Robert Downey Jr is exceptional as Tony Stark, and this movie pulls no punches in showing that Stark is a man with many issues and demons to wrestle with, not only like the comic Stark, but like Downey Jr himself. This villain here is a so-bad-he-is-fantastic Mickey Rourke, in the midst of a career renaissance a 'la "The Wrestler" (itself an exceptional movie), and he's all geared up as Whiplash, with these wicked electrical whips that cut through Formula One cars. Seriously.
I've never been a huge Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but she fits nicely here as Pepper Potts and Jon Favreau, the film's director, returns as Stark's driver and assistant. If there are two weak spots in the film, one is Don Cheadle. I like Basher Tarr as much as the next guy, but he just seemed out of place in this movie... there was a big stink about Terrence Howard being in the first film, but being replaced by Cheadle due to a disagreement with the film's producers. Cheadle still works, though, as he takes the role of War Machine which leads to some pretty cool metal on metal fisticuffs.
Scarlett Johansson's character Black Widow. She looks great, which for me is a first to say that about ScarJo, but she just... well, she wasn't important in this movie. There's a chance this movie is just her introduction to the series leading up to a possible appearance in 2012's Avengers movie...
SIDEBAR... I'm not sure there has ever been a film I've been looking more forward too that's two years away than The Avengers. I mean, we're actually talking since 2008 when the little snippet at the end of both "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk", when Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury showed up... I thought I would wee in my britches. As an avid fan of comics, I love The Avengers, Captain America, Thor and all those guys and gals, so my anticipation for The Avengers movie is high... which means in mid-2011, something stupid will happen, ScarJo will not come back as Black Widow, we won't have a War Machine, the guys playing Thor and Captain America will be in disputes with Joss Whedon, the director... and it will all fall apart, depriving us of what will be an awesome film...
Also rumored to possibly be in the film is Nathan Fillion as Ant Man and Malin Akerman (mmm) as Wasp and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye?? I think my head just exploded.
...but truly, I just didn't feel like she had enough to do. She wasn't a factor, and she didn't matter. And for all the hype, that was a disappointment.
But, beyond all that, I was thrilled. The opening sequence, the introduction to The Stark Expo, Whiplash shows up and lashing his whips, bad accent and hair and all, Sam Rockwell being awesome like he always is, Iron Man fighting, and don't think I didn't notice the similarities between Stark's dad's plans for a futuristic community and Disney's old Epcot plan... in fact, there's a song over the ending credits called "Tomorrow Today", and it was written by the famed Sherman Brothers, the same guys who wrote "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for the Carousel of Progress at Walt Disney World, amongest other great Disney classics.
Speaking of the ending credits, stay til the very end. Its worth it.
By the way, Wolverine and Spiderman both spent time as part of the Avengers crew at one point in their careers... I know Tobey Maguire wouldn't be up for a Spidey appearance (though I don't know why not... I mean, has the success of "Brothers" put him above such frivolity?) how awesome would it be to at least have a Hugh Jackman appearance? I think he'd dig that vibe.