Shellhead's back, and he's brought some friends

by alphamonkey on May 7, 2010 · 1 comment

in Film,Media Rack

It must be Summer, because there’s shorts and sun dresses are making their appearance, and a superhero is in the theaters. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Iron Man 2 has been on dadsbigplan’s collection “oh hell yes” list for some time, so of course we’ve got an opinion on Marvel’s latest big screen endeavor (and the film guaranteed to be the hit of the summer, if only for lack of competition. So hit the jump for a dual Monkey/Cap’n take on the golden Avenger’s second round on the screen.

Six months after revealing himself as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has become a national hero. The world has seen an unprecedented period of peace, Stark stock couldn’t be higher, and the girls (and drinks) are plentiful. Not everything is all sunny in the life of the world’s newest hero, however. As Iron Man 2 opens, Stark is facing health issues tied to his use of the arc reactor, the U.S. government wants the Iron Man technology for military use, and business competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is looking to knock Stark down a few pegs any way he can. Oh, and a disgraced Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) is gunning to destroy not just Tony Stark, but his entire legacy.

That’s a lot of plot to squeeze into two-hours, and we haven’t even mentioned Pepper Potts’ (Gwyneth Paltrow) new role as CEO of Stark Industries, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D., James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and the creation of War Machine, or Stark’s new assistant (Scarlett Johansson) who has a few skills not listed on her resume.

the monkey says: I was lost in the woolly wilds of Northern Ohio the first time Iron Man hit the theaters, and more than anything I recall walking out of the theater thinking “Hell, yes. That was fun.” Not ground-breaking, not a masterpiece, but just a fun swing through the foundations of a new cinematic Marvel Universe. Sure, the final throwdown was a bit of a letdown, but overall a lot of fun. So for Iron Man 2 my expectations (and hopes) were only for more of the same. I don’t expect great art from director Jon Favreau, and frankly neither should you. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing for this Summer’s first sure-to-be blockbuster.

Does it live up to the standard (however tenuous) set by the first film? Cap’n and I both have issues with how this film nearly bursts its seams with more and more characters and plot (which means that the scenes and stories that should bring some needed emotional depth aren’t ever given room to breathe), but in some ways I wonder if that’s not a deliberate choice to keep the film light on its toes to offset a bulging plot belly. The effects are only somewhat improved from Iron Man, but beyond one or two clunky shots, the suits look fantastic in action (though sadly we’re given just as little action this time as we were the first). So how does a film with too much going on to squeeze in all the shellhead action we want still manage to get a pass from me? Simple: The actors.

This time around Downey ups Stark’s arrogant playboy act to the nth degree, which lay just this side of off-putting, but makes a hell of a lot of sense for the character. After all, in this film Stark doesn’t have Reed Richards to keep his ego in check (nor Steve Rogers to keep him morally grounded), and you can tell that Downey is having a hell of a lot of fun with the role. Rourke (who by all rights should be utterly ridiculous as an ex-con Russian physicist that seems to be an expert in everything) brings an astonishing level of dedication to shouldering the load of one of Iron Man’s most ridiculous villains (seriously – Whips? What the hell?), and Don Cheadle does nothing but make you wish he had more and more screen time, both in and out of the armor. Johansson defied all my expectations by delivering a performance that actually served the character (even if said character didn’t really serve the story), and Paltrow keeps the perpetually exasperated Potts enjoyable as the reluctant adult to Stark’s inner-child.

But what about Sam Rockwell? Without delving too much into the plot, Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is set up to be the nerdy (and needy) Bill Gates to Stark’s perpetually cool Steve Jobs, but that analogy falls down by forgetting that Gates isn’t a clown, but an astoundingly effective business man and futurist. There’s no doubt Hammer is being set up as an ongoing baddie, but Rockwell’s comic delivery (combined with some really dumb story choices) give us the Chris Farley version of the first film’s Obidiah Stane (and Jeff Bridge’s shoes aren’t ones I’d envy anyone having to fill). That’s my biggest beef with the film; Rather than giving us a bad guy who may well be just as capable as Tony Stark, we have to believe a bumbling clown could manage to manipulate enough events to provide a credible threat (even if it’s through the proxy of Rourke’s revenge-driven genius).

But hell, Rockwell still makes that role fun. So at the end of the day I have give this film a positive review. Yeah, it’s got problems that I wish were better handled, but I had more fun in the theater than I’ve had in quite some time. And most of all (for you nerdy of nerdies out there) Iron Man 2 proves that Marvel Films is committed to the idea of a shared MU on the big screen, as the film is nearly littered with references to next Summer’s double-shot of Thor and Captain America. Frankly, that’s something that, as a life-long comic nerd, I’ve been looking forward to for ages. A vast, shared cinematic palette where super-heroes don’t exist in a vacuum, and we can see how relationships play out in more than four colors. Here’s hoping the next time we see Tony Stark, we’ll get less flash and more bang.

the Cap’n says: Rather than coast by on the successful formula that worked for Iron Man, director Jon Favreau makes changes in both tone and pacing by piling on more and more. The sequel has been dipped in cheese and deepfried (including a prolonged scene with a drunk Tony Stark in full armor acting the fool). While the first gave you some dramatic weight to balance its lighter moments, the sequel seems content merely to have fun. Iron Man 2 is also paced within an inch of its life. Favreau goes the George Lucas’ “Faster, more intense!” route here in an attempt to keep the roller coaster from ever stopping. The effect of both these choices, however, is that when the film interjects some genuinely dramatic scenes they don’t have the gravity they should.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had. Iron Man himself may not be as cool this time around, but War Machine, Whiplash, and large army of robot drones help make up the difference. And though not really necessary to the plot, Johansson (thankfully without an accent) is better than I expected as the Black Widow. Throw in a beefier role for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) plus the final after-credit sequence, which I won’t ruin here, and the Marvel movie universe is starting to take shape.

Although Iron Man 2 stays away from the current slow motion craze it does interject its own form of craptastic camera effects. In what I’ll refer to as crap-motion, several scenes are sped-up in an attempt to trick you eyes into thinking what you are seeing is more impressive than it actually is. The movie does this a handful of times, the most egregious example being Johannson’s big Matrix-like action sequence. Rather than choreograph and shoot scenes that actually work this short-cut misdirection technique attempts to convince you that something cool might have happened, even if you didn’t quite see it. It annoyed me to no end.

Even with the nagging issues I had, Iron Man 2 is a fair bit better than recent Marvel missteps such as Punisher: War Zone and Spider-Man 3 and is the type of fun summer flick that is definitely worth a couple hours of your time. Maybe you’ll even get to see it in stereo-sound (unlike the screening we attended where none of the surround speakers made a peep during the entire film).

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  • CoosCoos

    What? No Mandarin?

    What a terrible oversight!

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