Iron Man is back and more ironic than ever. By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz that Iron Man 2 is not as good as the first installment, and to be sure, it isn’t, but it’s still a blast of good fun. 2008’s Iron Man was surprisingly great. Rarely is the first installment of a superhero franchise the best one, because the filmmaker is getting his footing and because, inevitably, there must be an origin story. But Iron Man, due in equal parts to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Jon Favreaus’s playful direction, laid down such a strong foundation that people feared the second installment would be either much better or pale in comparison. In truth, Iron Man 2 holds it’s own and makes for a very good film that only suffers from a confused plot and an urge to develop new characters and top the original.

Now that Tony Stark has told the world he is Iron Man, his company has been raking in the money and he and his suit have "privatized world peace." When a senate subcommittee demands that Stark hand over the "Iron Man Weapon" he refuses and continues to lead his superstar life, much to the chagrin of his Air Force buddy James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard and arguably doing a better job). Unfortunately, what Stark doesn’t tell them, nor anyone else, is that the arc reactor power source he keeps in his chest is slowly poisoning him, and he has no way out other than ignoring the problem and partying like its 1999. In the meantime, his company is having problems and a new young temp (Scarlett Johansson) has joined his inner circle, but she seems to be invulnerable to his charms. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D and Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury are on Tony’s case because at this point, he has become more of a hindrance to their long-term endgame than a help.

Tony isn’t without enemies. The son of a Russian physicist (a pitch-perfect Mickey Rourke), who used to work with Tony’s father until they had a falling out, wants revenge and has a Stark Industries blueprint to help him. And after the oddly buff, tattooed Russian makes himself known as Whiplash, he gets the additional help of one of Tony’s rival arms manufacturers, Hammer (played excitedly and convincingly by Sam Rockwell).

Basically the movie takes these story elements, dumps them out, and chews at its nails while trying to force it all together in meaningful ways. While this is often the case in superhero films as they have to base a single story line off of several dozen disparate comic books, as in Batman Begins or Spider Man 3, or even worse, Batman & Robin, a good enough writer can blend the elements effectively. However, Iron Man 2‘s writer, Justin Theroux, who penned Tropic Thunder, doesn’t do a good enough job, and ends up making some great leaps in logic for some parts, and using hopeful sleight of hand for the others. As many have pointed out, there is no reason that Whiplash should know that Tony is in the race car. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t enjoyable or compelling, but it lacks the high stakes and narrative focus of the first film, leaving you feeling befuddled. In short, instead of focusing on a deep, exciting, and simple storyline, Iron Man 2 tries to dump as many different things into its plot to dazzle you enough that you don’t analyze it too closely.

The action scenes, each one fun in its own right, take up much less screentime than in the first film, which will certainly disappoint the fanboys and leaves the movie feeling very heavy on the dialogue. That said, the dialogue is fantastic and has the same zippy, clever feeling of the first movie, but we are short-changed on the sexual tension between Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony. In fact, it has seemed that Tony has regressed to his pre-Iron-Man character, uncaring about the world and living in the shadow of his father. It will forever be debated whether or not this regression is the point of the film, but if it had been better, debate would have been unnecessary.

Again, the acting is top-notch and the movie is rife with memorable scenes. But while Iron Man was greater than the sum of its parts, Iron Man 2 is simply equal to the sum of its parts. At the end of the day, I enjoyed myself from the beginning to the end, and wouldn’t argue with a second viewing. So do yourself a favor, forget your expectations and see this movie anyway. And of course, as the trend has been for all the recent Marvel films, stay through the credits.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany
Director: Jon Favreau
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 124 minutes
Rated: PG-13