Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Iron Man 2 - Movie Review


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.

Favreau does a good job of directing the action sequences and making sure things kick along nicely. It felt like maybe it got a tad slow in the middle, and this was possibly felt more than usual because Iron Man leaves screen for a little bit, but when every actor is firing so strongly Favreau did the right thing and let them take centre stage.

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.

Conclusion

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.


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34 comments:

Monch said...

Ryan: I saw in Costa Rica this past weekend (This is the first movie I can recall that was screened here before the US) and I agree with most of your review:

It's a great movie, not better than the 1st one, but more of a continuation of it. It has more mature topics (e.g Tony alcoholic disease takes more center stage) but still has its light hearted side that I liked from the first one.

Defintely a must see movie of you like comics and I think its one of the best Marvel has made.

On the easter egg: Agree. Great Marvel Geek moment for me :D. But I saw the movie in spanish dub (not subtitles) and in spanish, was said could be translated to "it" or "him" in english as it's vague at what Coulson is reference to (a thing or a person). (I would need to see it again with English voice track to verify this)

Deicide The Everliving said...

This movie was awesome all around to me. I loved how the action sequences are few but quite good, taking a backseat to the story and the characters. I biggest beef against Hollywood action movies right now is because special effects and action sequences rule out story and character development, and I think this movie balanced both aspects quite well. Loved it from start to finish!

I-van the Crippler said...

anyone know where i can find that last picture used in the review?? preferably large size and better quality???

Matt Ampersand said...

It turns out that the reason this opened up everywhere else before the United States is football (or soccer, if you are American). You see, the World Cup is starting in a bit over a month, so they wanted to make sure that there was a whole month of Iron Man 2 in theaters before that started. A month is usually how long movies stay in theater, and they figured that a lot of the people that are interested in Iron Man are also interested in football, so they wanted to give it enough time in the theaters to make as much in the box office as possible.

The more you know! (I read this on CBR, I originally thought it was because May 1st is a holiday in many places, so they wanted the movie to be open by then)

@Ivan: It's a fan-made poster. Comics Alliance made a spotlight on them here

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/05/03/iron-man-2-posters/

Space Jawa said...

I got my ticket yesterday, so I'm going to see it regardless, but thanks for this review - it really sets me at ease after the mixed level of some of the other reviews I've read.

If it's within reach of the first movie, and I don't have any reason to expect it to change the world or anything, I've got a feeling I'll have a blast.

Philipe said...

You know it's funny...you say "it's not everything you want it to be" and then say "everyone wants the next Dark Knight" and then even dares saying "(even that flick had it's flaws)". Then I ask: to what superhero movie are you comparing it to? I don't think that a "perfect" superhero movie exists. And maybe such a thing will never exist.

Fanboys are always trying to be overly critical. I thought Iron Man 2 was amazing, almost as good as the first. Just as I think Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2 and Dark Knight were terrific films in their own time.

Were there flaws? Sure, ALWAYS:

-I never enjoyed Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man...he's NOT funny. But the movies overrall compensates for that.

-I did not enjoy Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and I absolutely hate Halle Berry as Storm.

-And oh for God's sake, Christian Bale's Batman voice has GOT to go.

Speaking of this one, I do think Scarlet Johansson was a poor choice for a Russian sexbomb superspy (I don't even think her version in the movie is Russian) and I also think they should have gone for the 616 Fury.

But these are minor complaints. Movies are tough, especially blockbusters like these ones. Just be glad it didn't turn out to be a Daredevil, a Fantastic Four, a Ghost Rider or a (yikes!) Elektra.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Phillipe - Interesting thoughts, and I agree, there is no 'perfect' superhero film, but there are perfect films, Shawshank Redemption really comes to mind when thinking about it, I don't see how anyone can find any fault with that flick, it is perfect. Is it wrong to expect a perfect superhero flick? Damn straight it is, but is it wrong to hope for one? Hell no, that's natural.

