Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Iron Man 2" review: not as good as the first, but still a great ride!

The early reviews started coming in, heralding that this movie was somewhat of a mess; two many characters / vilains, a disappointing last half hour, too much forward thinking about future movie tie-ins, etc. A couple of things critics are talking about I agree with, others couldn't be further from the truth. Essentially, the movie is a fun ride and I really enjoyed it! But some aspects could have been better.

BE WARNED!! There are a lot of spoilers coming up! So if you haven't seen the movie yet, stop reading NOW!

First off, Robert Downey, Jr. is once again a true joy to watch. Ultimately a storyline that was in the works would have had him (as Tony Stark) becoming somewhat of a hardcore alcoholic, only briefly materialized as a crutch to the poisoning of his body by the very device that's been keeping him alive. I'd read that the Iron Man graphic novel, "Demon in a Bottle", was to partly be the basis for the second movie. In the comics, Tony Stark became an alcoholic after the pressures of being Iron Man become too much for him. The volume was turned up on this concept in "Demon", which I own and am still trying to read, hopefully before the second viewing. This alcoholism could have been one of the things to bring the second film to the next level. Dealing with going over the edge while the world around him implodes. I think the reason they didn't go all out with his drinking is because they have to sell Whiplash Whoppers to the kids at Burger King...get it? We don't want to sell kids on being a fall-down drunk as well.

I was a little taken back when, at the very end of the first movie, Stark admits that he is indeed Iron Man. This was a daring move by Director Jon Favreau, but my concern was that this could turn into an abyss that there might not be any return from. The first trailers for "Iron Man 2" continued my concern, especially in the clips where Iron Man lands in front of an audience and de-suits while the 'Iron-ettes' dance behind him. Watching the movie last Friday, I became a little uneasy with how the story was portraying Tony's being 'out' and how unprotected he seemed in this world that would certainly be hounding his every move and perhaps threatening his ability to function. I understand the angle they were going for in his dealing with overwhelming celebrity, but it kind of took a weird turn from what the first movie established. The drunken party at Stark's mansion with him in the suit was the height of this. Weird and somehow out of place.

Don Cheadle definitely brings a new flavor beyond Terrence Howard's portrayal of James "Rhodey" Rhodes in the first film. Nothing against Howard (who I like), but I was glad to see Cheadle step up to the plate and make the character happen in all the right ways. His running dialogue with Downey during the movie's action finale is truly entertaining, fun, and funny. Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts gets kicked upstairs as the new CEO of Stark Industries. She and Downey have some good scenes together, and their overlapping banter is also fun to watch. Mickey Rourke brings the Russian bad guy in a way that you don't even need to hear him speak at times, although he speaks few words throughout the entire film. Sometimes you just love watching him listen to Downey or Sam Rockwell talk. I've always loved Sam Rockwell, and he does not disappoint with his slick corporate delivery, style, and competitive panache. He's the conduit to Rourke's revenge scheme. And then of course there's Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. Early press and trailers made it seem like there was some type of love triangle between Tony, Black Widow, and Pepper. Not so, as the film unspools. But she does kick some major ass in the one scene they've been showing parts of in every trailer and TV spot.

So the bottom line is....are there too many characters in this movie as the critics are decrying? I don't really think so. Although some of them could have been used more affectively, everyone has a specific purpose and I never felt like the screen was over crowded with them.

Speaking of attraction and love, there are actually a couple of clips that were featured prominantly in the trailer that ended up being cut from the final film. Those include a brief shot where Natalie (Black Widow's real name) is cozying up to Tony as she fires one of his repulsor gauntlets, and Tony asking Pepper for a kiss for good luck before jumping from the back of a plane to fly down to the Stark Expo. Instead, Pepper kisses his Iron Man helmet and throws it down the open ramp saying 'go get 'em, tiger'. His response, as he leaps out after it, is 'you complete me!' In the final film we see the back of Tony completely inside the Iron Man armor as the plane's ramp opens. Pepper is nowhere to be found as he makes his jump.

Composer John Debney captures some of the flavor from the first movie, keeping the rock guitar tone that Ramin Djawadi (LOVE his score!) brought to the first film. The only thing missing were some of the themes Djawadi wrote that should have been brought over into "2", much like what was heard in the tracks "Driving with the Top Down", "Gulmira", and "Vacation's Over" from the original. Overall, I felt Djawadi's score was pretty fresh and I have to say I like it just that much more. However, Debney's score is definitely good. Debney and Favreau worked together on "Zathura".

