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The Road to The Avengers: Iron Man 2

Don Cheadle as War Machine and Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man in Iron Man 2

This lone gunslinger act is unnecessary… you don’t have to do this alone!

After the success of Iron Man (and The Incredible Hulk, at least in invigorating interest in the character), Marvel decided to skip a year and release their next film in 2010. The Avenger’s Initiative was very much on the horizon (not a tiny speck any more), the question now was how would Iron Man 2 fit into the equation? The answer would be ‘not very well’.

If the first film was about Downey Jr’s Tony Stark turning his back on his and his company’s legacy, then Iron Man 2 rejoins him as he takes the first tentative steps to creating a new one. Complications arise in the form of the triple whammy with the U.S government wanting to take hold of the iron man suit (after revealing his identity at the end of the first film); with Stark slowly dying from palladium poisoning caused by the very thing that’s keeping him alive, and that he’s not the only person with access to high-tech, weapons grade tech courtesy of Russian rogue scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).

All this is further complicated by the intrusion of S.H.I.E.L.D – introduced through Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson in the first film – keeping tabs on Stark as he struggles to keep a grip on life. Iron Man 2 is a busy sequel that juggles too many characters and storylines to do any one of them justice. From a different perspective, Iron Man 2 is an ambitious sequel, but it’s execution is flawed. The adage of bigger being better is nullified by the sense of confusion that surrounds the script’s intent – just where is the film’s focus on? Stark dying? His legacy? His father? All of them?

As a result there are threads that get lost in the jumble. Rourke’s Vanko is a little ineffective due to the script (and some say on-set problems) removing him from the back end of the film for long stretches. In his place S.H.I.E.L.D’s involvement in the narrative is increased but this brings another element that the film struggles to fit in. I haven’t even began to mention Don Cheadle‘s Rhodey and his conflict with Stark or Stark’s daddy issues (Howard Stark played by Mad Men‘s Jon Slattery). It’s exhausting.

Perhaps the least likable aspect of the film is Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, still radiating charisma by the bucketload, but the script turns Stark into a man who has a death wish. It isn’t the Demon in a Bottle storyline, it’s more of a reflection of it as he spirals into the abyss by neglecting the people close to him. Understandable considering the storyline but it comes across as more than a little forced and irritating in its execution.

All of this casts a pall over the first forty minutes of the film which much like the first film contains some of its best moments. Its funny, with the interaction between Stark and competing weapons manufactuer/doppleganger/wannabe Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and it slowly builds up to the first encounter between Vanko and Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix. The film never matches up to that confrontation despite the pyrotechnics, acrobatics (porvided by Scarlett Johansson‘s Natalie Rushman/Black Widow) and CG antics that dominate the last twenty minutes of the film.

Nonetheless its still entertaining even if it feels like it was rushed into productions with a few too many moving parts. A squandered opportunity to make a film that improved on the original.

6/10

[The action in Iron Man was a little stale, the action in Iron Man 2 is much better and some of that may be down to the production hiring Samurai Jack/Clone Wars/Powerpuff Girls animation director Genndy Tartakovsky to create some previsualisation storyboards and Ben Snow’s work for ILM, which you read about in brief here]

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Review: Rango

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Believe in that there sign. For as long as it hangs there we’ve got hope.

Well that was unexpected.

Animation is tagged with a “just for kids” label and more often that not it’s a justified one. Pixar has bridged the gap in entertainment that can be consumed by both adults and children and Rango is another example of that.

Rango – a chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp – aspires to be a swashbuckling hero who, when he falls out of a car on the highway, finds himself in a town called Dirt that’s plagued by bandits and running out of a precious resource – water. Rango is forced to become the Sheriff to protect the city and find out what happened to the water that’s disappeared.

Rango is a lonely, delusional chameleon whose can count among his friends a Barbie doll without a head and a plastic fish, with which he acts out various fantasies where he is the star of the story.

With nods to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Leaving Las Vegas and Chinatown, it’s not atypical of the animated genre and doesn’t resort to lazy jokes or references popular culture. The film has fun with the Western genre, the story essentially about the need for a hero and the idea of a community banding together. Despite not being the cleverest chameleon around, Rango keeps it together until he’s exposed as a fraud.

It is a wonderfully  created world thanks to ILM, a world full of interesting and unique looking characters. The action sequences are excellent, visceral with some inspired comedic touches.

The voice acting is uniformly fantastic and kudos should go to Bill Nighy who gives his Rattlesnake Jake.

An inventive and immensely entertaining film, Rango upends the expectations what an animated film for children should be.

8/10

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