Please note: there’s some very slight spoilers, mostly relating to overall structure.
Don Cheadle as Rhodey is a huge improvement over Terrence Howard’s oddly soft-spoken performance. Just enough bravado and charisma without taking the spotlight away from Robert Downey Jr, who I’m not even going to talk about because let’s face it, he’s doing the thing he does very well with a character that suits him. I wish there’d been more non-armored scenes with the two of them, honestly.
The first act of the movie is hits the ground running, is funny, and has a very steady control of its storytelling. It seems like the least-tampered with, most-thought out portion of the film, moving pieces into place for later effortlessly.
Sam Rockwell is hilarious and slightly sad at the same time as Stark wannabe that takes corporate warfare to the next level. He knows how to eat enough scenery that the audience loves it but he never gets in the way of anyone else.
Didn’t Love, Didn’t Hate:
The SHIELD stuff. I really don’t know how it’s going to play to the average moviegoer who probably doesn’t give as much of a damn about Marvel’s next fifty-three movies as people like myself do. Samuel Jackson’s fine and Scarlett Johannson is hunky dory, but I felt that a little bit goes a long way with the worldbuilding. That said, Black Widow’s fight sequence (yes, only one, spoiler) is terrific, even if it ends with her doing little more than cheerleading.
The second act and the third, which are pretty close to the first movie in thematic and structural composition, seemed pretty sloppy to me. There’s some oddly fatty bits here and there that could have been cut down to make room for more material related to the story. There’s also a plot-related bit involving Tony and the suit’s relationship that is resolved with some jumping-through-hoops that diminishes Stark’s genius by turning him into a tool that finishes someone else’s plans. (I am trying to be intentionally vague here. Come back and read this after the movie and we’ll talk.)
Like Downey and Cheadle, Mickey Rourke seemed to be having a nice enough time and there were quite a few moments where I enjoyed his off-the-wall, slightly bonkers…wait, he wasn’t acting, was he? Shame that he didn’t have material that forced him to flex a bit.
Just like the first film, the big climax takes place at night and while you can make out what’s going on most of the time, a lot of the action just seemed way too samey-samey to me. I understand the practical need for dimly lit action when it’s basically CGI Robot Men pummeling each other, but I wasn’t thrilled at all, really. There’s a few good bits and a very nice “fuck yeah!” moment, but most of it was jump cuts, cameras moving around madly, and close-ups of Downey and Cheadle talking into HUDs.
Pepper Potts is downright bitchy and whiny in this and basically useless in the last act. What starts as a character arc about someone taking on huge responsibilities and stepping out on her own fizzles out disappointingly.
All in all: several really great moments and good performances buoy up a lackluster, pretty-tired-already plot that needed a bit more connective tissue and a bit less thigh-stroking and nerdy talk.