervescence of the first movie -- which ranks as one of my favorite comic book adaptations. And there's some sequel-itis: The producers feel the need to pump everything up, with more locations, more characters, bigger battles, more bombastic special effects, and louder music. So I'm grateful that despite all this, the movie doesn't lose its sole -- or its capacity to entertain.
As with the first movie, the anchors are Robert Downey Jr.'s terrific performance as Tony Stark, and Jon Favreau's witty and human direction. Whenever the film strays from these tentposts -- when, for instance, a night-time aerial battle turns into a bunch of streaking lights in the sky -- the movie palls. So it's a good thing that Downey is onscreen in nearly every scene, playing Stark as alternatively charming in his wit and brilliance, and grating in his narcissism, self-destructiveness, and willingness to take endless advantage of those who care about him.
I was impressed that the filmmakers were able to tie together so many storylines from Iron Man's nearly fifty-year-long comic book run into a semi-cohesive film story. (It draws most from the Stan Lee-Gene Colan stories from the sixties, and David Michelinie-Bob Layton's run in the late seventies and early eighties. Fortunately, all of these creators are named in the closing credits.) There were also many fun bits for comics fans, including meaty scenes with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; Scarlett Johansen underplaying The Black Widow (a villain-turned-hero who got her start in the early IM comics stories); Favreau expanding his own role from the first film as Stark's ex-boxer chauffeur, "Happy" Hogan; an antagonist who pays tribute to the Cold-War Iron Man stories in which IM repeatedly faced off against armored Russians; and the now-traditional post-credits scene, which ties the movie to the next upcoming Marvel Studios adaptation. The movie also benefits from a scenery-chewing turn by Mickey Rourke as Stark's Russian mirror image; and from John Slattery's portrayal of Stark's father as a cross between Howard Hughes and Walt Disney.
Overall, this is a nicely entertaining summer film. And it looks to be one of the few; this summer seems rather bereft of "tentpole" films (although the trailer to Christopher Nolan's "Inception" looks intriguiging). The IRON MAN series remains the most Marvel-like of the Marvel movie adapatations.