CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: IRON MAN 2
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: MICHAEL ARRUDA walks into a vast lab, full of machinery, to find L.L. SOARES asleep in Iron Man pajamas)
MA: We’re gonna have to rename this column, CINEMA KNIFE SLEEP pretty soon. Hey, wake up!
LS: Oh my god, it’s FREDDY KRUEGER again, come to kill me in my dreams! PLEASE DON’T KILL ME, FREDDY KRUEGER!
MA: That was last week. This week it’s just me.
LS: Oh, good……. I think.
MA: What are you sleeping again for? We have a movie to review.
LS: Because I just saw IRON MAN 2 and it lulled me to sleep.
MA: Well, wake up! ‘Cause you’re starting this one.
LS: Do I have to? This movie has like a hundred plots all going on at once.
MA: Well, don’t put us to sleep by recounting each and every one!
LS: A critic’s got to do what a critic’s got to do.
IRON MAN 2 is the much-awaited sequel to 2008’s very successful first IRON MAN film. At least I think it’s much-awaited. Personally, I could take it or leave it.
MA: Those of us who loved the first movie were indeed eagerly awaiting this one. However, those of us who have been watching movies for a zillion years know a thing or to about the success rate of sequels, so it wasn’t like I was holding my breath or anything.
LS: Make up your mind. Either you were eagerly awaiting this one, or you “weren’t holding your breath.” Which one is it? You talk in riddles.
MA (dressed as YODA): Awaiting the movie I was, expecting much, not so. Annoying you can be.
LS: If you were looking forward to this one so much, why don’t you start now?
MA: And let you off the hook? I don’t think so!
LS: This time around, we start off with Ivan Vanko, a Russian ex-con who also happens to be a physics genius! When his father dies, he finds out that daddy used to work for Stark Enterprises (i.e. Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, shown here in old film footage and played by John Slattery from the show MAD MEN) and that Stark Sr. might have “appropriated” some of Ivan’s father’s plans for an alternate power source – which also happens to be part of Tony Stark’s Iron Man costume. Wanting revenge, Ivan starts to build a suit of his own.
Meanwhile, Tony not only has announced Iron Man’s identity to the world (“It’s me, folks!”), but he also goes before a Congressional subcommittee – led by wisecracking Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) – that wants to take his alter ego away from him to give to the military (it’s too powerful a weapon to leave to just one man). Tony refuses to hand the plans over, and his insistence on doing everything “his way” has made him something of a hero to thousands of adoring fans. He’s pretty much a rock star at this point.
But there’s a dark side. He’s dying and the metal “palladium” is the only thing keeping him alive (he uses it to power his breastplate – which is keeping his heart alive – but he’s going through more and more of the stuff every day, and it’s in limited supply). However, it’s also poisoning his blood – so he knows full well it’s only a matter of time before he dies. So he makes plans for when he’s gone. First by making his loyal “Girl Friday” Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) the new CEO of Stark Enterprises, and by doing foolhardy things like kicking the driver of his racecar out so he can drive in the Gran Prix himself, even though he’s never done it before.
But good old Ivan shows ups to slice the car in two with his electric whips. And Iron Man faces yet another new villain out to kill him.
In the comics, this villain’s name was Whiplash (they never call him that here), and he looked nothing like Mickey Rourke does here. I could forgive the change of costume, but, really, the Whiplash in this movie really bears NO resemblance at all to the comic’s version (not just the costume).In the comics, his name wasn’t even the same – he was Mark Scarlotti. However, a character named Anton Vanko was Iron Man’s old enemy The Crimson Dynamo (who was a Cold War Russian version of Iron Man). Try to make sense of that!
MA (Dressed like a geek scientist in a white lab coat, disheveled hair, and oversized eyeglasses that hang helter-skelter across the bridge of his nose. He stands in front of a chalkboard with a piece of chalk in hand. The board is covered with scribble): Let’s see, Whiplash was Mark Scarlotti, who is not Mickey Rourke, but Rourke is Ivan Vanko who is also Whiplash but not Scarlotti. Then there’s Anton Vanko who is not Ivan Vanko, who’s Mickey Rourke, who is not Anton Vanko, who is the Crimson Dynamo. By George, I’ve think we’ve got it!
LS: Now if it was just Whiplash vs. Iron Man, or even If Whiplash teamed up with the Crimson Dynamo, that would have been a good plot. But there’s no way they were going to stop there. Other Marvel characters thrown into this stew include: Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) – a competitor of Stark’s in the weapons industry, who was ruthless in the comics, but is pretty much played for laughs here; Stark employee Natalie Rushman (who turns out to be Natasha Romanoff – The Black Widow, a formidable spy and fighter played by Scarlett Johansson in the movie), who is really an undercover agent for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of the clandestine government agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
But that’s not all. Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle – he was played by Terence Fisher in the original movie) – Stark’s best friend – gets a hold of one of Stark’s earlier Iron Man costumes, which gets upgraded by Justin Hammer to become War Machine. And this doesn’t even include the tons of robot/drone Iron Men that Hammer creates and Ivan Vanko upgrades to attack Iron Man.
