Archive for April, 2010

I’ve seen Iron Man 2 twice now, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely both times. So much that I thought I’d like a second crack at writing a review.

The second viewing also made me realize that a lot of the con’s that I listed in the initial review post (see below) were things that really didn’t bother me at all. They were nit-picks, and not worthy of a second thought, so I won’t bother giving them one, either.

One itch didn’t go away though, and that the was the problem I had the story’s villain, or maybe the story as a whole.

What makes a good villain? That answer has a lot of facets, but ultimately I think it comes down the fact that he has to be genuinely dangerous. You have to believe that this villain is willing and able to hurt your protagonist. He has to be more than some fake foil that just serves as obstacle for the characters.

This is absolutely the case with the Joker in the Dark Knight, in addition to the all the other factors that make that character so interesting. It’s also the case with Whiplash. The character has both the resources & the inclination to cave in Iron Man’s helmet. I had no trouble believing that, but as a viewer, I also have to believe that there’s a plausible reason why villain X might succeed in defeating the hero. This can be achieved in a myriad of ways, of course. The villain might have the backing of a vast, evil empire, or he might be so insane & so brilliant that even Batman might have met his match.

The villain’s “cover”, so to speak, can nearly always be picked apart with some thought. There’s no way Batman is gonna lose, right? Of course not. But in the thrill of the chase, you’re supposed to be so distracted by the engaging way the story is told that you just turn off that analytical part of your brain. At the same, it’s reassuring to know deep down that you’ll walk out of cinema having supported the winning horse all along, but for the villain to serve his purpose, he has to make you doubt yourself.

And for that to happen, you need to give the villain some scenes to play in. Without spoiling much, I can tell you that Whiplash doesn’t get the same amount of screen time that, say, the Joker got in the Dark Knight. No surprise there, right? But Iron Man 2 suffers from the lack of a proper act 2 in the villain story. The villain must be introduced, he must be revealed to be threat, possibly such a big threat that the hero loses, only to turn the tables on the villain in the third and final act. The rise & the fall of the villain, so to speak.

That’s a very “textbook-y” example though, and not by any means the One True Way to tell a good villain-story (even though the Dark Knight falls pretty squarely into it). The problem with Iron Man 2 though (and Iron Man 1, too, but in a different way), is that the story is obviously not focused on the villain at all. It’s a fun-lovin’ story that enjoys spending time chit-chatting with the characters. It’s a story that’s more effective as set-pieces than as a cohesive whole.

The only character with any kind of arc is Tony Stark, and his arc has little to no correlation with the arc of the villain. And even that character arc is driven by a plot set-piece; not by Tony Stark’s motivation. I wanted to see a bit of redemption in Tony. I wanted to see him grow as a human being. But most of all, I wanted to see him Want something, so that I could Want him to achieve it. Instead, I got the same things I got in Iron Man 1… and nothing more, save some new cool characters & a set-up to the Avengers.

But again, this isn’t a rant about “the big failure of Iron Man 2“. I happen to think that the movie was very successful in nearly every respect. It may not contain a lot of well-developed instances of true Drama (the ones that are there are a bit contrived), but it gave you more Tony Stark, it introduced Nick Fury & Black Widow properly, and it served as the franchise set-up to The Avengers. It never pretended to be anything other than Another Popcorn Flick, and I can’t hold it any other standard without it reflecting more on me than on the film itself.

And for a popcorn flick, Iron Man 2 fucking rocks.

It’s got the quote-worthy one-liners. It’s got the sex-appeal and the slickness it requires; it never once has to resort to camp. It’s got characters that are both easy to relate to and to understand. It even has the required minimum of three big action set-pieces. Man, let me tell you – you can’t fucking dream up a better action movie. It has to be carefully crafted & polished, and while the armor turned out to have a few dents in the otherwise perfect gleam… well, that’s just how it goes.

Nothing is perfect, but a lot of things are more than good enough. Iron Man 2 falls into that second category, but at the high end of the bell-curve.

I for one am well pleased. I hope you’ll feel the same way.



Iron Man 2

Sequels are a bad idea to begin with. How many good sequels have you seen, huh?

– Well, there was the Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, and you know… the Dark ‘effin Knight

Oh yeah… You’re totally right.Those were awesome.

– I know! But I forgot a movie —

Really? Which one, dear incorporeal-voice-of-dissent?

– Why, a little film called Iron Man 2, of course!

Two years ago, I got my brains firmly plastered on the ceiling by the awesomeness of Iron Man, and my muscle memory still has sweet dreams about the grin I sported when I walked out after the credits had rolled. It remains to date one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema, and now, nearly two years to the day after I first met Tony Stark, I got to go visit him again.

Did it disappoint me?

In short: No.

In long-erish: Well, you’ll have to read on, then.

