Thursday, May 13, 2010
Iron Man 2
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune likes to say that he believes the last thing to ever go wrong with a movie is the actors. They’re certainly the first thing to go right with Iron Man 2. One doesn’t really expect good performances from action movies anymore but they are the only thing that keeps this bloated sequel afloat, which is top heavy in a brazenly episodic way while it tries to introduce almost a half dozen new characters and act as it’s own product placement for future Marvel films to come. The film is so busy in fact that it’s almost a breath of fresh air then when it gets on with itself in the third and gets unapologetically noisy. Director John Favreau has become a more skilled action sequence director this time out and is still a good filmmaker, but not a good enough one to refrain from buckling under the pressure to go bigger, faster, stronger for this one. Iron Man hasn’t reached the bigness, loudness, sloppiness or dumbness of the Transformers movies, but you can see it getting there. That’s a shame to report because, when writing about the original film two years ago I saw all the elements of a great sequel to match even Spider-Man 2 falling into place. There was, at the center, the troubled man who needed to battle the inner conflict of being a responsible human being with being a superhero; you know, the very stuff that made Marvel comics the near monopoly name in comic book popularity? The Tony Stark of Iron Man 2 isn’t so much troubled any more other than the issue he has with keeping his inflating ego in check. Here he’s basically privatized world peace, cleared the land of war and has no discernible competition in the department of crafting suits of armour to help fend off the foes of the world. Of course, with such an advanced and important piece of technology, the government wants it, and why wouldn’t they? Can they really leave the fate of world peace in the hands of one man? Tony Stark, if you think about it, could demolish democracy as we know it, and what if he were to use the technology to indulge his personal fancy or turn it against the world? He after all, not only trumps the evil of the world, but he trumps governments as well. Of course Stark isn’t giving up the suit any time soon. He is the suit and the suit is him he argues. Without one there isn’t the other. What I’ve just outlined is the set up to a great film that never quite manages to come. Stark promises the government that all other companies are at least a decade away from mimicking his technology, so until that happens there should be no cause for concern. This sparks the anger of the Russian Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who believes that Tony’s father stole the design of his reactor core from his father and builds one for himself to enact revenge. This sparks the interest of fellow weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who has been trying to copy Stark’s designs but failing miserably. Throw on top of that Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) being put in charge as CEO of Stark Industries and a whole sagging midsection in which Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson walk on for no better reason than to increase interest in an upcoming Avengers film. What’s most surprising about Iron Man 2 is how little of it actually involves Iron Man. The film is so busy establishing new characters and worrying about Stark’s pandering to the public that it fails to give the hero anything meaningful to do until the final act, at which point, when the story finds itself and comes down to the dynamics of hero versus villain, is quite entertaining and enjoyable, in a loud, excessive kind of way. And yet, there’s Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle and Sam Rockwell all at the top of their game, always reeling the film back in while it veers wildly in every direction. They are funny and alive as characters even though the movie, at times, seems like it hasn’t the faintest idea what it should do with them. They don’t quite save the film, but they make it a heck of a lot better than it should have been.