If you've been reading Iron Man 2 reviews or watching some of the discussion from those who've already seen it, you've probably noticed a lot of disappointment. Few have walked away from Iron Man 2 without being entertained, but for a lot of people it hasn't lived up to their expectations.
Maybe that's valid, maybe Iron Man is the better film. But it's not all better. I walked out of Iron Man 2 with an appreciation for some of the lessons Favreau learned since the franchise's previous outing. Iron Man may in the end be regarded as the better movie, but here are four things Iron Man 2 does better.
So Bad They're Good
Jeff Bridges is one of Hollywood's greatest actors, but he seemed miscast and mostly lost as Obadiah Stone, a half-formed villain who never really accomplished anything of substance in Iron Man 1. Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell step in as the bad guys in Iron Man 2, and knock it out of the park. Sam Rockwell plays Stark's corporate rival Justin Hammer and he steals scenes ranting and weaseling his way into the government's good graces while plotting to line his own pockets. Rourke captures the more physical side of villainy as a muscle-bound Russian physicist with a sick sense of humor, a love for exotic birds, and a very personal grudge against Tony Stark. Neither of them is exactly the Joker or Lex Luthor, but they're a huge upgrade over Stain in the last film and both Rockwell and Rourke are so good they'll leave you wanting more of them.
Consistency Through Characters
The original Iron Man was a lot of fun, but most seemed to agree that the second half of the film just wasn't quite as fun as the first part. Iron Man never really gets better than that first action scene, with Tony cobbling together his first suit in a squalid cave, and then bashing down the door to destroy a cadre of terrorists and fight his way to freedom. Iron Man 2 avoids that problem and manages to strike a more consistent tone throughout. In part that's because it's a more settled in movie, carried largely by chemistry between characters rather than big action beats. The movie starts strong with the introduction of Whiplash and stays strong, as Tony deals with the consequences of dropping his secret identity, battles corporate rivals, and trades double entendres with Scarlett Johansson's Natalie Rushman or Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts. The tradeoff here is that, though Iron Man 2 is more consistent it's also never as wildly, over the top, adrenaline pumped as those early, amazing Iron Man sequences. The lows aren't as low, but maybe the highs aren't as high either. To me it seems a fair tradeoff.
The original Iron Man wasn't really a place for girls, unless of course they knew how to work a stripper pole. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts was the only noteworthy female role and though a lot of people liked what she did, for me the character never really worked. In this though, there's no denying she gets it right. The chemistry between Tony and Pepper sizzles. She's not alone anymore either. Scarlett Johansson steps in as a personal assistant with a secret agenda and, unexpectedly, ends up being responsible for some of the movie's most successful action moments. Scarlett Johansson, believe it or not, kicks serious ass. Tony's still the womanizing rogue he's always been, after all he has those bikin-clad Iron Man dancers, but in Iron Man 2 girls get a chance to fight back.
Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the last movie, Sam Jackson was relegated to an Easter egg hidden after the Iron Man end credits. In Iron Man 2 Sam Jackson is back as the mysterious superhero recruiter Nick Fury, only this time he's a major player in what's going on. Where the first movie only hinted at the existence of the Marvel universe's most infamous superhero organization, Iron Man 2 stops with the endless teasing. The sequel comes right out and reveals at least part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s meddling, giving Sam Jackson scenery to chew and at least two great moments in which he faces off with Robert Downey's Tony Stark. Fury's character isn't always explained as well he should be in the script, but that's no fault of Jackson's and he seems to be having a blast behind that eyepatch. It works and Sam's Fury is so good that even though we've finally gotten more of him, it still never feels like enough. The more Nick Fury the better when it comes to Iron Man.