I will say The Dark Knight was pretty damn good, and Ledger's Joker really is one damn fine acting performance, perfect, quite possibly, and I don't say all this to knock Iron Man 2 down, I simply want to express the sorts of expectations I sort of had going in but the enjoyment I still had after the event. I'd like to think that in this review I didn't get to fanboy over critical, but perhaps that didn't come across...

Philipe said...

I understand but c'mon...Iron Man cannot really compare itself to a Batman flick. For starters, Iron Man has a comedic tone that the Batman flicks (at least the Christopher Nolan's ones) don't and will never have. Which makes it a "lighter" flick.

Plus, Tony Stark is not as a tortured soul as Batman, nor does he have a stellar rougues gallery as Batman's. So I do think it's unfair. You talk about Shawshank Redemption. I like that movie, but "perfect" is a matter of taste or point of view in my perception. Some say Titanic is a perfect movie...do you agree? I don't but I understand why people may feel that way.

Your talking about movies that carry a certain amount of darkness to them. Gloom. Unless Jon Favreau decides to do the Devil In A Bottom storyline, that's not the case with Iron Man. It's a whole different ball game.

I also usually have high expecations when it comes to movies about characters that I've loved and followed for years. But you know...look at Watchmen. It was as faithful an adaptation as possible. But was it a box office hit? No. Will it become a classic? Hmmm, I don't think so. I enjoyed it but it's certainly not for everyone.

My point is...even though I have high expectations from superhero movies, if the studio and the director don't screw it up (which, if you look at past examples happens most of the time), I already consider it a success, even if it doesn't win any Academy Awards.

Philipe said...

*sorry, I meant Devil In A Bottle (although Devil In A Bottom sounds fun lol)

Fenris said...

(SPOILERS) The good:
-The way Iron Man opens Stark Expo ("Ironettes"? Lmao!)
-Downey and agent Coulson.
-Nick Fury's "I've got my eye on you" line
-Rockwell is a great weasel, like Tony's nerdy little brother.
-Rourke's Monte Carlo entrance and the suitcase.

The bad:
-Very poor jokes (googling/ogling etc)
-The movie screeches to a halt after Monte Carlo, never to come alive again.
-I actually liked Gwyneth in the first movie but she is totally wooden here.
-Black Widow = Action Barbie Scarlett.
-Cheadle is a good actor completely wasted in a poorly scripted part.

The ugly:
-The final battle was incredibly dull.
-The director enlarges his part.
-Stark decided on a whim at the last second to do the race – so why should Rourke have snuck into the race crew? It makes no sense.
-A secretary is made CEO of a global company? Yeah, great idea.
-The resolution (the government is suddenly okay with Stark keeping the armor in spite of a recent huge fight with dangerous Stark-based creations destroying property worth millions of dollars? Idiocy!)

Philipe said...

@Fenris - God why bother then? You clearly didn't like the movie. Go rent Dark Knight again.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Hey Philipe - I get what you mean, perfect will always be something different to each person, especially where art is considered. I don't mean that this movie wasn't good enough, I certainly loved the shit out of it, to be honest, but I think I just wanted it to be that step more. I'm not disappointed, not technically, but I loved the first flick and wanted to see this one be better.

As for your commentary on Fenris' notes, I don't think he was saying the movie sucked, I think he just found more aspects that suspended his disbelief a little too much. I don't care about already suspending disbelief because a man wears a mechanical suit and fights crime, I mean watching a movie and having its internal logic be sound. Character motivation and scene linking is a different thing that you can suspend disbelief for.

Anonymous said...

Was that really the Captain America shield in the second Caulson scene?!? Why am I the only one talking about it?

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous #13 - I'm pretty sure Cap's shield cameoed in the first movie, so that might explain why less talk about it this time around.

Daniel Woburn said...

The reason for Iron Man 2's release in other countries worldwide is that the World Cup is fast approaching. They wanted to get the best audience returns they could before "everyone" in Europe (and many other countries beside) gets distracted by another boring football tournament. I don't think the USA qualified this year and I don't think the average American is overly concerned about "soccer".

Philipe said...