As you can see from the synopsis, there’s a lot going on in this movie. In fact, TOO MUCH. There are way too many characters jostling for screen time, and the plot, as it is, isn’t very compelling. In fact, for long stretches, this movie is downright boring, and I’m one of the people who enjoyed the first IRON MAN movie (and as a kid I even collected IRON MAN comics).
Even just explaining the storyline makes me want to take a nap!
MA: I had less of a problem with the movie having multiple storylines and myriad characters than I did with the fact that none of the storylines really did all that much for me. That and the pacing made the bulk of this movie as boring as you just said.
LS: The best things in it are: Robert Downey Jr. again playing it to the hilt as cocky playboy Tony Stark. Sam Rockwell, an actor I always enjoy, does a tightrope walk as Justin Hammer – he’s supposed to be a worthy adversary to Stark but is pretty much treated as a joke here, but Rockwell does what he can with the role. Mickey Rourke is good here, too, but doesn’t get nearly enough screen time as the bad guy – mainly because he’s competing with so many other characters in the plot. And Johansson is actually pretty good as the Black Widow – but once again, isn’t given enough to do.
I wanted to like this movie. I thought the original IRON MAN was a fun movie and wanted this to be more of the same. But I really didn’t care for IRON MAN 2 overall, and can’t really bring myself to recommend it. What do you think, Michael?
MA: I’m with you. I really enjoyed the first IRON MAN as well, a lot, but this one doesn’t even come close to measuring up. I’ll start with the cast since you were just talking about them.
You mention Robert Downey Jr. as one of the best parts, but I have to disagree on that point. Downey Jr. was probably my favorite part of IRON MAN. I thought his Tony Stark was an intriguing character, and his performance was a knock-out, way better than say, Christian Bale as Batman.
But in this one he just lacked something, and he failed to capture the same magic from the original. I felt the same way about Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. All the chemistry they shared in the original was gone in this one. I have to say I really didn’t enjoy either character in this movie.
LS: For some reason I never really cared for Paltrow as Pepper. But yeah, Downey’s good, but he’s not as good here as he was in the first one. It’s like he’s got Peter Parker Syndrome this time – too much ANGST.
MA: In Downey Jr.’s case, I’m not sure if it was his performance or the writing by screenwriter Justin Theroux. It was as if they chose to do a movie on the worst week of Tony Stark’s life. He thinks he’s dying, he’s upset about everything, it seems, and his behavior is erratic and all over the place. It isn’t until the end of the movie that recaptures his persona from the first one. Couldn’t they have chosen to write about Stark after all this happened so we could enjoy watching him do his Iron Man/confident wise guy Tony Stark shtick? I just didn’t like his character in this one.
LS: Well, a major storyline in the comics was Tony Stark’s alcoholism, which is bound to be addressed in one of these sequels, so things are definitely going in that direction.
MA: Don’t get me wrong. Characters without problems are boring, but in this case, my point is, why ruin a good thing? Downey Jr. had Tony Stark nailed in the first one, but in this one, with the angst over dying, he’s not the same guy.
I was also very disappointed with Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko. He looks great, creepy and frightening, but after he escapes from prison, he becomes— almost passive and boring. He spends his time building robots, becoming almost a supporting player the rest of the way, which is too bad, because the guy’s a beast, and a brilliant one at that. He should be the central villain, but alas he’s reduced to lab work. Ho hum.
I didn’t like Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer at all. I know his character wasn’t supposed to be likeable, but he should have been a little more sinister rather than a buffoon, which is how he comes off in this movie.
LS: I agree. I like Rockwell, but I don’t know why they wrote his character as such an idiot. I didn’t like that at all.
MA: By far, my favorite part of this movie was Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman aka The Black Widow. Her character was fresh, hard-hitting, and thoroughly enjoyable. If I had to give one reason for seeing IRON MAN 2, it would be to see Johansson in action, but as you already pointed out, she’s not in it all that much, and so her performance alone is not enough to save this movie. I like Johansson a lot, and her best performance in my mind remains in Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT (2005).
LS: I’d go so far as to say that Johansson’s character deserves her own movie, without all this clutter, so The Black Widow could really have a chance to shine.
MA: I’d pay to see that. I enjoyed both Don Cheadle (one of the best actors working today) and Samuel L. Jackson, but even more, I was impressed by Gary Shandling, of all people, as Senator Stern. He’s a scene-stealer in the two scenes he’s in.
