May 2010 Archives

Iron Man 2

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Last weekend kicked off the big summer movie season I guess, with Iron Man 2 premiering; after how much I enjoyed the last one, I was pretty excited to see what they did with the sequel.  I took the afternoon off on Friday and went to see it at a matinee, which was mostly empty (a situation I'm told changed quickly by Saturday).

The movie picks up six months after the last movie, with the US government trying to get a handle on the Iron Man issue.  Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a competing arms manufacturer, is doing his part to try and bring Stark down (and develop something to compare with Iron Man), and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is plotting his revenge, as Stark's father destroyed Vanko's father during the cold war.  Meanwhile, SHIELD is still trying to deal with Stark and the emerging Avenger Initiative as well; Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury has a bigger part, as well as Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson.

The big difference between this movie and the original is that while the first Iron Man was more of a character piece, with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark going through an introspective journey for the first two (or maybe three, depending on how to divide it) acts, Iron Man 2 is, by and large, a more conventional action movie, which is somewhat of a disappointment after three much more interesting superhero movies of the last two years (the original Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen).  While there's definitely some good character moments for Robert Downey Jr. in the movie, there's not nearly as much development, and that makes the resolution at the end seem a bit empty to me.  While the dialogue is, for the most part, very good, I think the script is just missing the character scenes that made the first one so good -- Downey's strength is that kind of acting, and if you don't give him that, you're wasting him to some extent.  I think the improv style of the first one probably made it a lot stronger.

I certainly can't fault the acting; all of the principals are top notch, and even with as many characters are crammed into the movie, it did not feel like they'd been wedged in for no reason.  They have a natural presence in the movie, but they also don't get a lot of time to shine.  Aside from Downey, Sam Rockwell does an amazing job portraying Hammer; you can tell that Hammer desperately wants to be Tony Stark, but can't quite pull it off.  Rockwell gets just the right amount of empty swagger to his step.

Rourke also manages to pull of "bruiser Russian physicist," which I'm surprised as anyone actually works.  His opening scenes are very reminiscent of Stark in the cave in the first movie (which I'm sure was intentional) and his opening confrontation with Stark (and the monologue he gives) drips with menace.  Later, however, he managed to portray just the right kind of "focused gearhead" kind of personality coming through his gruff exterior.

The other supporting characters work very well (including director Favreau, whose Happy Hogan gets a bigger part in this movie, but not annoyingly so), but none of them quite measure up to the level of the three principals.  Considering that they may be three of the best actors working today though, that's hardly a slight.  Don Cheadle does an excellent job filling in for Terrence Howard as Rhodey/War Machine, although I think Howard may have had slightly better chemistry with Downey in the first movie.  This could just be a symptom of the movie's action focus rather than character focus though -- there's no good scenes where we get to see the two of them just kicking back together like the scene in the first Iron Man on the plane.  Scarlett Johansson does a fine job as Black Widow, but only really gets two scenes to show her stuff.  She's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not sure that any other reasonably competent actress couldn't have pulled off the role.

The action scenes were pretty good, though I don't think any of them really knocked my socks off; I think part of the problem was that there was just less investment in them than there was in the first movie, where there was a much stronger personal stake in each of them.  The first confrontation between Vanko and Stark was probably the best, and the finale, while showy and pretty cool to watch, just didn't have the same weight to it.

On a minor note, the soundtrack for Iron Man seems to basically be AC/DC's greatest hits, and I was kind of disappointed that the score, which I actually liked in the first one, seemed to be missing.  I was waiting for the Iron Man theme to start up a few times and I never really heard it (maybe I just missed it though).

Overall, Iron Man 2 is definitely worth seeing; however, be prepared to be at least a little disappointed if you're expecting the same kind of character-focused piece that we had the first time around.  It's not a bad movie to be sure, however, and you'll probably enjoy it just for Downey, Rockwell, and Rourke's performances.  Hopefully, though, Iron Man 3 will be a return to the first movie's strengths.

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