The effects are definitely top notch, most notably during the big battle that Iron Man and War Machine have with Hammer's and Venko's drones. Despite what critics are saying about how the second half of the movie falls apart or is uneven (I disagree), this sequence especially is a high octane blast! It's the moment in the movie when things kick into very high gear and you realize THIS is part of what you came for. BTW, Rhodey's armor, dubbed 'a War Machine' by Stark, absolutely, completely, and totally KICKS ASS!!! That's a team-up I definitely look forward to seeing again in "Iron Man 3"! Those electrical whips that Rourke's Whiplash wields are really impressive, and the Monaco race scene is thrilling. Him getting hit full-on by that car a few times and surviving seemed a little unbelievable, and as security was dragging Whiplash away it seemed as though he didn't have any legs...??? But he walks throughout the rest of the film. Going to have to check out that scene again on the second viewing to try and figure out what's going on. Strange.

Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury has a bigger role this time around, and Agent Colson is back from S.H.I.E.L.D., although his purpose ultimately becomes where the scene after the credits leads us. Some have said that that clip in the desert has nothing to do with Tony Stark or Iron Man so why is it there. Just a teaser for "Thor"? Frankly I liked it, although I wanted them to settle on the hammer for just another beat. Even though I'm really looking forward to "Thor" next summer, I'm still skeptical about this whole Avengers movie thing, and there is quite a bit of forward thinking in "Iron Man 2" which will ultimately lead to that. At times I feel like I just want Tony Stark and his armor to occupy his own space and not get bogged down with forming some team. Little hints and Easter eggs are great, but at times it seems like the movie loses focus here and there because of references to that team up. Again, more time could have been spent on Stark struggling with his alcoholism and Rhodey trying to prop him up while splintering off to help create the War Machine armor. When he takes Stark's Mark II suit after the big brawl at Tony's Mansion, it seems a little too easy for him to immediately know how to fly properly. There was a brief moment of orientation, but I felt he shouldn't have been able to just put it on and fly off aerodynamically perfect. He's a pilot, yes. But he's never put that armor on before.

Overall, "Iron Man 2" is a great ride! It's not perfect and not as good as the first movie, but it definitely keeps coming back to hit all the right marks in all the right places. Jon Favreau and "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan have questioned the lack of good third movies in any film series. Nolan even said right out (and I'm paraphrasing) "when have you ever seen a third movie be any good at all?". I came out of the screening on Friday thinking wouldn't it be funny if Favreau breaks the mold, coming off of "IM2" that's not really "The Dark Knight" or "The Empire Strikes Back" of the series everyone hoped for, yet ends up having the third installment be THE one. That would be truly awesome! Although it sounds like we're not going to get to see "IM3" until after "Captain America" and "The Avengers" movies come out. At this point Marvel has scheduled a 2013 release...three years from now!

Definitely want to see "Iron Man 2" again shortly, and in The Dome at the Arclight. Oh yes, and I'm O.K. now with the triangle shaped arc reactor Tony had to re-fashion with his Dad's help. Good origin in this movie as to why it's shaped that way. I've always maintained that the classic Iron Man look with the circular version should remain for the movies. The Triangular one is more the 90's comics take. Still want to see the circular reactor come back in the future.


At May 12, 2010 at 2:03 PM, Anonymous Allen Pinney said...

Great! Okay, I think you and I are pretty much on the same page with our reviews so here are couple of points I'll touch on.

1. I think that Rhodey had already logged some hours in the suit prior to this movie. Even though it's only six months later, that's plenty of time for the two of them to take the suits out for a little joy ride or two.

2. Jon Favreau has given himself a choice role in Happy Hogan. After all he and Pepper get married in the comic universe! Booyaa! There's a wedding to plan for IM3!

3. I actually made a noise (of joy and satisfaction) when they revealed Thor's hammer, that was very cool. I got all geeky fanboy right then! Love Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) btw, check out his career, he's quite accomplished.

Yup, time to go see it again.

AND... they showed the "TRON Legacy" trailer in front of the IMAX show... WOW!!!


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