Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iron Man 2: Too Much of Too Little

Superhero movies are supposed to be crowd-pleasers before they are critic-pleasers. A few, most notably The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and the original Iron Man, manage to be both. Most movie fans expected that Iron Man 2 would be just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. After all, the new movie had a higher budget, retained director Jon Favreau, and starred Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson and Don Cheadle, in addition to returning stars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 disappoints. Instead of The Dark Knight, Marvel Studios has made a modern day Batman Returns. It's not bad, just not especially good.

All the movie's performances are good; it's just that the film's proportions are off. Robert Downey, Jr. is still great as Tony Stark, playboy superhero of the western world. Unfortunately, we don't see him as much as we'd like, and he spends altogether too much time building miniature hadron collider thingies and worrying about his health and far too little time being flippant, funny, and cruel. Sam Rockwell plays would-be Stark industrialist Justin Hammer as a ranting dandy. His schtick is funny at first, but gets old quickly, as the script gives him little to do but repeat himself. By the movie's end, we have seen far too much of him. He exits handcuffed and vowing revenge. I hope that Iron Man 3 doesn't pick up that plot thread.

Scarlett Johansson is always a pleasure to watch and no one can complain of her catsuit, but she doesn't get to do very much until the movie's final battle, and even there she plays an ancillary role. Finally, Mickey Rourke's Whiplash is a very cool and quite intimidating villain. Even outside of costume he's compelling, funny, and ever-so-slightly scary. Still, one goes to superhero films in large part to watch epic duels between superheroes and supervillains. Rourke has maybe ten minutes of costumed villainy, and his final appearance is a horrible anticlimax.

The original Iron Man had some fine action sequences, but Ironmonger wasn't an especially interesting foe. He was, after all, just a slower and beefier version of the real Iron Man. Whiplash is a far more visually exciting creation – those electric whips call out for creative action choreography, yet they never receive it, save for a few shots in Whiplash's introductory ambush. When Whiplash reappears at the end, he looks great. Unfortunately, our hero dispatches him in about half the time he spent taking out some rather boring and quite unintimidating faux-Iron Man drones. The aerial combat between Iron Man and the drones, for all its momentum and speed and pyrotechnics, didn't really impress me, aside from a few unusually creative moments in the middle.

Long before the first trailers for Iron Man 2 appeared, fans were wondering if the new movie would address Tony Stark's drinking problem – Tony's vices were never limited to just womanizing and driving too fast. Iron Man 2 features more than one scene of inebriation, and I suppose these sequences have their point. They please a certain kind of fan and they add a little metatextual commentary, as Robert Downey, Jr. has indeed overcome real-life drinking problems. Unfortunately, I found that I could only take the depressed, drunken, and sick Tony Stark in small doses. Downey, as usual, gives a completely convincing performance, but his character briefly turns into a bit of a boor. If you want to watch Downey having fun, you might be better served watching him in last year's underrated Sherlock Holmes.

Iron Man 2 runs two hours, but feels longer. Ironically enough, I wonder if additional scenes might have made the film seem punchier. Some comedic scenes were apparently cut, and I've noticed a few lighthearted moments from trailers and promotional material that didn't show up in the finished film. Director Jon Favreau says he wanted a slightly darker film. I suppose he got what he wanted, Iron Man 2 lost some of the first movie's vitality and fun.

I didn't want to write such a harsh review; I didn't hate Iron Man 2, and I would even recommend it to someone looking for an enjoyable summer movie. Iron Man 2 left me pleased, but not stunned or moved or really excited. It's good, but not essential.

Check the blog next week for Mr. Hollis-Lima's impressions of Iron Man 2.

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