I actually liked this more than I expected to. Iron Man 2 is known as the bad Marvel movie. Like the only one. I’m not certain if there is only one weak Marvel movie, but this one is stronger than I remembered.

Firstly, it seems 2009 was the last year a Marvel Studios movie was not released.

Iron Man 2 is the first step into establishing that Cinematic Universe. It takes place during or even before Incredible Hulk. Recently, Peter Parker has been retconned into an appearance in this film. And it is the first recast of a character, with Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard as James Rhodes/War Machine.

The first half of Iron Man 2 is great, but too subtle, which is actually what I like about it, but I can see how that would be an issue for some people. For the first movie the bar was set low. No one knew what to expect and so when it was really charming and a lot of fun, the expectation for this second movie was set maybe too high. High because people wanted it to be fun. Wanted it to set up Avengers. Wanted it to be “dark” because it was the very serious “Demon in a Bottle” story line from the comics. However it couldn’t be too dark because still want to have as much fun as last time. For juggling so much Iron Man 2 still layers a compelling story… for the first half.

We don’t see Nick Fury or SHIELD through most of the first half of the movie. We don’t see the resolution to the first Iron Man’s Avenger’s Initiative tease. What we drop into is a Tony Stark who is dying from the arc reactor inside his chest, but he hasn’t told anyone that. At the end of the first film, Tony Stark was taking charge of his destiny, but in the time since we saw him do that he has learned that he doesn’t seem to have the time he thought he would. The first half of this film is Stark trying to make right by his friends, his business, and the world. He is planning on dying in the near future and he isn’t telling anyone. Except JARVIS.

The second half of this film doesn’t juggle its story beats as well as the first. Nick Fury finally shows up with a riddle for Tony Stark to solve that will cure his poisoning. The third act CGI fight needs to get set up. And we need to pepper in some hints at the next Marvel movie. These story elements don’t connect together as eloquently.

Mickey Rourke is pretty terrible in this film. I’m not putting it on him. I don’t think what he is supposed to be was fully known. He isn’t quite evil Iron Man, but there isn’t time enough to make him into anything else. So they seem to just stuff him into that mold.

Sam Rockwell is underserved. He is great in this film. And he should have been pushed forward as the movie’s prime bad guy. Not sure why he wasn’t. Not sure why Whiplash is put into this thing when Hammer engineering drones would have been enough. It is weird.

Coulson returns and he is awesome, but doesn’t have anything to do.

War Machine is pretty awesome and so is Don Cheadle. Nothing against Terrance Howard, but Don Cheale has better chemistry with Robert Downy Jr. Those two guys together feel like they’ve been lifelong friends. The birthday party fight feels awkward, but then it should. It is Tony being taken down a notch for acting like an ass. Cheadle brings an amount of weight when it is needed and is light when it needs it.

I liked Iron Man 2 more than I expected to. The briefcase suit is awesome