Who's In It: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson
The Basics: Mere months have passed since billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealed to the world that he's the man behind Iron Man, and he's enjoying the ego trip a little too much. Enter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the grimy, tattooed son of a former Stark Industries physicist who's put together his own super-powered suit -- one with a pair of high energy whips that can cut through almost anything, including, just maybe, that Mark V armor. But Whiplash is just one of Tony's many new problems; he's also dealing with his evolving relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), his sultry new assistant (Scarlett Johansson), the weapons-hungry government, a shady business rival (Sam Rockwell), health issues, alcoholism, and some serious daddy issues. On top of all that, his best friend has morphed from Terrence Howard into Don Cheadle! Can Iron Man hold it together as his world turns upside down?
What's the Deal: If you loved the first Iron Man and you're desperately hoping that Jon Favreau can strike lightning twice, prepare to be disappointed. This sequel has a lot of the same kinds of thrills, for sure, but it's also got about a million too many story strands competing for screen time. Where the first film was fairly focused (Stark battles alcoholism, builds his Iron Man suit, fights terrorists and Jeff Bridges, cue the AC/DC), the second installment struggles to balance its many-tentacled plot, and as a result, its best elements -- namely, Mickey Rourke and his brilliantly underplayed, Russian-accented, prison tattooed, mad genius-grease monkey Vanko -- get short shrift from Justin Theroux's crowded screenplay. Of course, Theroux and Favreau also pack in the explosion-filled set pieces, techno-gadget porn, and enough of that patented Robert Downey Jr. snark to last you 'til Sherlock Holmes 2 or the Avengers movie comes out. And if you're just going to see men in robot suits blow each other up while classic rock blares on the soundtrack, Iron Man 2 will do just fine as the opening act to a summer chock full of blow 'em up blockbusters.
What Works: The relationship between Tony and Pepper, much less annoying here than it was in Iron Man. Pepper's rise from girl Friday to power-suited businesswoman. The explosive, car-slicing debut of Whiplash at the Monaco Grand Prix. Mickey Rourke's toothpick-chewing, cockatoo-loving villain. ScarJo's body-hugging cat suit.
What Doesn't: The parts about Tony's dead daddy issues and his dying metaphorical heart.
Too Much Garry Shandling, Not Enough: Scarlett Johansson, whose slick and sexy, down and dirty fight scenes as the Black Widow are as coldly bad ass as her line deliveries while deep undercover as "Natalie," the personal assistant who replaces Pepper when she's promoted to Stark Industries CEO.
What Iron Man and Iron Man 2 Have Most in Common: Both don't know how to end a climactic battle with the right amount of razzle-dazzle. When Iron Man and War Machine defeat Whiplash with the superhero equivalent of a game of paddy-cake, even Mickey Rourke looks like he's thinking to himself, "Seriously, guys??"
Make Sure You Stay For: The end credits. Especially if you're the kind of comic book geek who went nuts when Sam Jackson showed up at the end of the first Iron Man. Nerd.