Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Iron Man 2 Review

Hey, look who's back!

Seeing Iron Man’s likeness on the window of the Burger King on Main Street reminds me that it’s that wonderful time of year once again.

When you’re looking for big budget effects and flashy action scenes, there’s nothing like the summer movie season. You could say it already came more than a few weeks ago with the opening of Kick Ass, but having not seen that film yet I’d say the cream of the blockbuster crop so far is the more recently released Iron Man 2, directed by Jon Favreau and written by Justin Theroux. Oh, before I forget, there are spoilers ahead, so be careful.

This movie starts off well after the events of the first Iron Man movie, as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), thanks to the deeds he’s performed as Iron Man and the decisions he’s made with Stark Industries has, in his own words, successfully privatized world peace. It’s implied that he has somewhat of a good relationship going with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his company’s profits seem to be in the black, and life just can’t get any better, right? Wrong. It turns out the suit he uses to save lives around the country and the globe is killing him, as the arc reactor in his chest that keeps shards of shrapnel from entering his heart is giving him an unhealthy dose of palladium, resulting in the very visible effects of palladium poisoning. On top of that, the supremely bitter Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of one of his father’s business partners and collaborators, has developed his own version of the arc reactor technology, complete with laser whips, and is out for revenge against Stark for supposedly ruining his life. Things get more complicated when his first fight with Stark catches the eye of both the government, which wants Stark to hand his technology over to the military for further development, and of the CEO of Hammer Industries Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a competitor who wishes to work with Vanko to develop his own variation of Stark’s multi-billion dollar tech as well. Hopefully, with the help of friends and allies such as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Stark can set everything straight.

A lot of the secondary stars of this film ended up surprising me more than anybody else. I initially thought Cheadle was going to be quite jarring as the new Rhodey, but I thought he did just as good a job as Terrence Howard did in the first film. Scar Jo also gave a pretty good performance as Widow. Of course, RDJ and Paltrow shine with the best performances out of all of them, with their characters portraying the proper mood along with events as they unfold in the story. Paltrow’s performance was especially strong; from the shock and gratefulness she feels when Stark makes her the new CEO, to the stress she is going through later in the film when having to deal with the responsibilities of running the company and dealing with Stark’s secrecy and erratic behavior. The weakest performances in the film definitely have to be Jackson’s Fury and Rourke’s Vanko. Fury in this movie cam off as sort of cheesy and heavily rehearsed, which for a lot of Jackson’s roles these days seems to be par for the course. This is unfortunate, because I like Jackson as an actor, but while I realize the character was practically modeled just for him, I still thought he laid it on a little too thick. Vanko seems to have the opposite problem; a lot of his role seems a bit phoned in. Beyond the two qualities we saw, being a super smart engineer and being all vengeful, he didn’t really seem to have much of a personality to speak of, and while that might not entirely be Rourke’s fault, his acting definitely makes it look that way. Also, while we got to see more of him than we did of Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger in the first film, he still kind of suffers from lack of exposure, especially since during the middle of the film he is mostly waiting and plotting rather than actually doing anything.
Scar Jo here, along with Rockwell, RDJ and Paltrow, all give pretty good performances.

Speaking of the middle, the pacing of this movie really seems to slow down when we get to the deeper parts, most of them involving either Stark feeling futile about his life as the palladium poisoning causes it to slip away, or Vanko brooding and plotting his revenge. I realize that scenes like that might need a little more time, but I just thought they didn’t mesh all that well with the much faster action beats that we saw shortly after the beginning and near the end. Those action scenes were of course great, with some solid fight choreography and some really good dialogue from the characters that kept them entertaining. My favorite ones had to be the one where Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Black Widow break into Hammer Industries, and the final fight with Vanko, Iron Man and Rhodey. In both scenes, the heroes play off of each other really well, and come up with really creative moves and strategies to take down the thugs they’re up against.

Admittedly, while the action meshes well with the story and the story seems to be good enough, at least for a comic book movie like this, some elements of the plot seem a bit weird. For example, I know that Stark is a super genius and all, but creating a brand new element? Along with having his father map it out for him while he was still a kid, and the fact that it’s just what he needs to cure his poisoning? I could Google a bunch of arguments as to why this is very implausible, but then I remember that science in comic books isn’t usually on par with the real world, and promptly calm down. I am still a little irritated that it turned out to be such a MacGuffin. I also have to say that while I admire Marvel’s recent attempt at making their superhero films consistent by giving them their own continuity, I’m not sure I appreciated all these references to films that aren’t even out yet. I think this is something I’ll just have to get used to as other films come out, but it’s just kind of annoying that it’s so constant in this movie, especially in the third part and the teaser after the credits.

In short, Iron Man 2 has its own issues with plot elements and weak performances, but it surprised me in how much it got out of some characters as well as the story. I don’t know if it or Kick Ass is the superior super hero movie so far (once again, I didn’t get to see Kick Ass), but it’s certainly a pretty good movie on its own. I can’t wait to see what else this summer will have to offer.

Images courtesy of Eclectic Electronics, Coming and trademark Marvel Comics/Paramount Pictures/Disney.