Monday, June 28, 2010

Iron Man 2 Movie Review: A Preview of Our Coming Attractions

I was not one of the legions of critics who fawned over the first Iron Man. I thought it was a top-notch superhero film, but hardly the revelation that many thought it to be. It benefited greatly from a charismatic lead actor (Robert Downey Jr.) in a role of aching narcissism, egotism and bravado. Now along comes the sequel this year and like many a superhero movie sequel that preceded it, comes more bloated with extra characters, extra plot and extra baddies.

Tony Stark is now publicly known to be Iron Man and in the ensuing time period between the end of the first film and the beginning of this one, two important things have happened: the very existence of Iron Man has all but eliminated global conflict and a very old ex-Soviet scientist has died, leaving his son, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke doing his best not to chew the scenery as a Russian villain) to avenge his death, or something convoluted like that.

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by the pencil-pushing, power-grabbing Senator Stern (Garry Shandling, an interesting casting choice) wants Stark to turn over the Iron Man suit to be properly handled by the military and perhaps replicated for the army. This is where Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), CEO of Hammer Industries comes in. As the chief rival (although you’re not really a rival if you can’t even keep pace) of Stark Industries, Hammer would love to get his hands on the Iron Man technology to sell as a nice package to the U.S. Government. Thankfully Ivan Vanko is a world-class physicist trained by his father who once partnered with Tony’s father, Howard Stark. See an alliance building somewhere?

Of course Gwyneth Paltrow is back in the role of Pepper Potts, Tony’s personal assistant and eventually new CEO of Stark Industries. She’s basically here to continue playing the “will they or won’t they” game with Tony and to be a sort of moral compass for his grandiose ego. Tony’s good buddy Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes is back (a calm and cool Don Cheadle, comfortably filling in for the first film’s calm and cool Terrence Howard) and this time will serve as a secondary Iron Man sidekick for the big final battle.

One of the problems I found with the first film was that Iron Man is virtually an unstoppable force. So what kind of villain do you match him up against that’s going to give him trouble? Superman can be undone by Kryptonite and his greatest villain was Lex Luthor who tried to outsmart the Man of Steel. Spiderman was given a crisis of confidence in the first sequel which allowed Dr. Octopus to prey on him more easily. Iron Man’s answer was to put Jeff Bridges in an Iron Man suit of his own and have the two square off against one another in a mano-a-mano battle royale of clanking metal. Where do you go from there? Well, you have Ivan Vanko build an army of drone Iron Men who will all be programmed to destroy the real Iron Man. This provides a final climactic battle that is simply yawn-inducing. But for the abundance of clanking metal, automatic weapons fire and atomic bursts of energy, I might have fallen asleep.

To be fair, as far as superhero movies go Iron Man 2 is not that bad. It’s got a better script (written by actor Justin Theroux) than most Hollywood nonsense and the acting is generally top notch with actors like Downey, Cheadle and Rockwell on board, characters have the chance to rise far above caricature.

But mostly, this is a movie designed not only to set up a potential third Iron Man movie but potentially an entire franchise of films centered on The Avengers theme. This is introduced by having Samuel L. Jackson reprise his post-credits role as Nick Fury, the organizer of The Avenger Initiative which will presumably result in another series of comic book films beginning in 2012 and involving Iron Man, Captain America, Thor (both getting their own films as well) and possibly The Incredible Hulk.

It’s just sad when you realize that you’ve invested your time in watching what is essentially a two hour commercial for another series of films. At least it’s more entertaining than your average movie trailer.

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