Iron Man 2: Repulsors Raised?

(2010) dir. Jon Favreau
viewed: 05/07/10 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Iron Man 2 is arguably the most-anticipated summer action film of the year.  It’s not a promising summer, really, so the competition doesn’t exactly seem stiff for such a title.  Really, what with dire-looking films like The A-Team (2010), a new The Karate Kid (2010), and the truly overwrought-looking and titled Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Iron Man 2 is a much more concise and to the point sounding thing.

The “original” Iron Man (2008) was a surprisingly fun pile of an action film and it rebooted Robert Downey, Jr.’s career as the egocentric Tony Stark, a billionaire, genius scientist who comes to build his Iron Man suit as a weapon. And I think because there wasn’t much in the way of expectation, the amount of fun that film turned out to be was just a strange, successful contrast.  And good on it, too.  I was looking forward to Iron Man 2, are you?

This time around, Mickey Rourke is the villain, the seething pile of tattooed muscle, gold-capped teeth, and sneering Russian-accented speech.  And he’s pissed because Stark’s father and his father had worked together on the designs that built the power of the Iron Man suit, but his father was deported back to Russia and trucked out to Siberia, where he lived in poverty and misery.  It’s interesting that a guy who looks so back-alley scary is also a genius physicist, but it’s 2010.  Anything can happen.

The movie’s best action sequence is the first, where Rourke (Whiplash) confronts Stark as he races the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo.  His whips shear the Formula One race cars like a hot knife through butter, creating havoc on the track and the need for Downey to transform into Iron Man to fight him off.  While the scene builds well, with the film’s best visuals, and there is some decent comic action, ultimately it’s not much of a fight.  It’s kind of like Whiplash goes down in less than a minute into the first round.

But that gives time to develop the story of Sam Rockwell, the competitor of Stark’s weapons for the government biz.  Rockwell’s character snatches Rourke from a French jail and puts him to work on his own less-functional robot suits, which sets the table for the finale.

But it also gives the film a lot of time to pad out the Marvel “Universe”.  You see, with this film, and the coming films of Captain America, Thor, and other characters, the corporation is building up to its big Avengers film due out in a couple of years, where all these characters and the Hulk are all supposed to show up with their name-brand stars.  And the company is putting an awful lot into this, promoting and cross-promoting itself.

To this end we have the luscious Scarlett Johansson (yes, I said luscious) and Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Nick Fury here again as in the first film).  Johansson is going to be one of the Avengers.  Jackson is the guy pulling them all together.  What does this have to do with the Mickey Rourke plot?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  It’s all about the future products not the current one.

The film. despite all this, is buoyant enough.  The dialogue is chipper and fast paced, something Downey is particularly good at.  Gwyneth Paltrow, his ladyfriend/assistant/CEO is up for the repartee.  Indeed, that was one of the major charms of the original film — Downey himself.  While the film doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, it’s entertaining enough.

The film is caught with the irony that its most likable element is Downey, in human form, but when he’s in the Iron Man suit, he’s a digital effect.  And while the digital effects are satisfactory, what you end up with in the final battleis one digital effect pounding on another.  While I know that some digital artists in the FX biz do not like to think of what they do as “animation”, I would actually quite disagree.  The figures are entirely animated and possess none of the actual weight of any man, iron or not.  Even the best animation hasn’t perfected this illusion.

Well, for this film, it’s not the end of the world.  It’s satisfying enough.  It won’t be mistaken for anybody’s idea of a masterpiece.   But the most disheartening thing is that this is the most appealing big summer action film on the slate.  The other films that look good are not quite of this ilk.  And thinking to myself that if this is the best there is, it’s going to be a long, dry summer.

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