Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stark Raving Fun. Review of Iron Man 2



IRON MAN 2

It might be a trend nowadays in sequels to start the second part where the first part left off. This was the case with Quantum of Solace, the film starting almost exactly where Casino Royale ended. Thought not exactly beginning at the same spot, The Dark Knight picks up with the first seen crime of The Joker, a character who was suggested at the end of Batman Begins.

In the same way, Iron Man II (I'm old-fashioned when I title my sequels, but perhaps I should adapt to the numeric style popular nowadays, like referring the the king in The Tudors as Henry 8 instead of Henry VIII), begins pretty much where Iron Man ends: with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealing to the world that he is, indeed, Iron Man. From there, we get another action-packed, relatively well-paced successor to the original.

Stark seems to be on top of the world. He's world-famous, he's rich, and as he told arrogant (and appropriately named) Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), "I've successfully privatized world peace" (side note: though I don't know enough of her philosophy, I still can't help but think Objectivist guru Ayn Rand wouldn't get some form of intellectual orgasm hearing that from someone). However, he seems to be under attack from all sides.

He not only has to deal with Stern (who is demanding that Stark hand over the Iron Man suit to the federal government), but he also has to deal with the bumbling machinations of his weapons manufacturing rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Add to this the fact that in this case, what's making him stronger is killing him: the material that keeps him alive is slowly poisoning him but he has of yet not been able to find a good substitute.

If all that weren't enough, a ghost from his family's past comes roaring back in the form of renegade physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who happens to be the son of a scientist Stark's dad screwed over during the Cold War. Ivan (and what good Russian isn't named Ivan) has come for revenge...and he's also done what no other country or Hammer has been able to do: replicate Stark's technology, thus providing a battle of equals for the inevitable final fight.

However, Stark is too concerned about his impending mortality to care about Stern or Hammer. Believing Ivan dead, he has one thing to concentrate on: trying to stay alive. He begins to take steps to ensure things will go on as before: he appoints Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as CEO of Stark Industries, but other than that he now lives life even more recklessly, much to the consternation of his best friend Col. "Rhody" Rhodes (Don Cheadle, taking over Terrence Howard).

Stark, however, doesn't bail out in a Howard Hughes-style reclusive turn: he now turns his wandering eye to the beautiful new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson). Now, HERE'S A SPOILER: Ivan Isn't Dead. Instead, his death was faked, with the aid of someone who is Stark's rival (take a guess). This was done so that said individual could get his hands on Stark's technology, but of course, Ivan has his own plans. END OF SPOILER (and if you really didn't see that coming you haven't seen enough movies).



It surprised me to learn that Iron Man II (or 2, given your predilection) is actually two minutes SHORTER than Iron Man. I say surprised because, like the first one, it felt terribly long. Most of this I would say is the result of having Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the figures from S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers thrown in. Now, here's where a little explanation is in order.

If you didn't stay past the end of the closing credits of Iron Man (which I didn't--not seeing it through until I saw it on DVD), you wouldn't know that this Nick Fury character was in the movie in the first place. Whether you need to know that for the second one is debatable (overall, you don't), but for those of us (like me) who have never read an Iron Man comic, you just stare and ask, "What? What? Who is Nick Fury? What is S.H.I.E.L.D.?" I still have no idea who Nick Fury is. I figure that The Avengers is some sort of superhero alliance though, minus a post-credit bit in The Incredible Hulk (where it's STARK making a cameo) I've yet to be introduced to any comic book character in Iron Man or Iron Man II (2).

I'd digress to say I would have said "any DC/Marvel" comic book character, but I still wouldn't know the difference between the two. This is one complaint about Iron Man II (2): this time, it felt a little more geared toward the fan base, though in fairness one won't get lost.

Overall, however, Iron Man II (2) is, while not better than the original (few films are: The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back being some of the few which are), is certainly near the same level. Downey, Jr. still has his rapid-fire delivery and mannerism and gets Stark's still healthy ego and brash self-confidence. However, he now has a bit more depth provided by the fact that he has to deal with issues involving his dead father: not just about Ivan, but also about his health situation. Downey, Jr. is perfectly suited (no pun intended) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and his performance manages the right amount of comedy, drama, and action.

Equaling him is Rourke, who like Downey, Jr. appears to be having an artistic and commercial renaissance about his turn in The Wrestler. Always playing it straight, Rourke makes Ivan menacing and frightening as opposed to cartoonish and silly. He gives it his all and comes up with the goods: with his very credible Russian accent and swarms of tattoos Rourke creates an admirable archrival to Stark, and the fight scenes between them really get you into the film. It is, I think, the best performance of the film.

However, in retrospect I might have been too enthusiastic for Rourke.  A second viewing might change my mind.

