Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tarnished Armor - Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010)


Tony Stark has a lot of problems. The United States Government wants him to turn over his Iron Man technology to it. A rival, Justin Hammer, wants to take over Stark Industries’ slot as America’s top arms supplier. And a Russian ex-con has his sights, and electronic whips, set on removing Stark’s head from his body to avenge his father’s honor. All this and Tony still has the hots for his Number One, Pepper Potts, even as his eyes pop out of his head over his company’s newest notary public. Oh, and he’s dying too.

As you can see there’s a lot going on in Iron Man 2, but here’s the problem (and it’s a big one): it’s not very interesting. All the pieces are there, but you never really care. Gary Shandling is goofy U.S. Senator Stern who demands that Stark turn over his tech to the government, but you never see the government try and take it from him. Stern’s not even shaking a fist, more like wagging a finger; it feels like an empty threat, so what’s the point?

Sam Rockwell plays Hammer with a sort of fast-talking Luke Wilson meets Gary Oldman vibe. He even seems to channel game show host Chuck Barris, whom he played in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, when he presents his wares at an arms expo by dancing and strutting around the stage. He’s more impressive than the last few James Bond villains, but that’s damning him with faint praise. The problem is that Robert Downey Jr. is so commanding on screen, and his Tony Stark is such a larger-than-life character (especially in this sequel), that you need an actor and a character that can go toe-to-toe with him. Rockwell is an impressive actor, but he’s just not believable as someone who would stand a chance against Stark, as Jeff Bridges did in the first film. Rockwell looks slight of build on screen compared to Downey who shows off his buff physique in “wife-beater” t-shirts.

Mickey Rourke fairs a little better, but, lets face it, Rourke is a bit of a goofball. He was good in Sin City and fantastic in The Wrestler, but he often looks like a boob in this movie, especially when he pins up his long, greasy, streaked hair. Also American actors always sound silly when they do Russian accents; they all sound like Dracula, and Rourke is no exception. Rourke, a big dude in real life who likes little Chihuahua dogs, is given a little cockatiel bird in this movie for no real good reason, other than Rourke, a Method actor, probably asked for it because someone told him Russian ex-cons love cockatiels. I’m just speculating here.

The best part of the first Iron Man was the character interaction, especially between Tony and Pepper, who in this outing is abruptly promoted to company CEO and Chairperson by Stark. Tony does this because the nuclear-powered device which keeps him alive and powers his Iron Man armor is also giving him radiation poisoning; it's slowly killing him, so he promotes Pepper to keep his company going. He, of course, doesn’t tell Pepper that he’s dying. She finds out later but the movie simply plays it for laughs. Instead of creating scenes for Tony and Pepper to play off their mutual attraction and affection for each other – you know, giving them a real relationship - the movie wastes Gwyneth Paltrow’s time by showing her dealing with running the company. That’s the worst kind of story filler. This is a very bad decision, as it makes the kiss they share at the end less eventful and meaningful. In the first film, Tony told Pepper that he has no one close to him that he trusts with his life, save her, and THIS is how they choose to further that relationship? Imagine in Superman: The Movie if they downplayed all the scenes with Superman/Clark Kent and Lois, and all she did was chase after news stories about bank robbers and such, then at the end suddenly Superman and Lois kiss, or if Spider-Man 2 simply had Mary Jane dealing with her acting career and not with Peter and their mutual attraction. If those two movies had done that, they'd have exactly what Iron Man 2 has, which is a poorly written and filmed - and very unsatisfying - love story.

There is also a major problem with the action scenes. Iron Man and War Machine (Stark’s BFF, “Rhodey,” played this time by Don Cheadle) go up against Hammer’s Iron Man drone knockoffs. They’re simply silly robots with no personalities. In the James Bond movies Bond doesn’t merely fend off nameless guards with no personalites, but the top henchmen of the villain - colorful people like Odd Job, Rosa Kleb and Jaws (who worked for equally colorful bosses like Goldfinger, Blofeld, and Carl Stromberg/Hugo Drax, respectively). In IM2, fighting these bots is like fighting a remote controlled car or a toaster. Why should we give a crap?

The tv show Lost had an episode this season where an assassin was hired to kill one of the characters. The actor, Kevin Durand, had a great air about him and a sense of flair as Martin Keamy. He didn’t like it when an associate needlessly roughed up Jin, the intended target; he apologized for the mistreatment and even used his handkerchief to tend to Jin’s head wound. All this care for a man he intends to kill. Keamy was hired to do a certain job, not to muck about before doing it. THAT is what’s missing in opponents for Iron Man. Tony Stark is FULL of character, even when in the Iron Man suit. He needs to fight a foe with just as much character.

They need to get this right for Iron Man 3 - and for the Avengers movie, too - or they will be just run of the mill superhero flicks, another one on the pile, and who needs that?

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