Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not Exactly Iron Clad: A Review of Iron Man 2

Samuel L. Jackson still has his eye on you. 

Spiderman still stinks.
The sequel to the film Iron Man breaks a trend in the cinematic superhero genre. Normally, the first entry in a trilogy of this sort is not quite as strong as it’s successor. This is largely due to the filmmaker being required to tell that superhero’s origin story to set up the background, which although interesting, often limits the possible storytelling abilities. Examples of this trend are the Spiderman series and to a much greater extent Chris Nolan’s Batman series. Iron Man 2, it would seem, is an exception to this rule. It was as if Iron Man 2 was trying to live up to the superior original, but the sloppy second lost the energy to do so somewhere down the line. Part of the reason for this may be that in Iron Man’s case his origin, unlike other superheroes, is arguably his most compelling story. Iron Man’s original movie (2008) had a more political bent, and while it was not exactly the greatest intellectually stimulating creation ever made, it at least sparked some thought on issues involving technology, terrorism, war, and economics (oh, and it also had Jeff Bridges, which is never a bad thing).
Jeff Bridges still rocks.
From there, though, the focus shifted from the world that Iron Man impacted to the man behind the suit, Tony Stark. During this transition, a lot seems to have been lost in translation, so to speak, from the first movie to the second. Following his adventures in the first film, Stark is now shown to be capitalizing on his Iron Man fame and leading a hedonistic lifestyle showcasing his abnormally large ego in front of conventions, congressional hearings, the media, and his various acquaintances. These include business partner and love interest Pepper Potts and best friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes. Whenever possible, the man runs about doing whatever he pleases, whether it be driving race cars in exotic venues or getting drunk at mansion parties. The context behind these bizarre actions is that Stark is dying because of palladium poisoning from his mechanical heart.

Now, the struggle in Iron Man 2 becomes apparent as Stark must hit rock bottom, learn the error in his lifestyle, and turn over a new leaf in order to save both his own life and his legacy. Problematically, this storyline never satisfyingly develops. Stark has to come to terms with his father's greatest discovery, the existence of a new element, and boom, one montage, one silly Captain America reference, and one particle accelerator later he discovers the element, fixes his heart, and is good to go. Needless to say, the potential for serious character development and emotional growth was not properly explored.
At the end of the movie, after being described by his coworker as a rude, difficult-to-work-with textbook narcissist, Stark simply nods in agreement. Diving to greater emotional and psychological depth remains an untapped possibility in this case, although, that was to be expected. After all, Iron Man 2 is a summer blockbuster intent mostly on throwing around some action and of course making money, rather than creating a truly heartfelt plot. What’s baffling is that, usually, shallow blockbusters of this sort at least manage to pack in quite a lot of entertainment value. Iron Man 2 is, at its best, somewhat amusing, and at its worst, slow and dull.

Sam Rockwell still, well, rocks.
Iron Man 2, as you watch it, feels significantly longer than its predecessor, but in truth, it was exactly one minute shorter. The whole film feels like this, weirdly long and oddly misrepresented. Many of the potential highlights fall rather short of hopes and expectations: the villain Ivan Vanko who was fairly attention-grabbing in the trailers ends up being a total bore. From his weak motivation to be a villain (his dad was kicked out of America after working with Tony's father . . . and that's it), to his disappointingly ineffectual attack strategies (slice up some cars, get sent to prison . . . hope an evil billionaire saves him?) Vanko is as uninteresting as villains come. Like really, the guy is Russian, enjoys his pet bird, mumbling incoherently and building an army of ineffective drones and two electric whip thingies to try and defeat his opponents. What else is there to say? Vanko is nowhere near as interesting as his eventual employer, Justin Hammer (performed brilliantly by Sam Rockwell), who succeeds in acting as even more of a pompous jerk than Stark. Alas, Hammer’s relevance to the narrative is rather minimal, his only role being a springboard for Vanko to make even bigger whips. 

Two last annoying nit-picky things that should be mentioned about Iron Man 2 are as follows:

 Star Wars prequels still *CENSORED*
First, the action scenes are not up to par. Any fight involving Vanko armed only with whips is instantly unbelievable: those things may look cool but he’s facing a guy whose suit has guns, guided missiles, and lasers. Vanko just shouldn't stand a chance, and neither do his drones, which bear a striking similarity to the infamously unhelpful droids in the Star Wars prequels (ouch, too soon). 
Second, trying to fit in an Avengers related subplot was distracting and annoying. Seeing Samuel L. Jackson parade around in a trench coat and eye patch as Nick Fury with his lovely leather clad sidekick, Scarlet Johansson, was a little ridiculous and added nothing but a large advertisement for Joss Whedon’s future baby. 
Iron Man 2 was not bad, so much as disappointing. Batman aside, the cinematic superhero genre needs a bit of a lift, but this movie lacks the fuel to take the genre anywhere new, or really even especially interesting. 

Official YAMB Grade: Neutral

Nate S Grade:

Aesthetics: B
Plot: B-
Characters: B-
Acting: B
Overall: B-

“You Sack of Wine”
-Nate S

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