Friday, March 23, 2012

Film Review -- Iron Man 2 / Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke

Disclaimer: This is a review I'd written a year or so ago, on another blog, slightly edited.  I figure with The Avengers film coming up soon, it'd be good to review the Marvel films that have led up to it, and it made sense to re-post this review rather than write a completely new-yet-similar one for Iron Man 2.  My basic feelings about this film remain unchanged from a year ago, anyway.  Enjoy!  

I'll admit, the teasers for this film made
 me drool!
When I saw Iron Man in theaters a couple years ago, I did not expect it to grab me the way it did. I knew a fair bit about the hero, I’d read some of the comics he appeared in, and I knew the basics of his origin story, but overall I wasn’t terribly impressed by the Tony Stark character. In fact, as my latest context for Iron Man in the comics had been the Civil War crossover, he was far and away one of my least favorite comic book characters at the time.

But, it was a comic book superhero movie, and I am a sucker for those kinds of movies. Plus, they’d used Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” song for the commercials and trailers, and I had to admit the fusion of two was pretty cool. Overall, though, I wasn’t expecting that much.

Then Robert Downey, Jr. goes and makes me like the character of Tony Stark. He’s an asshole, but darn it, if he isn’t one of the most likeable assholes you’ve ever seen in a movie. That totally effortless mixture of wit, ego, intellect and compassion came through beautifully on the screen, and coupled with the top-notch visuals and well-paced story, made Iron Man one of the most fun, high-flying and thoroughly enjoyable movie experiences of the genre.

I went and saw it in the theater six times. I’ve never done that for any other movie.

Then, two years later, Iron Man 2 came out, and of course, expectations were very high. Would it top the first one? Would it be as good? Personally, I didn’t think it would, if only because the first film had been such a surprise delight to me. But still, I had hopes, and maybe even a few expectations as to how good the sequel could be.

I think my reaction could best be described as lukewarm. Iron Man 2 certainly wasn’t a bad movie–I mean, it’ll never win any Academy Awards, but neither did the first one (which was, however, nominated in two categories). It was fun, and action-packed, and funny, but of course, it wasn’t going to touch its predecessor, truth be told. But it did have some unfortunate baggage, which I feel the need to point out and talk about.

1. Tony Stark’s blood poisoning–Almost from the get-go, the movie had me wrinkling my brow, starting with this little plot element. It’s not a particularly unbelievable development; ARC reactor technology, fictitious as it is, is relatively new in the movies, and a side effect like this could honestly develop over time for someone like Tony Stark. But unfortunately, it had an unshakable feel of storyteller’s remorse, as if he’d ended too happily in the first film and the producers decided, “Tony needs pathos, we’ll use this to suddenly give it to him!” This entire development occurs offscreen, and for a franchise that prides itself on building upon the universe it creates in its movies, this comes off as slipshod and annoying.

2. The “Magic Element” Cure for said blood poisoning–If anything were more annoying than the contrived development of Tony’s pity-inducing condition, the producers must have dug really deep to find it, because they found an even more contrived resolution! “SURPRISE, TONY STARK! Nick Fury and SHIELD knew your dad! And your dad just knew you’d invent/discover the new element that would be exactly the thing you needed to counteract your blood condition! Isn’t that sweet? And by the way…. deep down, your gruff, hard-working, jet-setting dad really loved you, and just couldn’t express it while he was alive. He was actually Howard Hughes by day, and Walt Disney by night.” (I hope that was as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write.)

3. The Villain–Okay, I’ll admit Whiplash was pretty cool to watch. He was creepy, and darkly intelligent, and was well-played by Mickey Rourke. My big problems with him tended to lie with the overall backstory of that character. Essentially, we are to believe that Vanko’s father worked with Tony’s dad at Stark Industries, helped invent the ARC reactor, was muscled out of the deal at the last minute and sent back to Mother Russia, where he and his son grew up in disgrace and poverty. When his father dies, Vanko discovers the plans for the ARC reactor his father had somehow saved, and uses them to create a suit similar to Tony’s for the purpose of taking him down. He is, essentially, the dark Stark: intelligent and capable, but using his gifts for evil.

Where did Vanko get the resources, the components, or even the raw materials to build his weapon? He and his dad were dirt poor, by all appearances. Where did he get the training and technical expertise to do this? You can be smart, brilliant, and so on, but that’s only going to get you so far in a specialized field of weapons development without a whole lot of training and experience. These were the questions going through my head during the film. It simply felt like his development (or lack thereof) was a vital part of the character that simply wasn’t given enough narrative heft to convincingly stand as the dark mirror image of the film’s hero.

4. The overall feel of “Let’s rest on the laurels of the first film!”–I’m sorry, but that’s what it felt like. Let’s let Tony’s suit and the special effects tell the story, rather than developing the characters in more or less believable ways! Let’s bring back Nick Fury and make him so much less cool than he is in the comics, even if Samuel L. Jackson is playing him! Let’s put Scarlet Johanssen in as the Black Widow, just because we can! Honestly, I was carried away by the first film because the story was plausible (for a superhero movie, of course) and fun. This was less of both, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the success of the first film made them a little lazier this time around.

Again, this wasn’t a bad film. It had some genuinely memorable scenes, such as Tony telling Congress, flippantly as you please, that he will not turn over the Iron Man suit to the U.S. government. His teamup with War Machine at the end to take on Whiplash and his army of Hammerbots (as I call them) was a lot of fun to watch. It just had some elements to it that made me cringe in places, and unfortunately they detracted from the overall experience. Hopefully that won’t carry through to the next film, but as with so many propositions, only time will tell.  Recommended.

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