There is the wealthy villain up front, Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. Hammer is more of an adversary to Stark than Iron Man, as he struggles to steal the technology of the suit for his own benefit. Rockwell is a fine actor and handles the part well, but he is never threatening. On the other end of the villain spectrum is Ivan Vanko, a tattooed, grimacing, growling Russian with silver capped teeth played by Mickey Rourke. Vanko is convinced Stark's family stole the Iron Man technology from his father and seeks revenge. He creates a prototype of the energy source Iron Man uses and goes after Stark in Monaco, where Stark is racing his own car in the Grand Prix. The sequence where Vanko attacks is the most brilliant segment of the picture, as he approaches Stark on the track swinging two electric whips that can cut a car in half.
Stark, shell-shocked, goes to his emergency suit in a dazzling display of CGI and a fancy new suit. The battle is eye candy of the highest order, but it is over in mere minutes. Typically, in these films, a central battle goes on much too long, but here it is quite the opposite. I wanted more of the battle between Iron Man and Vanko, but once Vanko is relinquished he is all but forgotten until the end of the film, in a battle that is all in the dark, dizzying, and forgettable. There is, frankly, very little of Iron Man in Iron Man 2. Along the way we are also introduced to Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), another member of The Avengers, who shows off in one scene.
Much of Iron Man 2 is set up for The Avengers, and there are plates up in the air everywhere you look. Directors often mistake business for entertainment, but when there is not enough focus in a superhero picture, when characters pop in and out without much regard or weight, the final result is a bit of a murky miss.