Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2 *Edited for fear of Spoilers*

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of SCRAPS!"

6 months after revealing his invention to the world, Tony Stark must deal with all the consequences of the thing he's created, and his choice to confess to his identity within it.

Almost exactly two years ago Watcher X and I sat down to see my very favorite super hero in his very first feature film- and were blown away. I felt a great sense of pride in knowing that, upon transitioning into a format even closer to my heart, my hero's film was among the best comic adaptations out there. Now it's 2010, and Director Jon Favreau has returned with Iron Man 2, a movie who's biggest flaw is that it's only good, and not spectacular.

Most of the original cast returns for round two: the uncontainable Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Gweneth Paltrow as the anti-Stark Pepper Potts, and Jon Favreau returning in front of the camera as Happy Hogan. Don Cheadle takes on James Rhodes for Terrence Howard, who left the franchise after contract and content disputes. I'm no hater of Terrence Howard, but Cheadle is a welcome member of the cast, playing the Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a slightly harder edge. Writer Justin Theroux was smart to focus as hard as he did on Tony and Rhodey's friendship, touching on some of my favorite story arcs from Iron Man history as he progresses towards Rhodes emergence as an armored hero himself.

As for new characters, I'm reminded of Meatloaf's musings on trio's. Sam Rockwell works his magic as Justin Hammer, managing to fill the "evil mastermind" role while still offering up a character that's equal parts entertaining and interesting. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko (a composite of multiple villains, the chief selections being Blacklash/Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) is another good fit in his recent history of good fits. It's Scarlett Johanssons Black Widow that comes up short. She seems shaky in the bare bones role- unable to pull off Natasha Romanoff's trade mark "hard as stone, cold as ice" persona. For all the bells and whistles (insert joke here) and the small part of it that ties back into the story at the end, the character feels like time that could have been spent elsewhere.

And that elsewhere could have been shoring up the low points of the film. Iron Man 2's major failing is that it lacks the "ooh cool" effect of invention fromv the first. Those extra minutes spent watching Tony test and build the suit in the first film are spent on some extra action in the second, and a little of the wonder is lost. All the new things Tony "invents" in this film are talked about and then feel like they just appear, which just isn't as tasty. We get to see some enjoyable sequences of Vanko hard at work, but let's face it- we came to see Downey's Stark hammering red hot steel. The same from another character is, in fact, not the same at all.

Iron Man 2 has a great deal to offer fans of the original movie, but it lacks some IT factor that the original had. Some of what's lacking you can put your finger on- like an oddly shoe-horned scene of romance on the end- but others are just a feeling, or lack there of. This one has the booms to rival the original, but in it's quieter and more mental moments it can't always keep up.

So let's sum it all up with The Isit List

Is it a good sequel?
Yes. We find our characters slightly progressed. Still the people we loved from the first, but in new situations. The anti's are upped on all the action sequences, and the story harkens back to the original without leaning on it. In short, there's enough new to enjoy, and enough old to care.

Is it better than the original?
The answer to that my friends is a resounding NO. Iron Man 2 brings bigger and better to a lot of movie elements, but the key pieces just don't seem to gel as well.

Is it worth a third movie?
Speaking with out the fan side of me I still say yes. I think this is one of those middle pieces that could have it's overall score upped by where they choose to take the choices they made in the third installment. However, if the third movie backslides even a little, I can see it taking the whole thing down. Either way I'll be there.
All this could be a moot point however, amid rumors that a third movie wouldn't come until after Stark plays his part in the Avengers movie. There are some odd story arcs being followed in Iron Man 2- if they come back in whatever shows up next it could make it all click. Time will tell I suppose.

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