With the success of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. While there weren’t any new entries the following year, a follow-up to Iron Man was released in 2010. Many of the same people from the original returned for the sequel, including director Jon Favreau and the original cast. However, in between movies, Terrence Howard, who played James Rhodes, was replaced with Don Cheadle. It’s unclear what led to the recasting, but sources say that it was due to a pay dispute. However, there are also sources claiming that Howard and Favreau did not get along on set. Regardless, given how successful the first film was, it was only inevitable that a sequel was in the works. So, two years after the original, Jon Favreau and company treated audiences to Iron Man 2.

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Six months after the events of the original, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is on top of the world. He’s considered an international hero thanks to his Iron Man suit, and he’s ushered in a new era of peace. However, not everyone feels that way about him, particularly Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who has a personal grudge with Stark. At the same time, the US government is demanding that Tony turn over the Iron Man technology to the military. On top of that, the palladium core keeping Tony’s chest arc reactor is slowly killing him. Soon, Ivan attacks Tony using similar technology, which makes everyone doubt if Iron Man can save them or not. This catches the attention of rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who partners with Ivan to bring down Stark. All the while, agents from SHIELD are keeping a watchful eye on Iron Man.

Given how amazing the first film was, naturally this sequel had some pretty big shoes to fill. For the most part, this movie does succeed in continuing what made the first film work. The returning cast, especially Downey Jr, still deliver solid performances, and the new cast works just as well here. While Terrence Howard is missed, Don Cheadle is a good replacement and he works well with Downey Jr. Mickey Rourke makes for a very intimidating villain, and Sam Rockwell has some pretty funny moments. Scarlett Johansson is good as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, but it feels like she hasn’t quite nailed the character yet. She comes across a bit too stoic at times and just seems to be trying to hard to be serious. Going back to Downey Jr, he once again shows how he really was perfect casting for Tony Stark.

However, as good as this movie is, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the first one. After the first 30-40 minutes of the movie, there’s a huge stretch where not much happens. It isn’t until about an hour and twenty minutes in that another action sequence happens. Much of the in-between time is spent with Tony trying to find a suitable replacement for his palladium core. It does help to advance the overall story, but the scenes tend to drag out and grind to a halt. Also, once Sam Rockwell enters the fray, Mickey Rourke takes a backseat as the villain. Not that Sam Rockwell is bad, but they introduce Mickey Rourke as this powerful adversary and he doesn’t do much. Despite these problems, Iron Man 2 is still an enjoyable time thanks to strong performances and fun action.