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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]

The Road to The Avengers: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man in Iron Man [2008]

“Iron Man”. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it.

Going back to April 2008, before The Dark Knight came out; before Marvel’s The Avengers (sorry, Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble) was a speck on the horizon, an Iron Man movie was a significant risk. X-Men, Blade, Batman and Spider-Man had formed the initial landscape of the super-hero genre in the new millennium. Iron Man wasn’t known beyond fervent comic book readers, people who listened to Black Sabbath or kids who may have caught the cartoon in the 90s. Launching a potential franchise with a character – a very tech-orientated James Bond/billionaire playboy – with little awareness could have turned out like other less-popular comic book films such as the disappointingly weak Elektra or Fantastic Four. That it turned out to be good as it is, is down to Robert Downey Jr’s performance, amongst other things.

Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is a wealthy, arrogant industrialist, presenting his latest and greatest tech at a presentation in Afghanistan where he finds himself fighting for his life after his convoy is attacked. Kidnapped and with very little help, Stark is forced to build a suit of armour to escape his captors and upon freeing himself decides to use his technology to fight evil.

The above synopsis sounds cheesy (anything that has the words ‘fighting evil’ makes me cringe), but it’s to Marvel’s credit that in the context of the film it doesn’t sound laughable. Placing Tony Stark in a climate not far from our own (switching Vietnam for Afghanistan, introducing Apple-like interfaces) makes it much more relatable and palatable. It still retains much of its comic book ‘wham-bam’ personality but it’s not as far-fetched as it could have been, despite having a man who flies around in a high-tech suit of armour.

A lot of that is down to Jon Favreau’s direction (building up his big-budget aspirations after Elf and Zathura), Matthew Libatique’s brightly coloured, realistically-shot cinematography, ILM’s visual effects contribution and a hugely talented ensemble that function as one of the more impressive ones seen in tentpole filmmaking outside of The Dark Knight franchise. The emphasis is on character, not action; humour not broad stupidity (Stark’s bickering/flirting with his assistant, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, is a highlight), building a solid core for the action scenes. That the action isn’t particularly memorable is down to Favreau’s lack of nous/ambition, resulting in a third act fight that preceded Real Steel’s rock-em, sock-em antics. The action is perfunctorily done, a blemish and a missed opportunity for something that offers more scope than just people punching each other with metal fists. It’s a good thing the characters are this much fun as the limp action could have sunk the film.

It doesn’t help matters when the narrative is as formulaic as this one. Redemption narratives are too easily telegraphed: a strong opening half full of conflict eventually gives way to a busier-but-less-interesting second half that tries to resolve issues with a neat little bow. The initial villains (The 10 Rings) don’t offer much of a threat unless it’s of the very generic kind, and the main villain (Iron Monger) is a bit bland, a word you could apply to the film when Downey Jr is not on screen.

That he’s front and centre is this film’s greatest asset. Downey Jr’s revival (Hollywood loves a bad boy come good) is reflected in his cracking performance here after his great turn in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (coming full circle with Black coming onboard to direct Iron Man 3), ‘owning the screen’ instead of chewing the scenery. Without him, this film simply wouldn’t be as good.

7/10

[Ramin Djawadi’s score is the film’s least memorable part, a heavy metal orchestration that mimics its protagonist’s ostentatious sense of worth/rock star life/Black Sabbath, forgoing a theme and opting for sonic wallpaper. Disappointing, especially when he’s capable of crafting memorable themes like this one.]

Review: Iron Man 2

RASPUTIN

It’s good to be back!

Critically acclaimed and financially successful, Iron Man was the first film to launch under the (then independent) Marvel banner back in 2008. Fans and non-fans loved it. Marvel set in motion a sequel, laying the foundation for its larger cinematic universe. Would lightning strike twice? Alas not quite and while Iron Man 2 is a good film, at times a very enjoyable film to watch, it suffers from far too much happening in the film.

The first Iron Man is good but flawed.The thought of a man building a mechanical suit to keep him alive was intriguing, though it suffered from some rather debilitating problems.

The villain Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) lacked substance, it never pushed on from its excellent first act, the action was weak side and the finale was as if the film ran out of ideas. Unfortunately those problems still persist with the sequel and it would seem not enough time was spent on streamlining the script.

The film carries off from the first. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has revealed that he is Iron Man and is dealing with the consequences. Stark sets out to make his own legacy by re-opening his father’s (Howard Stark, played by John Slattery) year-long expo.

However conflict arrives in Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of Howard Stark’s colleague who wants revenge for the way his father was treated. More conflict emerges from the Government (Senator Stern played by Garry Shandling) who want Stark to hand over the Iron Man ‘weapon’.

Another threat emerges in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who has moved in to the weapons area Stark vacated. Add to his growing list of problems Stark is having relationship problems with best bud Rhodey (Don Cheadle), his confidante and Stark CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and he’s under surveillance from S.H.I.E.L.D in the guise of Natasha Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Oh and he’s also dying from palladium poisoning caused by the arc reactor in his suit.

That’s a lot and the film suffers for it. The problem is not that the story gets too confusing or complicated but simply that the plot-lines don’t get the room to really breathe. Saying that it’s hard to see which subplot would be discarded.

There are parts of the film that play very well. The Monaco Grand Prix is the highlight with Vanko gate crashing the race spectacularly. It’s the only moment where you feel that Tony is truly vulnerable. However it gets dragged down by other elements. Despite Rockwell doing his best with the hammy Stark doppelganger, he’s too comedic to be threatening. He’s Stark but with infinitely less charisma and rubbish jokes.

Vanko is a disappointment too with Rourke sounding like he has a phoney accent. Left to simmer until the finale, he’s another villain that lacks a threat. The film is so focused on Stark’s travails, that the villains just can’t impose themselves enough.

When you look at the cast director John Favreau has assembled another excellent ensemble. Cheadle starts off shaky but grows into the role. Paltrow as Potts is left with a thankless task of being Stark’s closest confidante and she performs commendably. Johansson is striking as Natalie Rushman whose character isn’t fleshed out and shows off some physical prowess when she takes on a group of armed guards.

John Slattery, who with his Mad Men connections is an apt father figure as Howard Stark does well in his limited screen time. Jackson is his usual, larger than life self, injecting some energy into a second act that is listless at times.

Downey, as always, is beyond reproach as Stark providing some welcome humour and melancholy in dealing with his predicament. He’s out of control at times but it never dips into the Demon in a Bottle storyline. There are times where Stark ego/self pride causes him to alienate those around him and it can be annoying, but its more down to the script than the fault of Downey Jr.

Like everything else the production values across the film are impeccable, the CG, apart from some glaring oddities, is good if overused. There are some nice touches throughout especially with the ingenious suit-case at the Monaco Grand Prix (watch out for the kitchen sink in one fight). The graphical overlays are a nice touch continuing on from the first film’s implementation and the music is better but still disappointing.

The action is better with Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) onboard to choreograph the action. It still suffers from metal on metal action which at times is incomprehensible but the choreography is better, slicker and with Iron Man and War Machine in play you have two visually interesting characters to look at. The action scenes sparkle with rampant destruction and are exciting apart from the final confrontation between Stark and Vanko which is over far too quickly.

Iron Man 2 is a worthy sequel that suffers from the same problems as the first. The ambition is definitely there but it suffers from a surfeit of characters and subplots that clutter the film.

It’s as if there wasn’t enough time to fine tune the script. It attempts to set up a larger universe and it succeeds but at the cost of the film itself. It feels like filler for films that are still in the pipeline and while it’s fine as a standalone film it never quite hits the heights you’d expect.

7/10

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