  • Robert Downey jr. is awesome as Tony Stark. Hands down my favourite on-screen superhero.
  • The Iron Man suit still looks wickedly awesome on the big screen, and this time there’s also a War Machine and various other robots to oogle at.
  • The Stan Lee cameo is short, but it’s there. Keep your eyes peeled, True Believers!
  • Scarlet Jo as Black Widow is incredibly well-handled, gorgeous, and dangerous at the same time. Count me in if they ever make a Black Widow movie.
  • Lots of people get lots more time on screen. Jon Favreau delivers a great turn as Happy Hogan, and shows that he’s got nearly the same acting chops as Downey jr. himself. Paltrow as P. Potts is great once again, Sam Jackson as Nick Fury is a bit cheesy, but I loved it anyway. Don Cheadle as the (hey-didn’t-somebody-else-play-that-guy, oh-no-matter, this-guy-is-great!) new War Machine was also well done, and deserves a round of applause. *cue applause*
  • Sam Rockwell was a bit disappointing to me because I’d hoped he’d be a bit more nefarious then he turned out. Rockwell would be great as a Littlefinger/Loki type of villain, but in this one he plays it more naive & dumb. He plays naive and dumb as well as anyone could though, so the disappointment is really more my own fault. I’d like to see him return in Iron Man 3 as a new & improved version of himself, maybe as a replacement for Norman Osborn as chief of HAMMER, since Osborn isn’t available because of Sony owning Spidey? Sounds very likely if you ask me…
  • Mickey Rourke played the Big Bad Villain this time around, and he did well enough. He didn’t steal the movie in any way, like Heath Ledger did as the Joker, but given the material he had to work with, he did his part well enough.
  • Robert Downey jr.? As Tony Stark? Yeah, pretty awesome.

What bothered me somewhat about the film?

  • The action shots weren’t as good as I’d hoped. Especially after seeing Kick-Ass recently, which had amazing action sequences, I was a bit disappointed with how Favreau handled it.
  • Parts of the story was a bit… underdeveloped. Tony Stark invents something at one point with an ease that’s more laughable than amazing, and some of the plot points were more “plot suprises” rather than “plot twists”, and that’s just lazy storytelling. However, the times it bothered me enough to make a note of it, I also made a mental note to myself to: “shut up, this is awesome!”.
  • WHY ARE THEY SHOUTING ALL OF THE SUDDEN? is what I asked myself during a couple exposition-heavy scenes that Favreau tried to mask with a clever turn of the volume knob. This is something that often turns up in bad movies with bad actors, so I was sorry to see it happen a couple times here.
  • Should they have done a better job of explaining who Nick Fury was? Some people that I went with hadn’t watched the end of the credits scene in the first film, and they were a bit perplexed by Tony Stark’s familiarity with him. It’s not a concern for me – the über nerd – but it’s a major fault for a film that openly stated that it strived for accessibility if the audience has no idea who this plot-driving person is, and why he can do what he does.
  • I’d have liked it if they spent a bit more time building up Whiplash than they did, and I expect that a lot was left on the cutting room floor that will find its way to the Extended Edition, but… if you don’t build up your villain enough, the ending is about to feel a bit abrupt and sudden. All though it may also feel that way because you know that it means the movie will soon be over and-I-want-more, damn it!

The good stuff!

  • Robert Downey jr.! Wo-ho!
  • The dialogue was mostly dead-on and very crisp. The audience was all a-chuckle from the get-go to the very end.
  • The repartee between the main characters worked beautifully.
  • Was that Captain America’s shield?
  • MJOLNIR?!?
  • Ahem.
  • The Senate hearing that you see in the trailer may be a better scene than the Tony Stark-in-the-car-in-Afghanistan scene.
  • That Senator guy was gold! Pure gold, I say!
  • You know who else was gold? Yeah, I bet you do…
  • (Psst! It was Robert Downey jr.)

It’s easier to criticize than it is to praise, so if these bullet points seem a bit… uneven… that’s probably why. Also, I don’t want to spoil all the best bits by talking about them – you’ll have to have the pleasure of seeing them for yourself, you lucky bastard.

Iron Man 2 is naturally not a perfect movie by any means, but neither was the first film, and I don’t feel this one was in any way worse in its transgressions. If anything, it was even more fun because you already knew all the characters and got to meet some new, cool ones as well. Would I have liked it to have more grit and gravitas? Frankly, no, I wouldn’t. That isn’t the tone of the Iron Man movies, and I rather enjoy just going with the punches and not having to think through the emotional depth of every character interaction. This is probably a product of me loving the characters and the world so much though; I hardly think I’d be this positive if it was a Transformers or Fantastic Four movie… but it isn’t.

It’s Iron Man 2.

And by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon & Steve Ditko,

It’s good to have you back, Tony.