Inevitably sequels fail to measure up to their predecessors (The Sting II, anybody? And for that matter, all odd-numbered Star Treks). But every once in a cineplex, you discover the exception. This year, that would be Toy Story 3--which gets my vote for Best Picture, to date.
Before divulging two spoilers, I'll say TS3 is likely the smartest film of the trilogy. It navigates a bittersweet subject--coming of age, leaving home and childhood behind--with extraordinary poignancy.
Before I contrast this with Iron Man 2, a pair of observations: First, the incinerator scene late in the third act stunned me. To watch the expressions of the toys' faces as they faced imminent death was to see animation that rivals any emotion a human face can produce. Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest linked hands to confront their end with an acceptance made all the more touching because it was wordless. And you couldn't help but wonder, How will they escape?
Second, when Andy passes his toys on to Bonnie (who wears the big brown eyes and rounded face of an older Boo from Monsters, Inc.), you will hear adults reaching for kleenex. The filmmakers know their audience has followed the story from the first Toy Story to its conclusion. They know Andy has grown up, just as the audience. His rites of passage are ours, too. And no animated film in my life has provided a more heartbreaking/reassuring final scene.
Iron Man 2 would've benefited from a little more emotion--and better villains. The Armored Avenger has to face down his own mortality, and the best competition they could give him was a guy with glorified buggywhips and a weasly arms-maker. Come on.
When I think back to Iron Man's first encounter with Whiplash, I remind myself: Dude could fly around and strafe greasy-haired Mickey Rourke to death. But no, he stands there and makes it a ridiculous fight.
Plus, Sam Rockwell is badly miscast as Justin Hammer. Too young, too whiny, and insufficiently mean. If your character's last name is Hammer, that should be a big honkin' clue how to play it.
The film's best moments tend to be short and subtle--as when Tony Stark checks his rising blood toxicity. His face tells the tale; he's dead man walking. The lunch he cooks for the always radiant Gwyneth Paltrow, and his subsequent gift to her of his corporation, have the earmarks of a man who's living his bucket list.
As with all comic book movies, though, the quality of the rock 'em sock 'em fights count heavily. And Iron Man 2 is left wanting in this area. Which is the ultimate irony, of course. The best of Iron Man 2 takes place when Tony Stark is outside the suit.