Wednesday, May 5, 2010
This movie has been stewing under quite some pressure for quite some time. Iron Man slipped out with invisible expectations and went on to become one of the greatest comic book films of all time, and I don’t believe my words are hyperbole. It nailed all it had to and then the fans, new and old, wanted more. So more this week they have received, but is it all they want it to be?
Here in Australia we got Iron Man 2 a week before the States (I have no idea why either) and so I had the pleasure of seeing it with a mate who likes comics and my wife who tolerates my love of them. Hit the jump to see the verdict in a non-spoilery fashion.
Iron Man is a superhero movie, it is the four colour page writ large, and it is a character piece, with lots of characters to focus on. We have a subdued, and emotional, beginning that introduces us to Ivan Vanko, as brought to the screen with gritty metal teeth and gnarly fingernails by Mickey Rourke. Compared to how the first film opened, this scene is restrained, poignant, an anguished portrait of a genius trapped in the lifestyle of a bum. Having read reports earlier in the year of the Russian polymath who solved a century-long math puzzle and won a million dollar reward, only to turn it down and continue living with his mother in poverty, I reflected on the fact that not all smart men are completely given the situation to showcase their skills appropriately. In this case, a villain is born.
The film then jumps to Stark Expo, and Iron Man’s entrance, and this is the sort of opening we expect from an Iron Man film. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and Robert Downey Jr chews the scenery like it’s snack time on a cud farm. Ever since RDJ introduced the Academy Award for Best Screenplay with Tina Fey I have wanted him to host the Oscars, but that might be hard to do when also taking down the award for Best Actor. He is possibly that good in this film, he’s the same old Stark as the last film, and who didn’t love that performance. If he can get award nominations for his Sherlock Holmes then he most certainly deserves on for his turn in Iron Man 2. He’s charismatic, funny, off-the-cuff, and flat out brilliant. He completely dominates the first half of this movie and I see no reason why he should not at least garner a nomination.
I would be very interested to know how much RDJ was able to improvise, and what was in the script. It seemed, to me, that plenty was simply flying from his mouth and they were lucky to catch that, though with Jon Favreau and Justin Theroux pulling the strings it may have just been a clever blend between the both to make all involved look good.
Mickey Rourke as the opposite of Tony Stark is quite good with what he is given. He has, what would appear to be, equal intellect but a completely different upbringing, different opportunities, and much more sinister motivation. His tale is one of revenge and he’s calculating in how he thinks he will get it. Some of the lines given to Vanko are brilliant; “If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit here and watch, as the world will consume you...” and Rourke relishes the ability to play them with open contempt. He hates everything the world has become and stands for, in many ways he is similar to the Joker in that his motivation is singular towards one man but it’s an entire ethos of anarchy that he ultimately promotes.
Sadly, some of the logic of Vanko is lost as I can’t honestly see why or how he progresses from some actions to the next. It seems that they built a very cool actor around dialogue and the performance and somehow lost the wholistic application of that man in the logic of the script. He’s not completely flawed but he does make some monumentally silly mistakes. In the end, he’s successful if you remember that he’s only one of a two-headed villain attack, with Justin Hammer providing the other half, and the image of Rourke walking down the race track with his orange coveralls tattered about his waist and those whips crackling with energy will forever be a pretty iconic comic flick moment.
If Tony Stark is the man always one step ahead, the futurist of the gang, then Justin Hammer is that poor kid always one step behind, pulling up his belt while running and throwing money at those ahead of him in the hope that they’ll turn around and notice him. Sam Rockwell plays him pitch perfectly (and I’d almost talk Best Supporting Actor, almost) likes he’s half snivelling little brother and half Brutus who is simply waiting for his moment. He’s the Rupert Pupkin to Tony Stark’s global dominance of brains, know-how, and charm. Hammer wants it all and possesses none of it, and just because he doesn't get a cool shiny poster with a matching toy doesn't mean he's not a real villain of this piece. Rockwell manages to make this character completely unlikeable but totally watchable. He’s got good lines throughout the film and you almost even want to feel for him, but on the end he is his own downfall.