LS: Shandling was great! So was Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. He’s always good, and he brings the right amount of cockiness and authority to the role. But where’s the perpetual cigar in his mouth? Where’s the stubble? And most of all – where’s the damn S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier? At least he’s a big improvement over David Hasslehoff who once played Nick Fury in an awful TV-movie that aired on the SyFy Channel!
MA: Director Jon Favreau, who also directed the first IRON MAN, doesn’t seem to give IRON MAN 2 the same pizzazz the first one had. That first film possessed an edginess, a boldness, that is completely gone here. It opens slowly, and picks up steam when it gets to the race car sequence that was heavily shown in the previews.
MA: Now, I was psyched about this, because it came so early in the movie, and I was feeling grateful that the previews didn’t spoil the ending. I was excited that there would still be room for surprise. Trouble was, nothing that followed that scene rivaled it. I guess that’s why they showed it in the previews!
It also seemed like it took forever for Iron Man to show up in this movie!
I have to admit, I did enjoy the climactic battle with Iron Man, War Machine, and all the robot/drones. Visually, it was fun to watch, but by that point, I really didn’t care all that much. But far worse was the very ending, when Vanko returns to face off against Iron Man and War Machine. It was like, “here we go. Here comes the fun part!” However, blink and you’ll miss their battle.
IRON MAN 2 really plays liked the clichéd sequel. The characters are back from the first one, but the magic just isn’t there anymore, and when you leave the theater, you leave wishing you’d just watched the first one instead. THE DARK KNIGHT, this ain’t.
LS: I do find it annoying when villains bear absolutely no similarity onscreen to who they are in the comics and this time around Whiplash is pretty much a totally different character than the original. In fact, the ONLY place he is referred to as Whiplash is in the end credits. I think a big part of this is vanity. Most actors do not want to wear a mask in their most important scenes. And Mickey Rourke is obviously no exception. In fact, in the climactic battle with Iron Man and War Machine, Rourke goes throughout the whole fight with his FACE PLATE OPEN, so we can continue to see his face, even though this would leave him completely vulnerable in a fight. Talk about vanity! All Iron Man had to do was zap his head and he’d be toast! At least Downey and Cheadle get around this by having their faces shown “inside” their battle helmets.
There are way too many Iron Men this time around, too. Aside from Stark (the real Iron man) and Rhodes, we’ve got an army of robot Iron Men, and at the end even Ivan Vanko dons an Iron Man-type armored suit (something the comic book Whiplash would never have done).
And the fight scenes seemed to go on forever! Aside from the first appearance of Whiplash in Monte Carlo, the fight scenes were mostly a bore this time around.
MA (wearing an Iron Man Suit): I actually thought the action scenes were pretty good. I agree that the Monte Carlo race scene was the best, though.
LS: Take that damn suit off!
MA: I like the sleek look.
LS: Also, stick around all the way to the end of the credits. Marvel Studios has pretty much made it mandatory to show one final scene at the ends of their movies after the credits are over. This time around, we get a teaser for the upcoming THOR movie, and while I am a big Thor fan (much more than Iron Man these days), I’M not even sure if it’s worth sticking around for.
MA: No, it’ s not. Just take it from us: there’s a THOR teaser at the end. Wait for the DVD and fast forward through the credits. The credits go on for a long time anyway, and the choice of music isn’t that great. Where the hell was Black Sabbath’s Iron Man?
LS: I didn’t hate all the music. They have at least two Clash songs on the soundtrack and lots of AC/DC. But yeah, Sabbath’s IRON MAN was sorely missing. Especially since they used it in the trailer.
For the most part, IRON MAN 2 was a snooze. I’d give it two knives.
MA: I’d give it two knives, too. While it’s not a complete bomb, in that at least its story makes sense, it’s not at all compelling. In fact, it’s downright boring at times. I think they should have chosen a better week in Tony Stark’s life to build a film around. Pick one where he’s actually on top of his game. That might have been more fun.
LS: As for me, I say less characters, and more character-development, would have saved this movie. IRON MAN 2 does neither. Well, folks, that’s it for now.
MA: We’ll see you next week with a review of another movie. (To LS) You can go back to sleep now.
LS: Nah, I’m wide awake now. Just don’t make me sit through IRON MAN 2 again.
MA: Hey, let’s take those Iron Man suits we got in our press kits out for a spin.
LS: Do they actually fly?
MA: Directions said they’re fully operational.
(MA & LS are now wearing IRON MAN suits. They put their masks down, and their suits ignite. They rocket upward and blast out through the roof into the night sky. There is a great explosion, followed by the whistling sound of objects falling from the sky. Various metal objects and body parts bounce to the ground. The camera closes in on the heads of LS and MA, busily conversing even though their bodies are missing.)
LS: Heads are going to roll for this!
MA: You would have to put it that way.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Gives IRON MAN 2 – TWO KNIVES
LL GIVES IT – TWO KNIVES as well