10 May 2010

IRON MAN 2 - Now With More Stuff

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

The first IRON MAN opened with no expectations - and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The second IRON MAN hit with the expectations of people's wildest dreams, and while it provided an entertaining, over-long 140 minutes, I was underwhelmed by the extraordinarily disjointed narrative, and the feeling of "We're gonna cram so much stuff in here, each cut will be filled with... stuff." 

It did, however, have Scarlett Johansson going all Emma Peel, so I'm not going to complain.  Much. Oh wait, yes I am.

IRON MAN 2 was an enjoyable thrill ride that had its moments of sheer geek giddyness.  Robert Downey Jr. was quite good as Stark - moreso in the quiet moments, when we learn he's dying and especially the wonderful scene involving an old-school corporate video and a message from his father - the ever-fantastic John Slattery of MAD MEN..  

The surprise of the film was Scarlett Johansson.  Sure, she's beautiful, sure she's hot.  But I was stunned that my favorite action scenes of the film involved her.  I would love to see a full-on BLACK WIDOW movie (given the recent news that Marvel is moving ahead with lower-budgeted films, I would not be surprised to see a solo Widow movie). 

Both Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell, while turning in perfectly serviceable performances, didn't have much to work with.  Neither was a threat to Stark.  Stark was a threat to Stark, but that's about it.  A hero is only as good as the villains he faces, and they certainly didn't deliver.  This isn't a new problem - the first film suffered greatly because of the lack of a truly intimidating and dangerous antagonist.

By dividing the forces of antagonism among two separate entitities who have to come together, screenwriter Justin Theroux lessened the impact of each individual antagonist.  Separately, Rourke would have made a dangerous foe for Stark - the fallen son, angrily tinkering in his primitive lab vs. the Golden God of Weapons Tech.  It would have been a fascinating battle of wills, backgrounds, and have a heavy thematic undertow of sons fighting their fathers' wars.

Sam Rockwell, so masterfully utilized in films like Clooney's CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, Ridley Scott's MATCHSTICK MEN, and his best work to date, in Duncan Jones' MOON, is little more than a whiny, scene-chewing, "second place is the first loser" version of Tony Stark.  It's this painful adherence to one-note villains (Tim Roth's Abomination in THE INCREDIBLE HULK and Magneto in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND for example) that cause Marvel movies to consistently entertain - but make for ultimately forgettable fair.

Making the hero their own worst enemy, as several Marvel characters are, makes for wonderful reading - but rarely does it make for a great film confrontation.  IRON MAN 2 is no exception.

Is Iron Man 2 a failure?  No.  As I said, it's a tremendously entertaining ride.  But I have to fault director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux for the disjointed nature of the film, compared with the much more tight, taut first film.  Expectations were through the roof for this film.  On the first film, Favreau didn't have the first film to live up to.  For the second-go round, he tried to outdo himself, and by doing that, shot himself in the foot by overcompensating and "amping" up everything - often unnecessarily.  However, instead of improving on the first film, he took that film's greatest flaw - the lack of an engaging villain - and brought in two less than engaging villains, which is the ultimate failure of the film.

None of the action scenes in the film (save the Black Widow raid on Hammer Industries - which should say something; I found the fight scene involving a secondary character who had less screen time than the perpetual motion machine on Pepper's desk to be infinitely more engaging than any of the bombastic 'superheros beating the shit out of each other' scenes) elicited more than a "wow, cool," followed by a "wait, what did I see again?", as Stark himself was so narcissistic that I never felt that HE cared if he lived or died.

Of course, he was going to live - so there's no danger.

Not unlike several movies that feature too many subplots, IM 2 didn't know when to end. The ending of the film was clunky, to say the least, so much so that it's been less than 24 hours since I saw the film, and I can't recall how it ended.  It could have ended so many different ways, and unfortunately, they chose the route of unmemorable.  

Some other mini-thoughts:

• Don Cheadle - I miss Terence Howard.  The chemistry between Cheadle and Downey is nowhere near the levels from the first film.
• Gwyneth Paltrow - had a little more to do this time out - wait, no she didn't.  She ran a company, was mad at Tony, then quit and kissed him.
• I did love Gary Shandling as Senator Stern (AKA Arlen Specter).

I'm not looking for Dark Knight levels of thematic dread and statements of the nature of duality in everything.  Some movies are meant to be popcorn (or in the case of the wonderful Shaker Square theater, beer).  But is it too much to ask for a summer film that does more than entertain, summer fair that actually sticks with you, instead of the forgettable IRON MAN 2?

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


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