Friday, May 7, 2010

Chronic Review: Iron Man 2!

So I went to see Iron Man 2 this afternoon. I bought my tickets online and showed up about 30 minutes early to be certain of obtaining a decent seat. That ended up being unnecessary, since there were less than 20 people in the theater with me. I'm not suggesting that this is a sign that the film is tanking or anything. I'm sure it did well in those midnight showings yesterday, and I'm sure the house will packed tonight. I'm just saying that I caught the matinee and had the place to myself, and I don't think we have to worry about this film challenging Avatar's numbers is all.

For those of you who caught the Nerds of the Round Table show on Iron Man 2, you'll know that I was hopefully pessimistic about the movie. Most of the talent involved deserved the benefit of the doubt, but most of the post-wrap press sounded like tap-dancing around the fact that this was a cuffed and rushed cluster-fuck.

I'm pleased to report that this movie is legitimately outstanding, and does not come off as unpolished or lackluster. It feels slightly less magical because it has to. We've already had our socks knocked off by the first film, and it set the bar in a spot where the sequel can be equally as deft, exciting, vibrant, and yet something feels... missing. There is something missing. That empty space you came to the original film with is now filled with the worst possible thing you can bring to a work of art....expectations.

Also you're filled with a bunch of information from the trailers. I did a bunch of research for the Round Table show that didn't hurt my viewing a lick. I really, really, really, tried to avoid the trailers, because I want things to be a surprise. Unfortunately, I ended up seeing several movies that showed trailers of Iron Man 2 before the feature. And that absolutely detracted from my experience. Not a deal breaker, mind you. But significant.

If this is sounding like a negative review of the movie, let me turn that right around and say that I enjoyed the movie front to back. I have since read reviews of the movie that complain about "lagging" sections of the film, and I found the two hours zipped by in a blink. The other major charge leveled against the movie is that it isn't as "fun" as the first.

And that's true. Iron Man 2 is not a fun movie at all, nor was it designed to be. Iron Man 2 takes Tony Stark down a very dark road, not everybody is happy with him for much of the film, and he becomes a much more human character. Guess what? I liked all of that.

Yes, Downey gets to play the rakish rogue, and there are plenty of good one-liners to be had. But his keynote speech at the Stark Expo comes off with more blatant arrogance than charm, and that's OK. Tony's partying at his birthday feels a little more gross and a little less harmless. That a good thing. That's called, let's take the foundation of the character and move him toward something more flawed, more real, and still true to the path he took in the comics. Is it fun, exactly? No. Was it entertaining for me? Yes, ma'am.

I was worried about Whiplash as a viable villain, but his origins are re-worked in such a way that it works, and Mickey Rourke does menacing just fine. Matter of fact, I don't think anybody ever refers to that character as Whiplash. He's just Ivan Danko, a kind of ghost from the Stark family history bringing home some painful chickens to roost. That works, too.

After watching this movie, I have no idea why they needed Don Cheadle to play Rhodey. Didn't have a problem with anything he did, but nor did I see him doing anything that wouldn't have played just as well with Terrence Howard. Also, based upon my viewing I don't see audiences coming out with a clamoring for more War Machine. That nod goes to...

Black Widow. Scarlet Johansson was fantastic. She sells the capable assistant, she sells the competent super-spy, and she sells the action sequences on top of it. There is nothing sexier than watching Scarlet Johansson clear out Hammer, inc. of hired muscle. She also plays her character with just the barest trace of some vaguely European sounding accent, which is perfect. Romanov wouldn't run around spouting thick Russian, she's blending into an American firm.

I could definitely see interest in that character spiking, and they even have a new ongoing Black Widow book in place to potentially capitalize. The downside is that Marjorie Liu has her getting her ass beat badly straight out of the gate, which will seem like a downer for newbies interested in watching the strong woman they just saw on screen. Shame, really.

What else, what else...oh. Avengers stuff. Here's where the filmmakers are in a bit of a pickle, because they don't know what the other films are really going to do, hell, they didn't really know what THEY were going to do until somebody yelled "Action!" So they need to set up the Avengers film a bit, but they can't really commit to much, because it's all up in the air.

What they chose to do was take SHIELD/Coulson and give them a little more balls, which was great. Coulson was not some bumbler begging for an appointment, and SHIELD was an entity with a rich history and bigger problems than Iron Man, not a paper tiger still feeling out what to call itself. There is an "Avenger Initiative", but there are no details beyond that. Cap's shield sort of makes an appearance. Thor's hammer definitely does. And that's about the best we can hope for, is to have this movie acknowledge that such things exist while avoiding details that will inevitably have to be backtracked upon. It's satisfactory.

Olivia Munn! No, she is not Iron Maiden. In fact, she's completely expendable in this picture, taking up about 7 seconds of screen time posing as a Giuliana Depandi wannabe. Stark's big opening got major axing. That Gwynneth Paltrow kiss on the helmet? Cutting room floor. My guess is that Downey and Munn had a little red carpet interview that was flirtatious and fun, and Favreau decided that it didn't fit with his "Stark Disassembled" movie. And he was probably right. Maybe we'll find out when the DVDs hit.

I thought it was interesting to see Stephen Platt listed in the credits as an "illustrator." I don't know if that means he was doing storyboarding or what. Platt put Moon Knight back on the map with his pencils that boldly aped everything Todd McFarlane had done before him. He was about the biggest star in pencilling until he left Marvel and took that Prophet gig that went nowhere at Mach three. Now he's probably making more than Steve McNiven doing drawings for Hollywood. Good on ya, mate!

If you're expecting to see a repeat of the first film, you are not going to like Iron Man 2. It's too dark, too deep, and not nearly smarmy enough. If you want to see the dark side of Tony Stark and to see Stark struggle to rise about that, you're in luck. If you want to see some of the "real world" ramifications of what that kind of technology would unleash on the world, you'll be happy. If you want to see the Tony/Pepper relationship move forward a bit in a more bittersweet and less traditionally Hollywood way, you'll be in good shape. I think my favorite scene in this movie is a three way conversation between Tony/Pepper/Natalya just before Tony fights an army of Hammer drones. Spots like that highlight the Favreau "freeball" method of letting his actors do the work, and boy do they work at times. And yes, if you want to see guys in iron suits wreaking havoc on all manner of objects, that is available as well.

Iron Man 2 is better than good, and I think it's appropriate for everyone involved to be very proud of what they accomplished.

- Ryan

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