Iron Man 2 is, of course, the sequel to Iron Man, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Picking up some time after the events of Iron Man, we find that Stark (Downey Jr.) has continued his campaign of protecting America from foreign powers. He claims to have privatized world peace, and that other countries are years away from developing arc reactor tech, even though rival weapons designer Justin Hammer (Rockwell) seems to be helping them. But for all that, Stark is having trouble; he's dying from the element used to power his heart magnet, and acts reckless and carelessly. He makes his assistant Pepper (Paltrow) the CEO of his company, and jumps in a race car because what the heck. He is then attacked by a man called Ivan Vanko (Rourke) using tech similar to his, and learns that Vanko's father was a contemporary of Howard Stark.
Rockwell and Vanko go in together to try and destroy Stark, but really Stark's worst enemy is himself. Finally SHIELD shows up, in the personage of Nick Fury (Jackson) and a woman who, till now, had been acting as Stark's assistant Natalie (Johansson). They give him enough information to finish one of his father's projects, creating a new element (which isn't named, which is a missed opportunity) and Stark is back in the game! Just in time for he and his buddy Rhodes (Cheadle), now wearing a modified Iron Man armor, to trounce Vanko and his Hammer-built drones.
A couple of flimsy plot points aside (how did Vanko know that Tony would be driving at the Grand Prix?), it's a solid movie. It picks up where the first one leaves off and delves into the same themes and tones, but also takes us deeper into the MCU in general. SHIELD isn't a pervasive presence, but they're there, and we get to see Coulson (Clark Gregg) on assignment again, being nicely professional. Rourke is appropriately brutal as Vanko (although apparently his Russian sucks; I wouldn't know), and Rockwell is fun in a reimagining of Justin Hammer.
There's a lot of collateral damage in this movie, which I kind of wish would get addressed at some point; it never really does, not in this or Avengers, but then, it also never reaches the level of disaster porn that Man of Steel hits, either. All in all, it's a solid continuation of the story.
My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium
Next up: Iron Man 3