It was kind of cute to see director Jon Favreau's cameo as chauffeur Happy Hogan turn into a speaking role, and there were good turns from all the supporting cast, especially the new arrivals like Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johannson. Don Cheadle is a vast improvement over Terrence Howard as James Rhodes (and War Machine!), but I have to single out Sam Rockwell as military-industrial rival Justin Hammer for special praise though. It is not a huge role, and he doesn't get to drop any huge lines or do any real scenery chewing, but he plays his role with a fantastic balance between arrogance and insecurity with an ease that is hard to imagine in just about anyone else.
As well, Marvel Studios continues to knit a cohesive movie universe for their characters to play in, with Samuel L. Jackson making a welcome return as Col. Nick Fury, an only slightly disrespectful nod to Captain America (or at least his shield), and a post-credit shout out to a potential Avenger as well. There are also rumours of a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie with Jackson following The Avengers, which I am in favour of, at least in principle.
I wish Iron Man 3 was coming before The Avengers in 2012 and not after it in 2013, just because Chris Nolan is supposed to be releasing the as yet-unwritten and untitled third movie in his Batman series in 2012 as well. I love the idea that we could be seeing, for the first time ever, not just one, but possibly two excellent superhero movies that are third in a series. Consider the precedents:
Superman 3 - when the poster has Superman carrying Richard Pryor, it's hard to get excited about the film as a heroic endeavour. Your uber-villain is Robert Vaughn? And your action finale is a twin-fight? Sigh.
Batman Forever - if the nipples sculpted onto the bat-suits were the worst part of Joel "Not Gay Enough!" Schumacher's turn at the helm, they might have been all right. As it was, they were not, although I feel bad for Val Kilmer who looked like he was trying to work with the little he was given. (Oh, and for the record, I'm not a Schumacher hater; dude made Lost Boys.)
X-Men United - after two great films from Bryan Singer, a new director gives us a wretched mis-handling of one of Marvel's greatest stories, the Dark Phoenix saga. As a longtime fan of the comics, the only redeeming feature for me was the inclusion of 'the Fastball Special'. Not nearly redeeming enough, though.
Spider-Man 3 - again, after two great movies, what the hell happened here? At least with X-Men 3 there were two director shuffles, studio intervention and a number of re-writes, but Sam Raimi is damned lucky Sony Pictures didn't try to have him committed using the footage from this flick.
Geez, taken all at once like that, it almost looks like...you know, like a curse.
Even if they weren't a year apart, Nolan has to be the odds-on favourite to be the first one safe at third. Iron Man and Batman are also drastically different films, despite being ostensibly drawn from the same subject matter. Jon Favreau can make good use of that extra year figuring out how he can re-make Iron Man's primary arch-villain the Mandarin into something modern and threatening and not just a Fu Manchu-derived cliche. I do like that he laid the groundwork back in the first Iron Man with a couple of throwaway references to an organization called "Ten Rings", since Mandarin's schtick is a ring on each finger with a different power. (Take that Green Lantern!)
Favreau's task may be less daunting in 2013, since in 2012 Joss Whedon's Avengers movie will have established a more comprehensive Marvel Movie-verse, complete with magic, Norse deities, alien invasions and the like, giving Iron Man 3 the latitude to be less Tom Clancy and more Jack Kirby, you know what I mean?
Unfortunately, Marvel's recent purchase by Disney has thrown a little doubt onto whether or not a third movie will be made, or if it is, who will distribute it. Remembering as I do that this nonsense is what kept Spider-Man from being made for a decade and a half (by James Cameron no less!), I am simply keeping my fingers crossed that the movie gets made at all.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend Iron Man 2 for enjoyable summer viewing, especially if you liked the first one. Like the first film, one of its greatest strengths is that Tony Stark is just as entertaining to watch as Iron Man, and the dialogue still has that semi-improvisational feel like Favreau's earlier film Swingers. It was good enough that I was able to forget for a little while that a significant chunk of my tooth had broken off only 24 hours before, which I think is high praise for any movie.