Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iron Man 2 Review - Solid Awesome

Well I went to a late night showing of Iron Man 2 amidst a crowded theater and a line that stretched out the doors. But this was one of those movie events you just have to see because it radiates awesome on so many levels. Now it's a common theme for movie sequels to be a big deal, especially ones coming off the heels of a first movie that was so successful. Many times they can fizzle out, coming off as so contrived it feels like the producers just took some bums off the street, gave them a case of tequila laced with LSD, and had them hammer out a plot that the studio could slap together with some flashy gimmicks to make more money. Iron Man 2 doesn't have that problem. It feels like someone put more work into it than your standard sequel. It was going to make money no matter how good it was, but it's comforting when it's good enough to warrant this title as an awesome successor.

Iron Man 2 picks up about six months from where the first movie left off. In that time Tony Stark has revealed to the world that he is Iron Man and since then, he's been using his suit to trot around the world blowing shit up and making peace with an iron fist. Most people know this line from the previews.

"I have successfully privatized world peace."

That's not an bullshit statement. He's effectively cut out the middle man when it comes to peace making, namely the government. As such, he's got no bureaucrats up his ass telling him where and when he can kick ass. Of course, the government doesn't like that. Congress led by Senator Gary Shandling accuse him of making them look bad (as if that's hard for anyone who has ever had to go to the DMV) and demands he give the Iron Man suit to the military. Of course he says no and this opens up one of the major themes to the movies.

From the beginning Robert Downy Jr. plays up all of Tony Stark's charming personality and by charming that also implies his douchebag tenancies. He really gives a sense that Tony Stark may not be privatizing peace just because it's the right thing to do. It often comes off as an ego trip, a guy trying to carve a legacy for himself because he didn't like the one he had in the last movie. It does come off as selfish and altruistic at the same time and few actors could pull that kind of thing off. Downy does it as easily as a line of cocaine and it makes for great movie magic.

Downy's brilliance is well complimented by the awesome sexiness that is Scarlett Johansson. She takes on the role of a "Legal Assistant" who helps Tony in transferring the role of CEO to Pepper Pots. Of course, she's too hot for that shit. She's really a badass secret agent named Natasha Romanov, aka the Black Widow, working for Nick Fury (played by the super cool Sam Jackson) and SHIELD. Her job, other than looking hot, seems to be tempting Tony Stark's piss poor will-power and giving him some lousy advice about what to do if he's dying. She also analyzes him for his potential role in the Avengers initiative (hinting at yet another movie down the road), which is less than stellar. She eventually joins in the ass-kicking, looking super skilled and super hot in the process. Some of the things she can do with her legs are deadly, but seriously you might just envy the men who died like that because what better place to leave this world than between Scarlet Johansson's thighs? Not a bad way to go out.

This is also where Ivan Danko, aka Whiplash, comes in. Ivan, who is wonderfully portrayed by Mickey Rourke, sees through Tony's charm. He's one of those villains who naive viewers think he's just an asshole looking to make trouble, but if you watch for more than two seconds you'll see there's some truth behind the madness. Danko has the resources to prove his point. His father worked for Tony's father, Howard Stark, and was essentially shafted. He was like a stray dog someone would bring into their home because he looked lost and abused, but the second he took a shit on the rug they kicked him to the curb. The general idea here is that dog had a puppy and it grew up to be a vicious little mutt that went back to bite the previous owner in the balls. That vicious mutt is Danko.

He showed everybody that Iron Man isn't invincible and made his own suit using technology left to him by his father. He ended up using it quite well at that, taking on Tony and messing him up in broad daylight in front of a global audience. It was the superhero equivalent of pulling down his pants and showing the world he had hemorrhoids. From here, Danko gets the attention of Justin Hammer, the other big villain of the movie who Tony Stark has gone out of his way to discredit and humiliate as an incompetent, dim-witted competitor in the world of weapons manufacturing. He's such a jackass to this guy you almost want him to get Danko's help because nobody deserves that kind of lampooning, even if they are a rich bastard.

While Hammer and Danko start working together, Stark is going down a path of self-destruction that Keith Richards himself might step back from. In the last movie his love of decadence was well-demonstrated, but it's different this time around. This time, Tony is suffering from blood toxicity caused by the chest plate that's keeping him alive. So he doesn't believe he's going to be alive much longer. What's the most logical thing to do in that respect? What else? Get pissed faced drunk, throw a party, destroy your house, and completely alienate your friends in the process. This is where the guy who always defends him, James Rhodes, basically strikes out and takes one of Tony's suits to the military where they make it into War Machine.

It all comes to ahead at the end when Danko once again makes Hammer look like an incompetent tool, hijacking his new Iron Man knock-offs and attacking Stark's expo. It makes for some great explosions, some kick-ass fighting, and general over-the-top action that one would expect from a film taken from the annuls of Marvel Comics.

So what does the final product come to? Well it definitely rides the tidal wave of hype and manages not to fizzle out, so there's that. But compared to the first film, there wasn't much of an improvement. In fact, in some ways it felt a lot more disjointed. The action, dialogue, and plot didn't flow nearly as well or as naturally as it did in the first movie. At times the cinematography reads like it was edited by a 15-year-old crack addict with carpel tunnel syndrome. The dialogue was also pretty off at times. It sounded nowhere near as conversational as the last movie or most movies for that matter. When the characters talked, it sounded like they were reading it from a teleprompter and not trying to add a personal touch. I get that this is a movie of big explosions and pretty technology, but that alone an awesome movie does not make.

Then there were the little things. Gwenth Paltrow's portrayal of Pepper Pots didn't change much from the last movie and that in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but you expect a wee bit more progress in the character than this. She sounded downright whiny and bitchy at times, like a spoiled rich girl complaining that her daddy was having fun without her. Granted, she still had great chemistry with Downy, but she lacked the maturity she had in the first movie. Mickey Rourke's performance was solid too, but at times his character came off as flat. When he spoke, it didn't have much personality behind it. He sounded as though he was overacting at times, like he was not really into the character and trying too hard to be like the comic book. There's a limit to that because his lines were limited and when he did speak, it was short and contrived. You get the sense there was depth to Danko's character, but Rouke never got to flesh it out. Now while Scarlet Johansson's portrayal of Black Widow was sheer hotness, it takes more than boner-inducing looks to pull off a character. She came off as flat as Rouke at times. Plus, she didn't even have an accent! How can you do Black Widow and not have that distinct Russian accent? Rouke made it work well. Why couldn't Johansson?

Take all these peeves, throw them into a blender with the rest of the movie, mix it all up, and you'll get something you won't chug every day like chocolate milkshake laced with crack. But you'll get something that's bearable and tasteful, enough to make you glad you indulged and enough to make you want to indulge again. But it's nowhere near the sheer ecstasy of other kick-ass sequels like The Dark Night, X2, or Spider-Man 2. It is still awesome in it's own light. It stands on it's own as a worthy successor to the first Iron Man. And wouldn't you know it? There was one last scene after the credits that hinted at the next big Marvel movie. I'll give you a hint. It involves a guy with a hammer who talks like he's spent one day too many at a Renaissance fair. Nuff said.

So what's the final verdict? For all it's faults and successes, Iron Man 2 gets a 3.5 out of 5. It has plenty of charm, but not the revolutionary imagining that the first one did. It keeps the appetite hungry for more, building further to the eventual Avengers movie set to come out in a few years. There's a lot to love and it's perfectly acceptable to say that Iron Man 2 is kick-ass awesome and one of the best movies of the year so far.

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