Tony Stark is back, and this time, the world knows he's Iron Man. Six months after the end of 'Iron Man', Stark's living the playboy lifestyle, but his alter-ego brings its own problems: The government want him to hand over the Iron Man 'weapon' to the military, and old foes with personal grudges against the Stark family are emerging to take revenge. Plus, there's problems with Stark's arc reactor: Could the very thing which has been keeping him alive also killing him?
So, let's take the assumption that the 'Iron Man' franchise is based on the idea that everyone wants an Iron Man suit because it's the ultimate weapon, but Stark's reluctance to let go of the technology means that the people who truly want it are either going to have to kill Stark, build their own, or steal one. Well, you get a bit of all three with this film! There's a bit of something for everyone in this film, there really is. You get the overt comic book reference for fans of the comic, you get a great bit of action for the everyman, you get a (tiny) bit of romance for... those who like that... and you get some funny moments for almost everyone.
Robert Downey Jr is a great fit for the role, especially more so in this film. He comes across far better in this film than the original as the arrogant, chauvinistic playboy. Gywneth Paltrow is perfect in her role as Pepper Potts, playing a repressed, wooden assistant. Don Cheadle is a better Rhodey than Terrence Howard because he's a better actor and it comes across that way on screen, he has way more presence. Scarlett Johansson makes an odd appearance as a cross between Pepper Potts and Aeon Flux but is ultimately just eye candy. Last but not least, the bad guys: Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. Sam Rockwell plays the 'generic Sam Rockwell role' as well as he can, being Sam Rockwell of course. And what of Mickey Rourke, playing the Russian bad-guy Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash? At first, I thought of Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October with the bad Russian accent (his first line he says in a heavily Scottish accent) but eventually it gets better and seems more natural. Don't let the accent distract you though, Mickey's a great villain: Evil through and through and thoroughly dislikeable.
There are a lot of problems with this film, the main one for me being that they try to put too much in this one film as a form of exposition. There's the Whiplash storyline, along with the government/army storyline, the Hammer Weapons storyline, the Natalia Romanova/S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline, the relationship between Tony and Pepper, Tony's personal problems and then there's the small case of Rhodey and the War Machine storyline finally coming into it after narrowly being avoided in the first film. Luckily, everything's all nicely tied together at the end, and is loosely kept together throughout the film by the 'Stark Expo', something which continues to re-emerge, in various forms, to set a backdrop for 'happenings'. It all seems a bit clunky in places because there really is too much going on, but it means it fills the two hours from start to finish. If you miss a minute, you'll miss something important. And why has Jon Favreau given himself a bigger role in this one? Lord only knows.
Overall, it's a great bit of entertainment. The visual effects are great, the fight scenes are on an epic proportion which is to be expected from the advances in CGI, and the Monaco Grand Prix scene in particular is pretty memorable, as well as the final fight scene. The introduction of new bad-guys is good, but for most of the film, they're thinking and planning rather than fighting and doing, which slows down the pace considerably. Boiled down, this film is Iron Man versus Iron Man, then Iron Man versus Iron Men, then Iron Men versus Iron Men. It's pretty much just an extension of the first film. Unfortunately, I can't help but feeling that there isn't really much point to this film other than to give Tony Stark the new arc reactor for the third film and to lay down the blueprint for the Avengers film which isn't coming for a few years yet. Oh, and stick around for the credits, because Marvel pull out their 'not-a-surprise-anymore' surprise and give you something ever so tiny but ever so significant for a certain future adaptation.