Over the past several years, I've noted a recurring theme in Marvel superhero movies. The first one is good, the second one amazing, and the the third one, well . . . OK, "sucks" is too strong a word, but neither X3 nor Spiderman III were, in my opinion, nearly as good as their predecessors.
Naturally, since Iron Man 2 was an all-around excellent movie, if the pattern holds true the hypothetical third one is going to be a real letdown. Of course, the pattern isn't completely accurate - take the Fantastic Four films (please!) - and we may luck out in that Iron Man 3 is actually going to be the much hinted Avengers film (which will, of course, also be Captain America 2, Thor 2, and Hulk . . . 2.5?).
But all this hypothesizing doesn't detract from the fact that Iron Man 2 is, in fact, a very good movie. It flows very naturally from the first one (in fact begining pretty much simultaneously with the famous "I am Iron Man" ending), raising the stakes and introducing new characters in a very satisfying way. In fact, one of my biggest quibbles with the movie is that there were so many interesting new characters, there wasn't enough time to fully develop some of them. So, how 'bout that "Nick Fury & The Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D." film, Marvel?
In many ways, Iron Man 2 takes everything that was good about its predecessor and amplifies it. After all, Tony is slowly being poisoned by his arc reactor during the first half (and the movie does a great job of subtly portraying him giving up and preparing for, if not actively seeking, his death), while the second half pours on the pressure begun earlier concerning prospective competitors with equally advanced equiptment, but lacking Tony's charm and sense of decency.
That's not, of course, to say that the movie turns into an angst-fest. Although the serious bits are treated with all due weight (and, perhaps, some of the stuff between Tony and his father could have been toned down or trimmed . . . then again, it does set up the resolution of the Palladium Poisoning subplot), Iron Man 2 is not The Dark Knight. It's still fundamentally a fun movie, with Tony reveling in being Iron Man, whether by acting the lush at what he thinks is his last birthday party or, once cured, finally teaming up with his best friend to take care of that "Hammer-oid Problem" (and people say this movie doesn't have the humor of the first!). One really gets the point (helped along by the use of classic rock songs for the soundtrack, in contrast to the typical epic symphonies employed by every other cinematic superhero) that Tony enjoys being Iron Man, and so the audience enjoys watching him. Of course, Tony Stark is pretty fun to watch even when he's not in the armor - if I can compare him to his DC counterpart again, there's no Bruce Wayne/Batman separation here. "I am Iron Man - the suit and I are one". Indeed, Tony, and if anyone can break the "three strikes" pattern, it's you. For my part, I for one can't wait to see it happen.