Jon Favreau has brought a lot of wit and humor to the Iron Man franchise. Iron Man 2 was about as enjoyable as the first Iron Man, and while they are different from each other but also similar in many respects, it’s clear to me that Favreau is the right guy to be calling the shots with these movies. Of course, he’s helped enormously by Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role, who expands on the Tony Stark/Iron Man character somewhat while still delivering what everyone now expects from the role. The deep cast is well-used for the most part (Don Cheadle seemed to be a little expressionless at times), with Mickey Rourke (man does he look grimy and filthy in this thing!) registering strongly as one of the villains. But the entire film is stolen by ace character-actor Sam Rockwell. Sure, his character is Lex Luthor-lite, but I just loved watching Rockwell’s Justin Hammer chew the scenery. He brings life to the film every time he appears, and his scenes with Rourke are dynamite. Scar-jo looks wonderful in her tight, body-clenching, black-leather costume as Black Widow/Natasha Whoever and Gwyneth Paltrow (who’s looking way too skinny) retains her snap and charm as Pepper Potts. Favreau has always been an actor’s director (see Made) so it’s no surprise that his action scenes, while occasionally thrilling (the Monaco race-track sequence is positively awesome), seem to be at times a little haphazard and less than mind-blowing. The climactic battle, for instance, was a bit of a let-down from a summer-movie-spectacle P.O.V; nothing that we haven’t seen before happens in the big showdown, which is something you can’t say when thinking about other action movie behemoths like Transformers 2 or Avatar. But I’ll come back to the Monaco sequence for a moment; the blending of CGI and practical effects during this sequence (which takes place during the day with lots of sunlight which is the toughest environment for the FX wizards to work in as it requires major attention to photo-real detail) would put a smile on Michael Bay’s face. There were a few shots (the ones of the race-cars being severed in half and then flipping end-over-end come immediately to mind) that seemed as real as possible even though you know what you’re watching can’t be real. Also, after reading a lot of the reviews, for some reason, a ton of people have taken exception to the idea of Iron Man 2 including references to The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Why? For me, those were some of the best parts; just thinking about the all-star team-up movie that The Avengers will be in 2012 makes me giddy like a 10 year old. The superhero universe that the Marvel filmmaking team are building is shaping up rather nicely (Thor and Captain America are due in theaters next summer) and I think it’s going to be ridiculous fun when all of these characters appear together in a movie. I haven’t said anything about the plot, and that’s OK, because, really, do I need to explain the plot of an Iron Man movie? You know if you’re going to enjoy this sort of thing before you even sit down in the theater. It’s Iron Man for Chrissakes; this isn’t Shakespeare or Bresson or Scorsese. It’s just solid, comic-book movie fun, made by people with respect for the material, made for people who have been anxious to see these sorts of adventures played out on the big screen in all of their $200 million glory. Is Iron Man 2 perfect? Hardly. Is it a solid way to kill two hours in a movie theater this summer? Most assuredly. And BTW -- the Thor teaser at the end is very cute.