Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stubs – Iron Man 2 (Second Opinion)

Iron Man 2 (2010) Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson. Screenplay by Justin Theroux. Based on characters created by Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Stan Lee. Directed by Jon Favreau. Produced by Kevin Feige. Run Time: 125 minutes. Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Action.

With the impending release of Iron Man 3 next week, Trophy Unlocked thought it would be a good idea to revisit the two films the new film is supposed to be a sequel to, Iron Man 2 and The Avengers (2012). It may seem unusual to have a simultaneous sequel to two films, but the Marvel Avengers franchise has been breaking some of the rules. The Avengers itself was either a sequel or a culmination of sequels.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) confers with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey).
Iron Man 3 will be the start of a new cycle of Marvel films culminating, in a few years, in The Avengers 2. One is always weary about going to the well one time too many, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves and with nothing more than a review in the trades and a few trailers to go from, a review of Iron Man 3 will have to wait for release.

While it’s always nice to re-watch a favorite film, sometimes you watch one again out of a sense of duty. We’ve fallen into a habit of watching the prequels to the sequels, as is the case with Iron Man 2.  Iron Man (2008), until the release of The Avengers, was what I considered to be one of the best comic-book inspired films ever made, on par with Spider-Man 2 (2004).

Jon Favreau, whose biggest film to that point had been Elf (2002), had been given the realms of a big budget film and had done himself and Marvel proud. Iron Man showed a lot of humor, told a rebooted, but believable origin story and delivered one of the bright spots of that summer. Whether or not it was part of the original master plan leading up to the Avengers or not, Iron Man 2 seemed inevitable, after the original’s success at the box office. And I remember settling down in my theater seat looking forward to the further adventures of Iron Man. And I remember leaving the theater a little disappointed.

Jon Favreau directs and reprises the role of  Happy Hogan, Stark's bodyguard, in Iron Man 2.
But that was three years ago and even though I’ve watched it since, I’m ready to sit down once again, this time at home to give Iron Man 2 a second spin, so to speak.

On what is probably a fifth impression (Yes I've seen the film that many times now), Iron Man 2 is not a bad film, but it suffers from sequelitis, the Hollywood disease that feels the sequel has to be bigger to be better, which fills me with some concern with how much bigger the threequel will have be.

Iron Man 2 suffers from flash over substance.
Accompanying the bigger is better theory are usually subtle changes in the cast. The most notable change was the replacement of Terence Howard with Don Cheadle as War Machine/L. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. I’m sure money was involved and Cheadle is more than an adequate replacement for Howard.

Don Cheadle as Rhodey and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.
Then there are the additional cast members. We pick up Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. These are necessary as they will both play major parts in The Avengers film. But there are some actors that are just sort of passing through: Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash and Garry Shandling (almost unrecognizable from his days as Larry Sanders) as U.S. Senator Stern. Unfortunately, even together, Hammer and Vanko don’t really match up to Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. With Stane, the villain was someone Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) grew up with and trusted like a father, so the backstabbing is more powerful than the misguided revenge of Vanko or the greed of Hammer.  Shandling seems to be playing someone close to his own personality, but really few of the characters, including Stark, are all that likable.

Scarlett Johansson's Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff kicks ass.
And speaking of Stark, Robert Downey, Jr. returns as the cracking wise hero and Gwyneth Paltrow (before her Goop/ego overload) as his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts returns. Their relationship naturally moves to the next level as their professional façade is dropped and they become romantically involved. While this part of their relationship was highlighted in The Avengers, Iron Man 3 will no doubt take it further.

Robert Downey. Jr. as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.
Of the other returning cast members, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s part gets bigger and it is through following his character that we’re ushered into Thor (2011), the next Marvel Cinematic Universe film to be released. Gregg, who up until now had perhaps been best known for his part as the ex-husband, Richard, on The New Adventures of Old Christine television series, shows that he can be a versatile actor and make a small part memorable.

Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) helps tie the Avengers prequels together.
The bigger is better rule is also applied to the special effects, which one would only expect. Not only do we have War Machine in addition to an upgraded Iron Man flying around, we’re treated to a whole army of drones with like weaponry, not to mention Whiplash’s different variations. All this leads to the final climatic fight scene with more and bigger explosions than Iron Man, but bigger is sometimes just bigger. As stated above, the climactic scene of Iron Man brings with it more pathos than Iron Man 2 can handle.

Story wise, there are plot holes big enough to fly a Helicarrier through. Besides the franchise’s usual issues with time and space, the biggest one involves Vanko’s original revenge attempt against Stark. He somehow knows that Stark will be at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and manages to infiltrate the raceway security brigade and gets onto the track to try and kill Stark as he races by. The only problem with the plan is that it wasn’t known that Stark would be driving, since he only replaced the car’s normal driver moments before the race began.

Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) awaits Tony Stark at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
The writing also seems to slip. Oh, Tony Stark is his usual snarky self, but the dialogue seems to be filled with terms that sound impressive, but are never explained. As an audience member it’s like being a child listening to your parents talk and not understanding what they’re talking about. But at the same time, I didn’t pay to be treated like a child. If you bring up some made up scientific term, then at least give it some sort of made up explanation. Also the humor goes low, so low as having Tony Stark tell partygoers that he’s going to the bathroom in his Iron Man suit and then discussing the filtration afterwards. I know we’re supposed to be seeing Tony Stark at his old Robert Downey, Jr. worst, but is having the character pee in his suit the best way to write about it? I would hope for Justin Theroux’s sake that this wasn’t his best writing.

Iron Man 2 tries hard to outdo its predecessor, but sometimes money, casting changes and special effects aren’t enough. Iron Man 2 is good, but it doesn’t quite rise to the same level of Iron Man, leading to the sequel truth that one is usually better than two. Soon we’ll find out if 3 is a magic number.

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