I went to a 12:15 am showing of "Iron Man 2" last night and wanted to get this up as quickly as possible (ya know, after sleeping). The very first movie list I ever did on 11 Points was of the first "Iron Man", five days after I started the website, so I thought it'd be fitting to get back into the movie review thang by talking about the sequel.
I'm going to keep this review basically spoiler-free... by "basically," I mean that if you're hyper-sensitive that any detail is a spoiler and me talking about a three-line cameo by a (now) dead celebrity is going to ruin your "Iron Man 2" experience, then don't read this before you see the movie.
And now, my 11 thoughts on "Iron Man 2".
This review can be kept spoiler free because there isn't that much to spoil. I can write all I want to say about the movie without dropping any major spoiler bombshells because, really, there's absolutely nothing unpredictable that happens. I'm not saying that in a pejorative way -- the movie just follows a logical, standard plot line that unfolds pretty much how you'd expect it to unfold. So don't go in expecting an M. Night Shyamalan twist in "Iron Man 2" -- it doesn't turn out that the trees are evil or that Samuel L. Jackson's character is missing his eye because Bruce Willis finally got his revenge -- but, fortunately, it doesn't need one. It's just a A leads to B leads to C plot.
But there's another reason that there's little to nothing I can spoil for you...
The trailer gave us WAY too much.The trailer took us through almost the entire movie. You know Mickey Rourke has his own glowing chest suit (plus some electric whips) which he uses to disrupt an auto race. You know Sam Rockwell is the evil brains behind Rourke's evil brawn. You see Scarlett Johansson in a skin-tight suit performing a hurricanrana on a security guard, so you know she's not just a pretty face in the movie. You see Don Cheadle in his War Marchine suit, standing with Robert Downey Jr. as dozens of Iron Man-esque clones drop in on them in a tranquil garden setting.
These are all great moments in the movie. They're all gorgeous set pieces, stunning visuals and thoroughly exciting beats. But none of them caught me even the least bit off guard. If I showed you the "Iron Man 2" trailer and said "Write a plot summary of what you think will happen in 'Iron Man 2'" -- you'd probably get it about 75 percent right. You'd be missing a few nuances and details here and there... but you'd basically have it.
The marketing team went overboard on the trailer. This is the sequel to a movie that was absolutely revered. People were going to go see it. The trailer didn't need to be "Iron Man 2 in Three Minutes."
At some point, Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke have to laugh about how well things have worked out for them. Fifteen years ago, would anyone have believed that Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke would be headlining one of the biggest movies of the year? If you'd said you were seeing something starring those two, people would've assumed you were going to the Betty Ford Clinic's performance of "The Producers".
The tone of the movie is what makes it transcend other comic book movies. There's something great about the first "Iron Man" and this sequel, and, in both cases, it's the tone. What they've done here is, for basically the first time ever, they've managed to make a good comic book franchise without having to take the "dark" route. And the movies have done this by never taking themselves too seriously... by making the characters react to things like humans and not overdramatic caricatures... and by having the action scenes be a part of the story (instead of the story just being the boring interludes between action sequences). "Iron Man 2" isn't "300" or "Avatar" where it's 95 percent stunning visuals, five percent everything else... it's got stunning visuals that back up an actual movie.
You can see the perpetual motion machine here.
By allowing Tony Stark to really be Tony Downey Jr., the movie has a loose, self-aware tone that makes you a fan, whether you want to be or not. There's a great scene where Tony and Pepper Potts are talking and there's a perpetual motion office toy on the desk... and, just as you're finding it distracting, Tony Stark comments on it. In that moment, you get why you so identify with the character -- yes, he's an admitted narcissist who frequently dabbles into Assholeland... but he's also the charming smart ass that lives inside all of us. (And he can fly.)
Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling and Sam Rockwell were all good surprises. I was a bit skeptical about all three of these casting choices. The Scarlett Johansson decision seemed like a "we couldn't get Megan Fox to sex this thing up, who's next on the list?" move... Garry Shandling isn't exactly a traditional choice to play any part other than Garry Shandling... and I feel like I've seen Sam Rockwell play the evil manipulative puppeteer role so often it's like his equivalent of the Will Ferrell dumb, egocentric athlete character.