The other parts were quite good overall. I noticed that director Jon Favreau has given his character Hogan (now called Happy Hogan, which I don't recall from the first film) a larger role. Instead of merely being Stark's driver he now is an active participant in his fights against Vanko (although mostly in a comedic way). Paltrow's Potts (who I learned from none other than Bill O'Reilly in a cameo, is actually named Virginia Potts) is now more confident and less bumbling than in Iron Man, but now the romantic undertones of the first are a bit more fully explored. Of course, this isn't without difficulty in the form of the ravishing Natalie (who, without giving too much away, is in league with S.H.I.E.L.D.).


Here is the big question: how was Cheadle compared to Howard? Was it a good decision to replace one with the other? I'd say that Cheadle was SLIGHTLY better than Howard. I say slightly because both of them are good actors, but the former seemed a little more engaged in the project than the latter. In the first film, Howard didn't seem to have much reaction to anything Stark did. Here, Cheadle looks visibly worried and angry at Stark's actions. In short, he seemed a little more engaged than Howard in the first.

I'm divided about Rockwell. From my reading he seems to have made the critics happy. My own take is that he read the role correctly: I figure he was supposed to be a more humorous foil to Stark, but perhaps my too-logical mind kept saying that someone so inept at just about anything he did couldn't have succeeded as much as Hammer did. I could see a mile-plus away that Ivan wasn't going to do what Hammer wanted him to.

Of course, I could also see that Ivan's escape was going to be facilitated by...take a guess. I never took him seriously as a threat or a menace the same way I could Rourke. Again, I figure this is what they were going for, and if so then it worked. For my part, all of Rockwell's pouting took me away from the film and bordered on farce. Then again, I keep thinking and rethinking this was their aim, so...still undecided.

How can I take Rockwell/Hammer seriously as a villain when he dances onto the stage at the Stark Expo to the Average White Band's Picking Up the Pieces (and boy, does he dance badly)?

I think the film benefited from having one screenwriter (Justin Theroux) rather than four; even though we have several elements going on they never seemed to collide or overwhelm the overall story. Instead, they seem to mesh together quite well. There aren't that many action scenes in Iron Man II (2): the Monaco Grand Prix, a fight between Stark and Rhodes in their suits at Stark's mansion, and a battle at the Stark Expo. While each was long, they all had the requisite excitement to keep things interesting.

The final battle was a massive one, involving droids, Iron Man & Rhodes vs. Ivan, and Johansson's Natasha Romanoff (and no, Boris was nowhere in sight). Side Note: I wonder if Natasha will ever meet The Green Lantern on film--she and Ryan Reynolds could be the new Tracy & Hepburn/Burton & Taylor/Powell & Loy of comic book films. I was extremely impressed at how well both Johansson and Favreau handled the fight scenes with Natasha-- a fantastic action sequence and a fantastic action heroine.

Another positive is in the visual effects: they again, like the first one, were seamlessly interwoven and looked like they belonged in the scene. Not once did it look like the effects team were trying to shove a loud, extravagant, excessive effect into our faces. The film-makers are taking my advise that effects should serve the story, not show off what can be done. When a film actually holds back in what it can do visually but instead creates visuals that are relevant to the plot, it deserves praise.

Iron Man II (2) is a strong mix of action and comedy with epic fights. No, it's not perfect, and it's not above the original. It IS a good time where the performances are actually more important than the effects, where the action sequences are exciting, and where you can enjoy yourself. By Thor's Hammer Iron Man II (2) works! (Again, stay past the credits--and have someone explain that bit. If you don't get it, pay attention to the bold words).

2 comments:

  1. Good Review, Rick! But i just have a couple of comments. First, although it was over two hours long, I don`t think it was too long. To me, it went by very quckly; it was so exciting. Secondly, it`s so good to see both Big Mick and RoDow (My nicknames for the villain and star of the film)do well. Let`s just hope they just continue to stay out of trouble. Finally, I think I remember reading once that Tony Stark`s dad, Howard was named after Howard Hughes. In fact, I believe Tony Stark, himself, was actually based on the life of HH, himself. If you look at some old issues of the comic book, you can see the resemblance. Look it up. Anyhoo, just a little food for thought. (Whether it be a Twinkie or a T-bone steak, you be the judge!) Anyways, PLEASE let me know what you think, amigo!

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  2. Good review sir, sorry I haven't visited the blog in a while, but yeah I thought the movie was very cool, the fighting parts and special effects were awesome, and I do agree with you about Cheadle playing Rhodes rather than Howard. I kind of felt that Samuel L. Jackson could have been more in the movie as well as Scarlett Johansson was in it. Overall, I really enjoyed it...reminds me I think I need to go pick up the first Iron Man on DVD.

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