Iron Man 2 is successful despite the narrative bloating, because director Favreau is so good at pacing these elements and placing emphasis on the right moments. The fight scenes are loud, explosive, and kept short enough that they don’t overpower the plot. Johansson’s Black Widow is mercifully under-emphasized, mostly acting as decorative trim on more significant scenes between Tony and his key supporting characters; thus, she’s a fun addition, rather than an exhausting over-complication. James Rhodes is also wisely kept to an occasional wing-man role. By keeping these characters incidental and two-dimensional, Favreau successfully centers the camera on Robert Downey Jr and Mickey Rourke, whose personalities are the unstoppable forces that keep us interested in the movie.
The immediate viewing experience is gratifying, and you’ll come out of the theater happier than when you went in. Looking back after a few days, it may seem a bit cluttered, because you’ll be remembering/forgetting all three or four plotlines at once. This is, at worst, a minor drawback, a symptom of narrative bloating in service of the movie’s franchise role. Favreau’s bombastic film, barreling through complications and explosions like a good comic book, is worth the price of admission for pure immediate enjoyment; for those who are excited about the Marvel mythology in general, it’s also a good gateway into some of the characters and developments you’ll be seeing more of in future movies (Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers). Bottom line: if you like superhero movies, you have every reason to go see this one.