And yet... all three worked. Scarlett Johansson certainly had some traditional sex kitten stuff, but actually became much more appealing once she got involved in the action. Garry Shandling was outstanding as a dickhead senator. (Really!)
Sam Rockwell was my favorite, though, as the anti-Tony Stark... a weapons maker without any of the charisma, confidence or vision of Tony Stark. He's just a pile of desperation who reeks of trying too hard... and Rockwell's performances manages to sell that while still making him properly threatening.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle didn't come off as well. Unfortunately, both of them spend most of the movie giving Tony Stark disappointed looks and speeches. Paltrow's Pepper Potts just ends up seeming whiny and weak (not to mention setting the concept of women getting promotions at work back 10 years). Plus, she has a lot of scenes with Scarlett Johansson... and kinda disappears off the screen.
Don Cheadle as War Machine.
Putting aside the whole controversy of how Don Cheadle got the role of James Rhodes after Terrence Howard got (allegedly) forced out... he still doesn't have a great part in the film. He mostly has to be the sobering force for Tony Stark (which isn't any fun). Even when he puts on his War Machine suit, it's still clear in every scene that he's not even close to the superhero that Iron Man is.
I wouldn't be surprised if another "contract dispute" somehow ends with Forest Whitaker or Ludacris playing War Machine in "Iron Man 3".
DJ AM's cameo comes off, well, kinda strange. So about halfway through the movie, DJ AM is featured as the DJ at Tony Stark's birthday. He filmed the cameo about two months before he died of a drug overdose. It's a little unsettling to see him on screen... especially in a scene with Robert Downey Jr., who beat the very addiction that would end up taking AM's life shortly thereafter. A strange juxtaposition and a downer moment in an otherwise all-romp, all-the-time movie.
I'm so glad they didn't shoehorn in some janky 3-D. You know they had a meeting about it. "Should we go 3-D? We could have the whips coming right at you!" And someone had the integrity to say, "No. We didn't shoot this as a 3-D movie. If we add 3-D it's going to look as shitty as 'Clash of the Titans' and people are going to savagely attack the film. Let's just leave it alone."
Not every movie needs 3-D. "Iron Man 2" had great visual effects and I don't feel like we missed out on anything by watching it in two dimensions.
"Iron Man 2" doesn't start as strong as "Iron Man"... but finishes much stronger. There aren't many movies that have an opening 45 minutes that are as good as the first "Iron Man". When he's in the cave, building his Iron Man suit, then escaping -- everything is just perfect. But by the time he's fighting a giant Jeff Bridges at the end, it almost seems anticlimactic.
"Iron Man 2" doesn't start with as much power as its predecessor. There are more flashy visuals, but it's not even close to the epic first act. But... this movie definitely picks up momentum as it goes, it puts some real obstacles in front of Tony Stark, it raises the stakes, and has a much more exciting climax with much better villains.
Don't bother staying for the post-credits scene. Going into the movie, everyone said: Stay until the end of the credits, there's a great bonus scene. Well, I say: Don't bother. I won't ruin it for you, but it's not worth the hype, not even a little bit. If there's not a pirated version of it on YouTube yet, there will be soon. Catch it there.
In the theater, pretty much everyone stayed to see it... and then groaned in disappointment when it was over. There's no special bonus cameo. It's just... whatever.
It's a really entertaining movie, even if it doesn't quite have the magic of the original. I liked "Iron Man 2" and was thoroughly entertained for all 2+ hours.
The comic book movie sequel is tough, simply because it's not the origin story. Origin stories are great. But once you have to actually put an established hero out there, the storytelling becomes trickier. They do a good job here, but still follow some of the basic cliches -- a hero coping with the down side of having his power, increasing the number of bad guys, those types of things.
This is a good movie. It might not have hit that amazing sweet spot the first one did that made people fall in love with it... it's just missing that rare spark that so few movies have... but it's absolutely a worthy successor and definitely makes you leave the theater looking forward to "Iron Man 3".
I gave the first "Iron Man" a 9 out of 11, I give "Iron Man 2" an 8 out of 11 and a full recommendation.
This post was originally published on Friday, May 7, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Movies.