Friday, 30 April 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Although it got crushed under the wheels of the The Dark Knight Juggernaut (hey, two comic book references in one), I thought Iron Man was one of the best comic book movies to come out in a while. The Dark Knight showed you could make a Serious Movie out of comic book source material, but Iron Man showed you could make a fun, light-hearted comic book film and still have it be... you know... good. A lot of that had to do with a great script that used witty, character-based humour rather than the usual corny one-liners and Robert Downey Jr.'s great performance. Different writer this time (the guy who wrote Tropic Thunder) but the same director and cast (save for Terence Howard, who is replaced by Don Cheadle).

After an awesome introduction at the Stark Industries tech conference (massive media attendance at a tech expo, now I know I'm watching a movie) Tony Stark heads to congressional hearing where Senator Stern (the great Gary Shandling) is trying to force him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the US Government. Stark claims that the technology is rightfully his and that other countries are years away from the development of similar Iron Man technology. His claim is proven false when he is attacked on a Monaco racetrack by rogue Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) sporting an exoskeleton based on his father's designs. Even worse, Tony Stark's miniature reactor technology, the only thing keeping him alive, is slowly poisoning him. As Stark tries copes with his terminal illness and increased governmental pressure the only way he knows how (booze and hot women), Stark's slimy corporate rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) breaks Vanko out of prison so he can help create technology to rival Stark's. However, Vanko has a plan of his own.

In the wake of The Dark Knight's success, I was worried that this movie was going to go in a darker, grittier direction and deal with Stark's self-destructive alcoholism, which was pretty major part of the comic books. Thankfully they keep thing pretty light, and although he has a drunken, super-powered punch-up with Rhodes that inadvertedly leads to the creation of War Machine, Tony Stark's rampant alcoholism is pretty much played for laffs. Which is a good thing. The first film made the wise decision to keep Downey Jr. out of the suit and in the spotlight as much as possible, and to the film's credit they do the same thing here. Maybe the one-liners aren't quite as polished this time around, but Downey Jr. is so great at playing this character I could watch him all day.

There's a lot of other great performances too. Mickey Rourke makes a great, quirky villain and Sam Rockwell (give this guy an Oscar already, Jesus) is fantastic as Justin Hammer. I don't know that Don Cheadle fares as great as Replacement Rhodes though. He and Downey Jr. don't have anywhere near the same chemistry that Downey Jr. and Howard had in the first film, although to be fair the script doesn't give them much time together. Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as Stark's long-suffering assistant (now newly promoted CEO) Pepper Potts is about on par with the first film, take that as you wish.

So, I guess it's full steam ahead with this Avengers thing? There are nods to the upcoming Thor and Captain America movies, and S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Initiative are referenced more explicitly than ever before. About an hour and a half in, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up so he and Iron Man can kick back for a bit of exposition and sequel-baiting. I don't know, it just seems a little out of place, like contractually mandated product placement. Even Scarlett Johansson seems a little superfluous as undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (spoilers, I guess) Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow. Despite her top billing she doesn't appear in the film all that much and displays a Costnerian approach to the Russian accent. Looks nice in a bodysuit though.

I really don't know what to think about the Avengers movie. Part of me is excited about a shared universe for these characters, but it really seems like they are counting their super-chickens before they hatch. We are talking about three (or more) different superhero franchises, all with extremely different characters and focuses. What if one of the films turns out to be a collossal shit-pile? I was pretty excited about the Captain America film back when it was going to be an Inglorious-Basterdz-style fictional account of WWII, but that's changed and now Joe Johnston is director. I mean, the guy has made some reasonably competent blockbusters, Wolfman aside, but he doesn't exactly get my blood pumping. Neither does the selection of Chris Evans as Captain America. I like the guy, but do you really want to remind people of those Fantastic 4 movies?

Then there's Kenneth Branagh's Thor. I think this is the part of the Avengers franchise that has the most potential to go spectacularly, horribly wrong. The science in Iron Man may be so soft that you can stuff your pillows with it, but it's a lot easier pill for audiences to swallow than a comic book version of Norse mythology, especially when the Norse God of Thunder is being played by a virtually unknown Australian soap star. That's not even taking into account Branagh's direction. The most commercial film he's made was that mediocre Frankenstein film from the mid 90s. I hope it will be good, because I think the mythological focus will make a nice change from the recent science-fictiony approach to superheroes. It make it a pretty interesting failure at least, especially if they can work in Beta Ray Bill or Frog Thor.

Whoops, I guess I got off track a little. Iron Man 2 was pretty good. Maybe not as good as the first one, but pretty damned enjoyable.

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