"Rhodey, get down!" And with those words, a one-second effect, a secret Iron Man weapon that was so stunning and so unexpected and so well rendered, forced the audience to make a noise I'd never heard a group make before:
A cross between a gasp for air and a Scooby Doo "gewuhhhh???". For a moment, the Chicago reviewers sitting shoulder to shoulder with laymen Q101 contest winners - they (we) were all children again.
That moment was enough to make up for the Iron Man bathroom humour scene that - and I'm not making this up - serves as a primary conflict to drive the movie's plot forward.
Still, it's basically impossible not to enjoy the film. Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Garry Shandling - these are what Iron Man 2 considers bad guys - a group of actors who are so entertaining unto their own right, it takes their unquenchable thirst for the blood of Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson to balance any semblance of screen karma.
And still, you may find yourself rooting for the opposition.
Iron Man 2 is a movie that not only knows it's a movie, it knows it's a sequel. Every actor looks to be having a good time.
Once you're aware that's the tone - a shift from the oft-intense Iron Man 1 - the little things, like completely disconnected setups for movies to come, glossed pseudo science and the most artificially extended protagonist romance since Dawson's Creek Season 4 won't get to you so much.
The visual effects are sequelfied, too. Stark's Jarvis lab interface is celebrated to masturbatory limits (and I mean that in the best, best way), Whiplash's electric attacks are not quite like any other effect I've ever seen, the Iron Man briefcase transformation is still unbelievable after watching it about 20 times (I swear that one-quarter of the movie is dedicated merely to the setup of that moment - which is a completely valid use of screen time) and there are many robots.
Personally, I'd have preferred less of the fighting to take place from telephoto distances in the cover of night, but such is the case with larger scale fights - it's hard to frame an Iron Man centrefold when the guy is battling a small army rather than merely assembling his suit for the first time, tweaking thrusters while floating around his garage.
But I'm using too many words. This is what you need to know: Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man 1, but don't be so worried about some of those early, negative reviews - it's worlds, worlds, worlds better than Transformers 2, Spider-Man 3 or some other franchise-devastating catastrophe. You'll still enjoy the movie a ton. Go see it already (opens midnight tonight), just don't deconstruct it afterward.
Also, Jon Favreau, I know you've taken some crap for your cameos, especially your personal extended fight scene. Don't listen to the haters. You gave us Iron Man, and if you like getting your arse kicked on camera, who are we to question that you've earned it. Also, the Swingers audio reference - you know the one - that was money.