Iron Man 2: A Well-Oiled Machine of a Sequel

18 05 2010

Iron Man 2 has been dominating the box office, even beating out Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, leading the U.S. box office for the second week in a row. Reuniting Robert Downey, Jr. with director Jon Favreau seems to have done the trick, adding one more successful comic book movie to the ever growing roster. Here’s the breakdown:

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), has become a one-man army, acting as a sort of world peace keeper. Because of the Iron Man suit’s near invincibility, the U.S. government, along with rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), become intent on gaining access to the suit’s technology.

Add in Tony’s recently acquired and debilitating blood disease, a feisty new assistant with a secret (Scarlett Johansson), a scorned Russian inventor (Mickey Rourke) and an old friend turned ally (Don Cheadle) and Iron Man 2 has all the ingredients necessary for a summer blockbuster.

The Monkey: Right off the bat, I have to give the filmmakers kudos for keeping this sequel “simple;” not simple effects, not simple story, but a straightforward, no-doubt-about-it sequel. The title is clear – no lengthy sub-title, just the oft-discarded “2.” And there was a certain level of confidence that the movie could perform well without having to cave to industry trends by choosing to release the movie in standard 2D instead of 3D (the same can be said for the upcoming Prince of Persia as well).

Unlike many blockbuster wannabe’s, Iron Man 2 knows what it is – a colorful, effects-laden comic book movie. And that’s exactly what it delivers. The set-pieces are extravagant (namely, the Stark Expo), the effects are dazzling and the film abandons the path of dark, gritty drama for an even lighter and much more humorous script than even the first installment.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance is inspired – just as Tony Stark declares, “I am Iron Man,” Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark. His wit and subtlety elevate Iron Man 2 beyond a mere eye-candy flick to a solid, legitimate film.

Many critics have lamented the many new characters and the multiple plot threads, claiming the movie can’t contain them successfully (similar to the universally disappointing Spider-Man 3); however, I didn’t get a sense of compacted plotting or superfluous character. Even thinking back on the complexity of the story, it indeed seems a bit too much for a two hour movie, but the end result is completely satisfying.

The Weasel: Downey, Jr.’s is the only performance most people will pay attention to, and for good reason. The supporting characters of Iron Man 2, while not distracting, hardly add anything worth speaking of. Just about any actor even remotely fitting the character could have been plugged into the various roles (as made evident by the positively baffling move to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle – Cheadle added absolutely nothing to the role, making the switch pointless and confusing). The only exception to this might be Gwyneth Paltrow, who, after two movies, I think has earned the right to be Tony Stark’s go-to gal, Pepper Potts.

While the myriad plots worked well together, an overall theme, an element that tied everything together, was sorely lacking. The writers tried to remedy this with a half-hearted storyline involving Tony’s father, but it felt forced and tacked on. Should it have been further explored? To create more emotional weight and cohesion, maybe, but it could have just as easily slipped into cliché and melodrama.

A successful sequel, to be sure. And while Iron Man 2 stands alone, the movie provides some wonderful teasers for future Marvel projects, the culmination of which is The Avengers in summer 2012 (make sure to stay till the end of the credits for a special teaser). And Iron Man 3 has already been announced, with a possible 2013 release.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Iron Man 2 live up to the original? Are you excited for the upcoming Marvel movies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Dark Knight Factor: Why So Many Recent Movies Suck

9 04 2010

Some movies benefit from being “dark and gritty.” Some don’t. Unfortunately, after The Dark Knight turned “dark and gritty” into massive amounts of box office dollars, everyone just assumed the secret ingredient was…you guessed it…”dark and gritty.”

Weeks, month, even years after The Dark Knight hit theatres, practically every news story about upcoming movies included a producer or director saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, we’re really excited, we’re taking the film/franchise in a whole new direction – it’ll be really dark and gritty.” The whole “dark and gritty” mantra was the “3D” of its time.

I was hoping the trend would die down before we ended up with Mickey Mouse and the Mystery of the Serial Rapist or something equally unnecessary. With the advent of 3D technology, I figured the easily distracted movie industry would leave well enough alone and move onto the next fad. While this is partly true, the echoes of “dark” obsession still remain. Just look at this years’ less than desirable flicks, The Wolfman and Clash of the Titans most notably.

A movie cannot rely on dark undertones and serious subject matter alone, just as it cannot rely on 3D technology alone. At the heart of it all, story reigns supreme. The Dark Knight was so hugely successful because the story benefited from the tone. Avatar was so successful because the 3D technology was expertly used to elevate an already well-made film.

I’m hoping these trends are dying out, and I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. Watching the buzz surrounding Iron Man 2, I cannot help but be excited; here’s a movie that seems to get it. It’s not trying to trick people into spending more money by hastily converting to 3D. It’s not trying to get super serious and dark. It knows what kind of movie it is (an action-packed, effects laden adventure with wit, humor and suspense) and it’s not trying to be something it’s not.

If 3D or a dark plot is necessary for a film, then go for it. But if it’s being implemented to try and ride the wave of current trends, it’s likely to fail.

What do you think? Did The Dark Knight contribute to some unnecessarily “dark and gritty” film flops? What are some movies that could have been better if they hadn’t tried to conform to the current Hollywood trends? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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