It's true. Of all the Iron Man movies, #2 is the second best. The first one really stood out for the fact that a summer action film was actually able to have an interesting plot, three dimensional characters and a tour de force performance from Robert Downey Jr. This time around, we still have all of that, just...less.
It starts off well enough. Tony Stark is extremely popular after revealing his identity as Iron Man to the world at the end of the last movie. Unfortunately, the artificial heart around which that entire suit was built is slowly killing him. Turns out it's powered by palladium. Why palladium? Why not! The palladium is poisoning his blood but Stark has concluded that nothing but palladium can power the heart. I find that hard to believe since the damn thing was powered by a car battery when he first built it in the last movie but that's the way it is because SHUT UP that's why. Tony's getting understandably depressed over what appears to be his inevitable death so he starts acting crazier than usual by doing things like stepping down as CEO of Stark Industries and appointing his loyal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to be his successor. He also hires a new personal assistant named Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johannson). It's now exactly a huge spoiler to anyone who read a review, saw the ads or looked at the poster to reveal that her real name is Natasha Romanov, known in Marvel Comics as the Black Widow. It the comics, she has been both a villain and hero and it would be a spoiler to reveal that here. She also goes into battle wearing form fitting lycra and high heels for what I assume is an extremely pragmatic reason.
The main conflict comes from Mickey Rourke's character Ivan Dranko. In the comic books, he's known as Whiplash, the reasons for which are obvious when you see him. In much the same way Tony Stark built his first battle suit in a cave, Dranko proves that you don't need all that fancy shcmancy science stuff to slap together some of the world's most advanced technology and builds a suit that makes him capable of standing toe-to-toe with Iron Man is a seedy Moscow apartment. The main weapons for his suit are a couple of highly energized whips. Why doesn't he use a gun or some other ranged weapon? Because then we couldn't call him Whiplash. Jesus people, try to keep up and stop asking dumb questions.
Danko gets temporarily taken down by Iron Man before being freed by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), one of Tony Stark's business rivals and this is where the movie slows right down. Most of the middle act consists of a black hole from which nothing interesting can escape in which Tony faces that moment all superheroes face in which a once devoted public turns on him while Danko and Hammer build an arsenal for a final battle with Stark. Even an appearance from Samuel L. Jackson as legendary Marvel character Nick Fury and Scarlett Johannson showing all her curves aren't enough to jolt this part of the movie back into gear. Still, the final act comes and it's all Iron Man action and Black Widow kick boxing and after Stark discovers that all he has to do to solve the threat to his life posed by his suit is to violate the laws of physics.
To sum up, the movie's not bad even though parts of it are boring and a lot of it is ads for other Marvel superhero movies. It's not as good as the first one but it's still good even with the dull part in the middle. Also, I'm kind of impressed at the number of people who, for once, paid attention to their Twitter and Facebook friends and knew to stay for a key scene that shows up after the credits roll. All this time, I thought I was the only one who actually read what was on the internet.