What is pretty amazing is how all of these threads fit together to form a complete film. Plus, there is the ongoing Avengers thread, complete with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, the relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and the new addition of Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson). However, what is most interesting, and what helps take this film to the next level, is the portrayal of Tony Stark. While he is always consistent in terms of his gigantic ego, there is a lot more to it and Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of bringing together the different layers of the character.
Stark is revealed to at least partially be using his ego as a defense mechanism to keep everyone at a distance and hide the truth of his own situation. We also get to see the effects of his relationship with his father as a young boy and how it has affected his present and future Interestingly, this is mirrored in the Vanko character and his relationship to his father.
What I really like about the film is that while it is ostensibly an action film, there is a lot less action than you would think. Now this would not seem to be ideal for the genre, but when action is used both sparingly and effectively it can certainly make an action film better. Director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) are able to inject a lot of character into the whiz bang of the action and effects.
On the surface, we get the big action of Iron Man fighting a guy with energized whips while the government tries to weaponize the suit. Below that you get the father/son relationship issues, the dangers of using the Iron Man suit, the Tony/Pepper relationship, the business implications of who runs Stark Industries, and conflict between best friends. There is all manner of interesting stuff going on.
If there is any single big issue with the film, it is that they do not have enough time to flesh everything out. Some of the elements felt rushed or cut short. Still, what is here works marvelously.
I cannot say that Iron Man 2 outdoes the first film, but it comes quite close. It is a quality film with strong performances that stands on its own while building on the groundwork of the first and planting seeds for the future. I found it to be an exhilarating ride that has more to offer than you would think.