Friday, May 14, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man is pretty much exactly what I want out of a giant, big-budget summer blockbuster. It’s fun, smart, well made, some shit blows up, and it’s coherent enough to engross you for ninety minutes. In short, it is everything Michael Bay thinks the Transformers movies are, but that in reality, they aren’t. He wishes his effects looked half as good as those in Iron Man.

Because it did so well, you knew there was going to be a sequel. Hell, everyone knew that part two was in the chute before the first one even opened. Sequels are always a tricky business, you want to capture what made the first movie good, but still do something more than just rehash.

In that spirit, Iron Man 2 is a bit of a different animal from the first. Overall the tone is darker. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dying. The very thing that is keeping him alive, that fancy pants little chest reactor thing, is poisoning his blood and killing him. The closer he creeps to death, the more his self-destructive streak manifests itself. He hands over control of Stark Industries to his right hand/love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s skin is distractingly orange in this movie), and does things like supplant the guy driving his racecar at the last minute so he can take part in some Grand Prix race in Monaco.

The government, led by Senator Garry Shandling, wants him to hand over the Iron Man suits. His competitor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is incompetent, but conniving. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of someone Stark Sr. screwed over, is out for revenge. And Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury, a role originally made famous by David Hasselfhoff in the 1998 made for TV classic, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, is trying to recruit him for SHIELD. There’s a forced subplot about his father, and Tony has to invent a new element at one point. The man has a lot on his plate.

But all of that is secondary to watching a guy in a suit fly around and fight robots. That’s what you came to see, all of the other stuff is just extra. Like a garnish, it makes everything look all pretty and presentable.

Like the first movie, the cast is awesome. I still think Downey Jr. is the perfect actor to play Tony Stark. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until somebody hits me, but who better to play a narcissistic, alcoholic millionaire with a serious collection of self-destructive tendencies? His charisma is what carries these movies. Without him, they would be mediocre action fare.

While I’m not a huge Gwyneth Paltrow fan, and I wish that her husband’s crappy band would just stop (for the love of god, am I the only one who notices how awful Coldplay is?), she is solid in everything she does (and you get to see her boobies in Shakespeare in Love). This is no exception.

The joys of the first movie include the sexual tension, and the back and forth banter between Stark and Pepper. And director John Favreau and writer Justin Theroux try to capitalize on this dynamic again in the sequel. There are times when they are successful. The scene where Stark makes Pepper CEO of Stark Industries, or when she introduces Stark to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) disguised as someone from legal, are both moments where this works. However, in this go round, there are times when it doesn’t, where they tried to force it into the script. Like the scene where Whiplash first attacks. Pepper and Happy (Favreau) are trying to get Stark the mobile Iron Man suit, but instead of getting to the point, Pepper and Stark take time to trade barbs while dodging crazy, electric whipey. It was frustrating to watch, and on like the fourth time Stark says something smartass instead of grabbing the fucking suit from his sidekicks, I made a loud enough noise the guy in the next seat looked at me and nodded.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard as James Rhodes/War Machine. There are lots of rumors and reports at to why, and I don’t give a shit about any of them. I bet Howard thought something along the lines of, “they won’t have the balls to replace me if I ask for more money.” Guess what, Terrance? Cheadle is exactly how you expect him to be, great. Seriously, is he ever going to be bad just to throw us off? Doesn’t he ever feel like just half-assing a role and phoning it in? Apparently not, apparently he’s more of a professional than I am. I don’t mind that they replaced Howard, just like I didn’t mind when they replaced Katie Holmes in the Batman movies. My only problem is that Cheadle is criminally underused. He’s good as a man torn between duty and friendship, trying to finagle the suits from Stark while at the same time having to watch his friend cave in on himself. But there is room for so much more, and why have someone as good as Don Cheadle in your movie if you’re not going to use him? I’m looking at you, Favreau.

Despite some really bad hair, Mickey Rourke is a great villain. Even without all of the Russian prison tattoos, he still looks like a dude who would live in some crappy little apartment in some desolate hell hole, and be out for some sort of vengeance. His father was deported and fucked over by Tony Stark’s dad, so Ivan is going to take it out on Stark Jr. Watching this I actually believe that Rourke could strangle two security guards and still be a high level physicist. I even believe that he loves his bird.

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t in this much, but he looks cool with an eye patch.

A friend of mine who saw this before me said that Scarlett Johansson looks like a Bratz doll. He was correct in his assessment. She does in fact closely resemble a Bratz doll. He also hates her with a passion. One of his other comments was that she spent the entire movie “Clydesdaling around,” and that she is a completely graceless creature. I’m generally indifferent to her existence. Her involvement will neither repel me from seeing something that looks interesting, nor entice me to see something I otherwise might skip. She’s mildly attractive and moderately talented, but in Iron Man 2, she does suck kind of bad. Her delivery is flat, there’s supposed to be some sexual tension between her character and Stark, but it is more assumed than developed. Her role is mostly just her bending over, or posing, or standing still with a blank look on her face.

Goddammit, Sam Rockwell looks good in a suit. He makes me wish I could pull off wearing a suit. Even as a nerdy weapons producer, he still manages to be really fucking cool. Rockwell makes a good weasel, which is exactly what Hammer is, a conniving little hack, with no talent of his own, other than exploiting people that are smarter than he is. He fakes Vanko’s death, springs him from jail, and puts him to work in his own factory, building a competitor to Stark’s Iron Man suit. We know from the outset that this is going to backfire on him, since Vanko is a stone cold killer with one thing on his mind, revengeance.

Iron Man 2, like Iron Man, is a lot of fun. It has all of the bells and whistles that you want, and it’s not trying to be anything more than it is, which is a really good time at the movies. There are a couple of places where it falters. The scene where Stark DJs a party in the Iron Man suit is annoying, not to mention aggravatingly long. There are couple subplots that aren’t properly developed and feel forced, like anything involving Stark’s father. But overall none of that matters, and the movie is pretty badass.

And of course you know this by now, but if you stay through the credits there is a special nerd surprise.

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