A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 213 – Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 – September 29th, 2010

As I might have mentioned, we don’t always have a movie planned ahead of time. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we just play it by ear. Sometimes what we watch is determined by the events of our days, or by a holiday we find out about midday, or sometimes because something arrives in the mail and we have to watch it right now. Which is what happened today. We saw this in the theater originally and I’ve been looking forward to owning it since. It’s not quite the same bullseye hit that the first was, but personally I think it’s a worthy sequel.

As is the case with any hit, like Batman Begins and the like, the first Iron Man movie really packed quite a lot into a single movie, playing everything just so. Everything comes together to make something amazingly fun in movies like that. And then, both because it’s a financial hit and because the source material is serialized, a sequel is all but guaranteed. The thing is, the success of the sequel isn’t guaranteed at all. Look at Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2. I mean, I enjoy the sequel, but it’s nowhere close to the first. Same for the Bill & Ted movies. Sure, neither of those examples are comic book based, but you get my drift. Trying to capitalize on the success of a hit only works if you can maintain the right mood while upping the stakes just enough that it doesn’t feel like a letdown. If you picked a badass villain for the first movie, then you need to find someone better or vastly different for the second. I think the new Batman movies are an excellent example. The villains in the first movie aren’t the iconic ones everyone, even non-comic fans, know. The second movie played the Joker. Smart move.

The thing with Iron Man is that while he’s certainly well known, I wouldn’t put his villains on the same level as Magneto or Lex Luthor (yes, I am mixing my Marvel and DC because I’m making a point about widespread public knowledge). So it comes down to making the villains brought in believable and dangerous. There’s some wiggle room here. Ivan Vanko is our main villain in this movie. He’s the son of a man who worked with Tony Stark’s father on the development of the arc reactor and who was then deported back to the Soviet Union. Vanko constructs his own reactor and reactor-powered weapons in order to take revenge on Stark. As in the first movie, there’s a secondary villain, the smarmy Justin Hammer, a blustery defense contractor who desperately wants to steal Stark’s spotlight. Where the Ten Rings villains provided the impetus and materials for Tony to build the original suit and subsequently provided it to the real villain, Hammer provides Vanko the materials to build his weapons and gives him one of Tony’s earlier suits when it falls into his hands. There are little echos like that, but twisted a little off kilter and I think it serves the movie well. Instead of the threat to Tony being someone in his circle aided by outside forces, the threat is an outside force aided by someone in Tony’s home country. It gives the movie a wider scope while still keeping it ‘personal’ to Tony Stark himself, what with Tony having taken on the security of the United States as his personal mission.

So okay, Vanko and Hammer end up working together, and might I say that both Mickey Rourke as Vanko and Sam Rockwell as Hammer are phenomenal. Rourke totally throws himself into the character of Vanko, a brilliant man who has nothing to lose and the willingness to use whatever is given to him in order to carry out his plans. Rockwell is his usual amazing character actor self, doing smarmy just a few notches down from Zaphod Beeblebrox. With enemies like that, one would think that would be all the movie needs. Except no, it doesn’t. It needs some more for Tony. Now, personally I think it gets a little messy here, working in some personal growth for Tony with a plotline about his father leaving him a sort of map to making a new element that will change the world, and it meaning that Tony’s father really loved him even if he never said it, and Tony needing to grow up a little. That’s great. I get it. I get that in the first movie Tony went from being this totally vapid playboy who happened to also be a scary engineering genius, to someone who had a purpose and a goal and a mission. And I get that they wanted to continue it.

But it doesn’t really fit quite right. In the end it feels like it was all an excuse to get Tony all buff and Building Things (not that I mind, that is one awesome sexy scene of totally fake science) and to get Nick Fury back on screen in something other than a post-credits teaser. It doesn’t feel essential except as a means to an end, not as a true part of Tony’s emotional development. What was great about how it was all done in the first one was that the building of the suit and its development, Tony becoming Iron Man, was the emotional growth. It fit so perfectly because the suit was the point both for the character and the action. And that’s not the case here. Yes, the new element Tony makes in his shop (science does not work that way!) is an essential plot point and there’s this whole thing with palladium poisoning and Tony realizing his own mortality, but the movie kind of could have happened without it. We just wouldn’t have gotten the Tony Stark Has A Purpose construction montage.

There are some fantastic bits to the movie, don’t get me wrong. I love it. I even love Scarlett Johansson’s character, who plays a bit of a foil for Pepper and for Tony and ends up kicking a phenomenal amount of ass and dishing out put-downs in Latin. Essential to the plot? No. Fun? Yes. I’m also pleased that Don Cheadle really stepped up to the plate as Rhodes, because I loved Terrence Howard in the role in the first movie and I was nervous. I like Don Cheadle, but I hadn’t seen him in this sort of role before and I didn’t know what to expect. He delivered, and that’s awesome because he really does have an essential part in the plot and a much expanded role on screen. I love the final action sequence, even the expected joke with the “Ex-Wife” and all. I love every scene Pepper is in, being both flustered by Tony (few aren’t, so I excuse that) and utterly capable and efficient and unflappable in a crisis. I love the banter and I love Tony in general and I love Captain America’s shield in the shop. I love Agent Coulson and Jarvis and Nick Fucking Fury. The movie is absolutely full of things I love.