These three actors push the film forward and, to me, the rest play their parts duly. Don Cheadle is pretty good as James Rhodes/War Machine, though in my mind War Machine is the Army version of Iron Man, he should have a more imposing size and voice to go with it. I picture him as a yelling training instructor and so I always saw someone more like Laurence Fishburne in the role. Cheadle does a great job in actually holding his own with RDJ.
Samuel L Jackson does have more of a role in this film, and the scene of Nick Fury and Iron Man, in full suits, chatting away in a booth at Randy’s Donuts was something you’d never expect to see and I completely loved it. It’s a juxtaposition of the genre, like superhero washed through the cloth of Seinfeld and Tarantino. I still don’t agree that we should be using Mark Millar’s Nick Fury, and I would have preferred the original incarnation, but there’s no doubting that SLJ does bring a charm and menace to the role that serves it quite well.
Gwyneth Paltrow brings her usual dose of standard to the role of Pepper Potts; she’s good (better than I usually think she is) but she’s not great. I have no problems with her there but the role could have been much more alluring if Christina Hendricks had been in the role, which quickly reminds me, John Slattery (also from Mad Men) does a very cool job of playing Howard Stark in old reel footage. It’s a cheeky little insight to where Tony really came from.
Scarlet Johansson was always going to look good as Black Widow, there was never any doubt. I think she does pretty well with the role, it’s just that she’s not given much of a role. It’s there, kind of, but seems like more of a scaffold for the plot and we’ll get more of her later, and I do think she’s a lock to be in the Avengers movie. The action sequence she has late in the movie is undoubtedly awesome but I couldn’t help feeling the video game platform logic and style of it.
I will also make mention of Gregg Clark as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson. He’s really turned a role that could have been wallpaper into something very cool and almost subversive. He comes across so pleasant in appearance and demeanour but you really think that he could do some damage if he needed to. He’s not a major player in this film but you get the idea Marvel are really going to keep him around. I keep waiting for him to turn up in the comics, and if he has then please let me know where because he’s a character that should not be wasted.
All of these pieces look majestic on the board, but do they play a good game? I think the story of Iron Man is good it’s enjoyable, it’s sadly a little simple at times but it pushes the movie along. It is interesting to note that Iron Man seems to take quite a break in the middle of the movie and it no longer feels like a superhero comic book flick but rather a thriller/dramedy with really good actors. It’s usually the action sequences that felt forced in, all of the interplay between the human elements worked very fine.
The movie knows how to be what it needs to be at certain times. It knows to keep a vein of comedy pulsing through every scene (Iron Man calling Hammer’s droids ‘Hammerroids’ is just one instance of inserting silly and making it work). At other times, the movie knows to put on its serious hat and attack some real drama.
As everyone knows, there is a sneaky scene after the credits. It seems to have been spoiled everywhere, which I won’t do because I don’t roll like that, but I will say the scene maybe goes for one minute, and it is absolutely awesome. This isn’t too much of a spoiler, but sources having him quoted as saying “we found it” but I’m pretty sure he says “we found him”, and you should really know who that him is. Great little Easter Egg.
I’m not sure what the equivalent verdict would be, as we usually do them, I’d certainly say go see this movie at the flicks. If you liked Iron Man you’ll like this, but don’t expect it to necessarily be better. It’s probably standing just behind the first movie, in touching distance really, but it’s not everything you want it to be, and let’s be honest, everyone wants the next The Dark Knight (and even that flick had its flaws). The movie is well worth a look on the big screen, and I know I’ll be buying it on DVD as well as soon as I can. As far as comic book movies go, this is still well up the list. At the end even my wife turned to me and summated her feelings by saying it was funny.
I would just hate to see this movie get flamed because it didn’t live up to the immense hype heaped upon it. It’s still a very good film and should be treated as such. The movie, to me, seems to perfectly encapsulate what comics are today, flecked with serious story, drama, and thrills, but also funny at all opportunities and never shying away from the need to see two tin men fight and destroy a home in the process. Go out, give it a look, and let us know what you think in the comments.