Hey Ryan...I get it. I just think that expectations were so high with this one that the movie could never ever possibly live up to it.

And I bet the same will happen to Christopher Nolan's next Batman flick in 2012.

Philipe said...

Two things really bothered me: The movie never attempts to explain why Ivanko decided to go with the whips. He could've done a lot of things with that tech, why whips? It'd been nice to know.

And why we never get to know their codenames? War Machine, Black Widow, Whiplash...it's funny. We the fans know who they are, but not the general public. This could have also been inserted in the movie in a belieavable way.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Philipe: Didn't Stark say to Rhodey something about him being a war machine during their fight scene? I don't remember the exact line.

Matt Ampersand said...

Also, if you guys want to discuss spoilers freely, you can go to this article that we just put up

http://www.weeklycrisis.com/2010/05/iron-man-2-roundtable-review-spoilers.html

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Philipe - I agree, expectation can be a killer, which is why you have to be realistic about it. Nolan's 3rd Bat-flick is going to suffer heavily for it, sadly. Just another reason to often stop when you're on top, Seinfeld style.

AS for names, Iron Man does ask Rhodey, during the fight in his house, if he 'wants to be the War Machine?" And as for the whips, Vanko does this because he hasn't mastered how to create the repulsor shooting technology, he can only send it along an appropriate conduit, so it was either a Darth Maul sword or the whips ;) I'm pretty sure Stark does mention it to Vanko in the prison cell scene, perhaps. While he blathers a whole bunch of other stuff.

Philipe said...

Yeah, I know Stark mentions it briefly but it's never stated that that's the armor's name. It's not that big of a deal, I just thought it would be nice to mention.

I can only imagine...a 10 year old kid who never read an Iron Man comic watches the movie and then wants to buy War Machine's action figure. And then he finds it, see the name written on it and thinks: so that's his name??

Philipe said...

Hey Ryan, as for your comment on "stop when you're on top" I'm not sure I agree.

It's like with comics. Astonishing X-Men was probably the best X-Men comic of all time. Does that mean Marvel should stop printing it? As long as people as clamoring for it...Seinfeld stopped but only after 10 seasons, which was fair.

I'm just bummed about the whole Spider-Man and X-Men reboots. I'm afraid is going to be something like Dawson's Creek but with CGI.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Philipe - I agree with you, but my stop on top rule has a caveat, it'[s only for that person. X-Men can continue, but Whedon was done. Very smart move on his behalf.

Even Miller took years to come back to Daredevil and only did so when he had something worth saying. Nolan is going to have major issues beating down the fanboy, and general public, expectation on his third flick.

Ivan said...

@Daniel Woburn: Yes, the USA qualified. Due to the fact that the rest of the Northern American continent somehow manages to be worse at football (except Mexico), but still.

Daniel Woburn said...

@Ivan: Touche!

Daringd said...

Iron Man 2....83/100 B-
Had a lot of problems with it. Should have been longer they touched on things but never developed them or they did and it wasn't enough. There was no need for Black Widow... just a waste.

I would have done the film a bit different

- I would have take the Senate Hearings out of the beginning

- I would of had the Whiplash attack on Tony be the reason for the Senate Hearings which turned Tony into a alcoholic which would have set up the third film to have full out Demon in a bottle.

-Take out BW completely she just didn't fit

- Also would of had Justin Hammer be in the film but less and have him be a HUGE part of 3

-More Whiplash

Anonymous said...

I love Iron man!! Robert Downey Jr. just doesn't let you down in this movie. He's really the last person that I would think of for a superhero but he's great in this, he's actually endearing. I love when a movie surprises you, another movie that I love that gives your brain a twist is Cycle(www.mypace.com/cyclethemovie). As far as Scarlett Jo - she's got to go! All she's got is looks, she's just not a very good actress.

harry potter said...

iron man 2 was a letdown. i found it dragged on, and mickey rourke's russian accent was pitiful. maybe i\m just being nitpicky.

tony stark jacket said...

iron man 2 is a actually very good movie and great art work

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