10 May 2010

More First Impressions: Iron Man Deux

Welcome to the second installment of my Iron Man 2 (2010) Impressions. I've actually seen the film twice in three days now so these might as well by my Second Impressions. Anywho, I focused on a lot of big picture stuff last time around as well as a good look into Stark himself. Today I'm babbling about some of the side characters as well as the film's integral place in Marvel's long term plans.

A Hammeroid Problem:

Let's start with the best non-Downey actor in this film, Sam Rockwell as rival weapons developer Justin Hammer. He's awesome, and his list of awesome films has steadily been growing (somehow still under the radar) in the past decade (he's the best part of Galaxy Quest [1999] and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [2005] and one of many good parts of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind [2002], The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007] and Frost/Nixon [2008] as well as of course, the only part of Moon [2009] which should be considered any actor's Opus). Enough rambling about his resume, though, he's a great part of this film.

I think almost every blog and review I've read so far has mentioned his dance, and it does rule. Just prior to his Stark Expo unveiling the little jig is pretty awesome and his lack of laughs for his terrible joke ("The papers will face a new problem. They are going to run out of ink!" ooohh boy Justin...) is pretty good too. Besides these fun little quirks there's a lot of greatness to this character. His petty squabbling with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is pretty hilarious (they totally have the makings of a classic comedy teams - hey oh!) but he's also got this darkness to him.

I want to point out a similarity between Hammer and Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter Franchise. Stay with me now, I went into this pretty heavily here, but let's rehash a bit: I characterized Malfoy as this brat who always felt he was entitled to Destiny but never really did anything to deserve it. This fueled his jealousy and hatred of Harry Potter. Hammer is the same way. He despises Stark because he desperately wants to be Stark, the problem is that he kind of sucks at it. Stark is charming and holds the crowd in is palm, Hammer makes awkward dances and jokes that fall flat. Stark gets the girl while Hammer fumbles. Stark's tech works, Hammer's pride and glory, the "Ex-Wife" is a dud. The thing is that Hammer is trying really hard to stay in competition, ultimately he fails because he sells out to someone he shouldn't have trusted (Vanko). Whereas I mentioned Stark's outstanding moral fiber last post (which I boiled down to he generally doesn't want to kill anybody), Hammer clearly has no such scruples, rushing testing of unfinished products leading to hazardous pilot conditions, breaking violent criminals out of prison to meet his own ends and it's even a good slice of his character when he calls Gwyneth and Scarlett Jo "bitches" under his breath. This is where he fails but he can never understand that, all he sees is himself coming up short and Stark showing off. The clip above actually does a good job demonstrating this.

Stiff Acting 101:

So Rockwell as Hammer is awesome. Everyone else sucks. Terrence Howard could have done a lot more with the War Machine role than Don Cheadle did. Cheadle is absolutely stiff and just goes through the motions until he's allowed a few loose one-liners towards the end. There's a lot more intensity to all of Howard's performances and I'm not sold on Cheadle as this disciplined Fighter Pilot that can still kick back some beers with his buddy, Tony.

Scarlett Jo is horrendously bland. I feel like some of this was intentional, as even Stark a few times comments on how hard it is to get a read on her because she's so unbelievably uninteresting. I mean, the boobs are there and big and that's pretty cool but there's nothing really she offers that's upstanding. Her boss, Sam Jackson is basically playing Sam Jackson, nothing really new in that run-around. And then Paltrow is really barely given anything to do, she runs the company with supposed incompetence that Bill O'Reilly tells us but we never really see, then is kind of rushed into a romance with Stark that I thought the entire first film was supposed to be building to.

But let's talk Happy Hogan, I loved that Favreau gave himself some stuff to do. His one fight scene was pretty entertaining and his job as a bodyguard / driver (yes, to Iron Man) seemed more defined this time around. It's great that the director allowed both Scarlett Jo and Downey to kick his ass in the boxing ring. Fun stuff.

The Unsurpassed Future of Marvel Films:

This is pretty exciting and if Iron Man 2 did anything, it's laid the groundwork for a lot of other films. Soon Marvel will be at the forefront of a series of interconnected movies unlike any other in history. Nick Fury should be the common thread in many, but there's some not-so-subtle hints at both Captain America and Thor iconography as well as a bunch of map images, some of which are described accurately and inaccurately here (my only beef is that the Europe Circle is clearly around Norway which hints at Asgard more than anything else).

It's really cool and when it's all over there should be at least seven non-sequel films that take place within the same universe (Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk [2008], Thor [2011], Captain America: The First Avenger [2011], and The Avengers [2012], plus a probable Iron Man 3 [2012]) which is pretty sweet. What will be most difficult is the merging of the many different tones in all these films. For instance, the inclusion of the major villain, the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 will likely be predicated by the heavy inclusion of magic in Thor. Otherwise it is difficult to accept a magical villain in a world that so far has been based (relatively) heavily in the real world (see also my take on Iron Man's politics in my last post as well as its reliance on possible technology over the truly outlandish). Even the contrasting directorial styles of Favreau and Kenneth Branagh is pretty interesting. Basically, this could be the most awesome series of films in history or come together as a big stinking pile of shit. Stay tuned and find out, baby.

By the Way, the Ending Sucked:

I feel like a lot of these impressions have probably left you with the impression that I thought this was a really great film, which actually isn't really true at all. While Iron Man 2 is a lot of fun with some cool character development and great acting out of Downey (who is somehow great at playing eccentric geniuses - how awesome is that?) and Rockwell, overall honestly, the film wasn't that great. In fact, it really wasn't even that exciting or thrilling, certainly nothing was really shocking or something i hadn't seen before. I'll contrast this with two films from last year, the first being Star Trek (2009) which had some incredible sequences that were literally edge-of-your seat moments and things I had never seen before. Finally, I have to admit that Transformers: Revenge of the Explosion (2009) at least had a ton of inspirational (if not ultimately hollow) moments a long with these giant set pieces and scope that elevated the picture from a film to an experience.

Iron Man 2 lacks this WOW factor. There's hardly a scene that's like "WOW! LOOK AT THAT!" The final battle between Iron Man, War Machine and a shitload of pissed off Robots comes close, but somehow I'd say there was even more drama when Jetfire gave up his spark to Optimus so he could defeat Megatron and The Fallen. Yes, I just wrote that. Optimus at this point is at least fighting for something. Stark and Rhodes at that point are fighting only to save themselves. That the key, as I said before, they're not saving anything.

The battle's also pretty rushed (wtf Deus Ex Machina Gloves?) and even when big bitch Whiplash touches down it's over really quickly with kind of a "meh" feeling (I'll actually chastise Star Trek for a similar anti-climatic ending and killing of the Big Bad Over here is a pretty good review that sums up a lot of similar feelings on this ending and the film in general.

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