It gets sloppy in places. It tried to do a little too much here and there. The focus could have been pulled a little tighter. Tony’s relationship with his father could have been worked in a little more elegantly. But for all that, it’s still one hell of a movie. It’s fun. It’s action. It’s amusing and fast and has great performances from the entire cast. Of course the action’s great, with the briefcase Iron Man suit and the showdown in the garden and Tony and Rhodes fighting in Tony’s house. But then there are little moments, like Hammer ordering his aide to try and put a robot head on like a helmet? Tony hacking into screens showing evidence during a hearing (and using a text-based terminal with an ASCII “WELCOME TONY”)? The look on Rhodes’ face while Hammer gives his spiel? Agent Coulson’s threat to Tony? All fantastic. So yeah, sloppy. But when there’s so much fun, it’s hard to care much.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Iron Man 2

September 29, 2010

Iron Man 2

We watched this movie in the theaters with our good friend A. It was only after we had watched the whole movie that she revealed that she had never seen the first movie. She thought she was coming along to watch a simple summer action movie full of explosions and fun. I have trouble imagining just what she must have thought watching this movie. The first Iron Man is an origin story, concentrating on the creation of Iron Man and Tony Stark’s redemption from being an irresponsible but brilliant cad to being a super hero with a conscience. It’s a fairly straight forward movie with a pretty simple arc. This movie, on the other hand, is a sequel to a successful action film, and so it has to somehow juggle being bigger and more explosive than the first film with providing something new for fans. Without losing the charm of the first one.

It’s a difficult challenge to take on, and for the most part it works, but at times it has a kind of thrown together feel to it. The problem is that in an attempt to ratchet the whole experience up a little the film makers have tried to mix together too many plots. Some of them are compelling, and some of them are less so, and the resolution of at least one of them is disappointingly deus-ex-machina and doesn’t feel to me like it fits with the world of the film.

Let’s try to identify the main plots: There’s the one about how Tony is literally killing himself by being Iron Man. The palladium that he uses to fuel his portable arc reactor is poisoning his body at a frightening rate and he only has days to live. Then there’s the super-villain of the movie, Ivan Vanko, who is a tortured soul who believes that Tony and his father are responsible for Ivan’s father dying alone and without acclaim in Russia even though he was partially responsible for the creation of the arc reactor technology. Then there’s the plot about Tony’s relationship with his brilliant father (or as I think of it the Venture Brothers plot.) Then there’s the plot about how the US government wants to have the Iron Man suit technology for itself led by Senator Stern and military industrialist (and Tony Stark wannabe) Justin Hammer. Then there’s the plot about SHIELD wanting Tony for some end of their own. Throw all this together in a blender with some romantic subplots as well and you eventually get Iron Man 2. I suppose it’s impressive that the finished product works as well as it does.

That it works at all is almost entirely due to the acting and directing talent on display. Not that I want to belittle the special effects. There are a ton of great action sequences as, in keeping with the whole “turning it up to eleven” theme Tony and his friend Rhodey have to fight off an entire squadron of mechanised attack drones. But the movie wants to be more than an action film. It wants to have a heart in the way that the first movie does, and that relies on the actors to make it all work.

As with the first movie I get the impression that much of the dialog is improvised. I’m sure they had a script, but it’s just there to provide some sound bytes and present a skeleton for the actors to hang their performances upon. Leading the cast once again is Robert Downey Jr, who plays Tony with a kind of self-absorbed fatalism for much of the movie. Everybody else just has to keep up, and for the most part they do. Gwyneth Paltrow has done this with Robert before of course so she does a great job of working with his patter. Replacing Terrance Howard as Rhodey we have Don Cheadle, which threw me at first but very soon I found myself enjoying his interpretation of the role. I love seeing Sam Rockwell in anything, and he’s marvelous as the smarmy Justin Hammer. Garry Shandling has a very small part as Senator Stern, but he goes for the gusto and manages to get the last line in the movie (if you don’t count the bit after the credits.) Director Jon Favreau has given himself a significantly larger part as Happy Hogan, going from a sort of cameo and nod to the comic books to a major supporting character. Scarlett Johansson plays the uncannily perfect assistant from Stark’s legal department who turns out to be much more than she at first appears to be. Samuel L. Jackson gets to take his portrayal of Nick Fury from being just a crowd pleasing post credit bit to a completely badass muthaf*cker. I look forward to seeing more of him in this role.

And of course there’s Mickey Rourke, fresh from his Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler, as Ivan. His performance is wonderful to behold, and I somewhat feel that it is wasted. He’s a great and powerful bad guy, but there’s so much else going on in this movie that he doesn’t have the impact that I think he could have had. I mean – look at all the actors I listed in that last paragraph there. Look at all those plots. When you try to take on so much stuff then you can’t really do justice to the bits that deserve more screen time.

Another weak part of the movie is the way it rushes to resolve all its plot threads. I feel short changed because so much needs to be tied up so quickly at the end that there’s no time to linger on any one point. The whole plot of Tony’s mortality, which I felt to be one of the most compelling bits of the movie, is resolved in a very off-hand manner through a montage and some magic tech that WOULD NEVER WORK THAT WAY ANYHOW! Ivan is reduced from a menacing terror to a somewhat rote evil-doer. There’s a whole lot that just isn’t resolved at all, except through so me quick dialog bits. Like the daddy issues for both Ivan and Tony – I thought there were going to be more revelations there but it’s just “Nah, Ivan’s dad was evil after all and let’s get on with the rest of the movie now.”

Still, for all its failings I really enjoyed the movie. Mostly for all the great little bits, the sparkling performances and the memorable one-liners. In most other hands this movie would have been a complete disaster, but Jon and Robert manage to carve something cool and amusing out of it. It manages to be lighthearted and a lot of fun to watch, with some fantastic action and special effects. I just wish that we had shown our friend A. the first Iron Man movie, so that she could see how much greater this could be without all the extraneous baggage of a sequel.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments