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!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


Robin Hood: A Prequel in Desperate Need of Its Sequel

14 05 2010

After the Writer’s Strike, a director switch, countless script re-writes and casting swaps, Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood finally makes it to theatres today. Here’s the breakdown:

Returning from the Crusades, archer Robin Longstride finds himself back in England, helping a widowed Maid Marion and her ailing father-in-law maintain peace in Nottingham. But a budding civil war and an invading French army lead to a climax that shapes Robin’s future and paves the way for the Robin Hood of lore.

The Monkey: The film had some really breathtaking moments. Sweeping shots over galloping horsemen, rolling green countryside, well choreographed action scenes (which could have come off rote and derivative) and spot-on set design helped set the stage for a truly epic movie-going experience.

In addition to the stunning visuals, the soundtrack was one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Relatively unknown composer Marc Streitenfeld proved himself, weaving distinct and recognizable themes with a beautiful Celtic lilt, paced perfectly with the action and emotion onscreen.

As expected from the star-studded cast, the acting was superb. Russell Crowe, while not stretching very far, was a convincing archer-turned-outlaw and Cate Blanchett nearly stole the show as the strong-willed Maid Marion. Aside from the two leads, the supporting cast was top-notch, offering solid performances; from William Hurt (William Marshal) to Mark Strong (Godfrey), Max von Sydow (Sir Walter Loxley) to Danny Huston (King Richard the Lionheart). Even lesser known faces contributed to the acting caliber, especially Kevin Durand (Little John), Scott Grimes (Will Scarlet) and Mark Addy (Friar Tuck), the founding members of Robin’s future Merry Men.

Surprisingly, one of the film’s strongest points was the use of humor. As a whole, Robin Hood was rather dark, but the humor was well placed, genuine and frequent, breaking the doom-and-gloom monotony. While some will undoubtedly compare this film with the other Crowe/Scott collaboration, Gladiator, the use of humor (and lack of bloody violence) is a marked, and welcomed, difference.

The Weasel: The film was slightly mis-marketed. Audiences expecting a retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale will be disappointed. Instead, Scott has served up a prequel, for all intents and purposes. It’s not until the end of the film that I felt the inklings of the traditional Robin Hood story emerge. In fact, it is set-up wonderfully for a sequel that will explore just that. And unless a sequel is planned, the inclusion of Matthew Macfadyen’s Sheriff of Nottingham seemed utterly pointless, to the point of confusion. The real film’s villain was Mark Strong’s Godfrey, and the Sheriff hardly seemed like a match for Robin – his brief scenes in the movie have him spilling mead all over himself and begging the French invaders not to burn his house down. I’m hoping his character is fleshed out in a future installment, growing into one of the most notorious villains in literature and cinema.

The script’s many re-writes can be felt in the film. There are several distinct plot threads that don’t quite successfully come together: England’s impending civil war, France’s invasion, Robin’s life in Nottingham and Prince John’s succession to the thrown – oh yeah and throw in a random band of feral children in Sherwood Forest (?). While I think all these threads had potential, they were not fleshed out sufficiently. I actually think the existing script would have been better suited for a television mini-series, allowing each of these plot threads the screen time they needed.

The pacing was slow throughout, but did feel as if it were building; however, it built to the very end and stopped, when it was this very ending that had me most intrigued, when I felt the film could have really taken off. While this bodes well for a sequel, it does little to leave the audience with a sense of satisfaction.

A beautiful film, bolstered by an exceptional cast, but ultimately suffering from awkward plotting and a sense of needing something more at the end. I hope there is a sequel, because it needs it.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Robin Hood more prequel than reboot? Would you like to see a sequel with the Merry Men and the Sheriff of Nottingham further developed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine