Sunday, May 09, 2010
Movie Review: Iron Man 2
Paramount Pictures Iron Man 2 is arguably one of the most anticipated films of the year, attempting to deliver on what was considered one of the best, and most unlikely, comic book box offices success. Needless to say I was eagerly awaiting the release of the picture this weekend and headed out to a very early showing this past Friday. I can honestly say I was not disappointed in the least bit. Iron Man 2's success relies on the powerful performances it gets from nearly every member of the star studded cast and the great direction of the returning Jon Favreau.
Iron Man 2 picks up closely where the first film left off. Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, JR) is leading Stark Industry and has publicly admitted to being Iron Man, His business has never been stronger but the US Government is increasingly concerned about the thought of a privatized military weapon being in the hands of a public citizen and is desperately trying to get a hold of the Iron Man armor from Stark. Meanwhile in Russia, the son of a former scientist that worked for Tony Stark's Dad, Howard (Mad Men's John Slattery) named Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke) is angry at the legacy of hurt and embarrassment his family has suffered at the Stark's family's hands. Taking blueprints his father had comprised with Howard Stark in the 60's, Vanko designs an arc reactor like the one that keeps Tony Stark alive. Using that reactor and his own design, he creates an exoskeleton that emits whip like energy projections and vows revenge on Stark for making his father die in shame.
At home, Stark has discovered that the element that powers his arc reactor is slowly poisoning him and if he can't find a viable substitute, he will die. Placing his trusted assistant Pepper Potts (Gwynth Paltrow) in charge of Stark Industry, they head to Monaco along with his new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johanson). Deciding to relish the short time he has left, he decides to drive his own race car in the Grand Prix until he is confronted by Vanko. After a knockdown drag out fight he manages to stop Vanko and returns home with Pepper, despondent over the information that his technology is in other people's hands and representing a danger to people. Between that and the blood poisoning, Tony starts falling further into drinking and partying. In fact he falls so far that his best friend, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) steals a suit of armor and battles the out of control Stark.
Vanko is freed from prison by Stark's rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and agrees to build an army of drones for Hammer Industries. As Stark is confronted by Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and made to confront his demons, Rhodes takes his suit to the military and with the help of Hammer, outfit the suit with a variety of weapons. At the new suit's, dubbed War Machine, unveiling, Hammer shows off both his drones and the War Machine suit, not realizing that Vanko controls them all. Stark is forced to cage his demons and rush to the unveiling to stop Vanko, Hammer, and his best friend, from destroying everything he hold important.
The real key to this films success is the cast. Robert Downey, JR continues to show why he may be the best bit of casting in a super hero movie ever. The center portion of this film is very Tony Stark centric, and in most super hero films that is a kiss of death, people want to see Spider-Man and Batman, not Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Yet Downey makes his character so charismatic that even at his self-centered and narcissistic best, he electrifies the screen. Even when Stark bottoms out, you root for Downey's redemption BECAUSE of his ability to make Stark so likable. I also can't say enough about Gynwth Paltrow's under stated performance as Pepper Potts. She and Downey have an un-mistakable caustic chemistry. The romance is very much a throwback to the romances of the 1930's and 1940's, or for a more modern reference, like in Moonlighting. Where beneath the arguing and contempt they have are two people who love each other but just can't admit to it.
The supporting cast is great as well. Rourke as Vanko looks to be having the time of his life in the role, relishing in the over the top nature of his character but finding enough real menace and nuance in his performance to keep the character from being one dimensional. Don Cheadle steps into Terrance Howard's role of James Rhodes well, maybe even bringing a bit more gravitas to the performance. Scarlett Johanson as Natalie Romanov, of the Black Widow (though she is never called that) brings a great quality top the film. Her action sequence towards the end is great, really showing off the fight training she did and hopefully setting her up for a bigger performance in the Avengers movie. I was afraid that she would be more of a throwaway character meant to add some sex appeal for the fans, but I thought she added nicely to the role. Oh and added sex appeal. Even Sam Rockwell has Justin Hammer offers a great foil for Stark. Never having Stark's charm or luck, he manages to make Hammer both light and dark at the same time. Constantly balancing the dark overtones if the character with a comedic element that added the right amount of levity at the right time. My favorite bit of casting was John Slattery of Mad Men playing Howard Stark. Maybe it was a bit of type casting with his easy familiarity with the 60's era look that his scenes were in, but it was inspired.
I can't say enough things about the great casting of this movie, though you have to give director Jon Favreau credit for the job he did. He manages to take a huge sprawling movie and find a great blend of action, drama, and comedy and yet all the while allow his actors to breath and express themselves. Favreau, an actor himself in movies like Swingers, Couples Retreat, and in Iron Man itself as Stark's bodyguard and driver Happy Hogan) is really an actor's director. Understanding the craft of acting with his background, he allows the actors the chance to find themselves in the role, to do several different takes to find just the right one. He turns the process of directing into a collaborative effort and you can really see it in the performances of the actors, especially in Downey's.
The effects of course are spectacular. Like that should even be a question at this point. The script is solid as well, though I did have a few faults with it. The fight scenes between Rourke and Stark are a tad to short for my tastes. When Rhodes and Stark go at it, it builds to a climax, but when Rourke's character is involved I though the battles were a little quick. Provided, the final battle leading up to the confrontation with Rourke is great, I just wish it had given us a bigger payoff. Also much of the script borrowed elements from the seminal Iron Man tale, Demon in a Bottle, which chronicled Tony's descent into alcoholism. While I understand not wanting to do to much drunk Iron Man for fear of audiences thinking that they were ripping off the Will Smith super hero film Hancock, I would have liked to have seen the performance that Downey, a former addict himself, could have given as a bottomed out billionaire.
Don't get me wrong, I think they did a lot of things very well in the script, setting up not only the next Iron Man film, but establishing Stark's place in the wider Marvel universe teasing both the upcoming Captain America film and the next years Thor film. It also practically establishes the beginning of the Avengers movie setting up characters like the Black Widow and Nick Fury's role as the founder of the Avengers. In fact, with only one small exception which I won't mention, I thought most of the cameo stuff was fairly innocuous and un-obtrusive. Truthfully, the script had a nice blend of action and levity and it really allowed the cast to give very great performances.
All in all I thought Iron Man 2 certainly lived up to the hype. While maybe not as polished as the first film, it's certainly as enjoyable and as entertaining. Robert Downey, JR establishes himself as one of the most affable actors to watch on the screen, really capturing the audiences attention. Favreau continues to build on his bankable legacy as a director and is quickly becoming a box office force to be reckoned with. The film has a fabulous cast with great acting and it reminds us that films can still be fun and enjoyable blockbuster affairs without sacrificing story quality. Iron Man is a really good movie that elevated by the cast and crew to a better picture than you conceive because it is so apparent that the crew is having so much fun. You should definitely check out Paramount Pictures Iron Man 2 as it's clearly the front runner for the summer box office. Not because I said so, but because it's truly worth it.
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