Friday, May 7, 2010


Well, seeing as how I am the Internet's pre-eminent loudmouth on all things Iron Man (seriously! Even War Rocket Ajax said so) it behooves (behooven? does behoove?) me to weigh in my thoughts on Iron Man 2, as I am two hours fresh from the theatre having just seeing it on opening day and I can tell the Four Readers out there are dying to know what I thought of it. Spoilers ahoy--we doin' this.

Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first movie, and Tony Stark is kicking ass and taking names. He has, as he says in the movie "privatised world peace"--an interesting concept I would rather have seen rather than be told about--as it would have been an interesting flipside to his previous monopoly on arming the world. With his fantastic suit or armor he's invincible (as people are years away from duplicating the process that created the suit), overconfident, utterly cheeky, and proves that one can indeed have balls so big that bullets do nothing as he owns the US Senate, arch-rival Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell as a being that exhales sleaze the way you and I exhale carbon dioxide) in one fell swoop.

He's also dying. The arc reactor in his chest is poisoning his blood in a mostly well-thought out subplot that I was eternally grateful was not the Extremis plot as previously speculated (There are people who think the Extremis plotline in the comic was a brilliant spin on Iron Man. These people are completely, absolutely, catastrophically, objectively wrong.) The resolution is a little creaky (a lot, actually) but I'll get to that in a minute, but the way it drives Stark into more risky and alienating behaviour is actually well done and drives the story in a rather Empire Strikes Back "just keeps getting worse for the gang" kinda way.

The crisis point comes when Ivan Vanko, whose father worked with Tony's father (who, in an eternally amusing bit is played by Roger Sterling from Mad Men as Roger Sterling, pretty much) on the arc reactor thing and Swears Revenge on him. The whole attempt to set Vanko and Stark up as products of their fathers and their pasts falls flat here, mostly because Mickey Rourke hunger-dunger-dangs his way through his dialogue in a way that the word "unintelligible" doesn't even begin to cover. But he's effective physically as Whiplash and manages to make the whole "guy with a whip against the guy wearing a walking tank" thing work in a way the comics sure as hell never did.

Insofar as any of his plan was understandable without subtitles, it's pretty smart--Vanko just wants to demonstrate that Stark isn't invincible, and trusts that his many rivals will pounce him at this sign of weakness--he just plans to demonstrate it in public. But things develop that Hammer sees an opportunity to finally crack Stark's design and frees Vanko, who agrees to design an army of drones for him (though he has his Own Reasons, naturally--Hammer never once comes off as the sharpest knife in the drawer in the film. Obadiah "IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS! Stane, he ain't.) and bides his time for his final revenge with Stark.

Meanwhile, Stark seems to be taking care of the whole destroying himself thing pretty ably--alienating himself from Pepper Potts (who at least doesn't kill the Big Boss by throwing a switch this time) and finally forcing Jim Rhodes to steal one of his older suits and smack some sense into him in a pretty damn good fight that is pretty damn physical and has some decent fight choreography for something that was sure quite a lot of CGI. Credit where it's due--there's some real heft in the fights and the camera isn't all juddering around and stuff so you can't really make out what's going on. I do call bullshit on the "speed ramping" stuff though: Stop that. It's two thousand god damned ten. You know better.

Anyways, Rhodey delivers the Mark II two the government, which Hammer refits into War Machine, the Drones get built and Stark, with a little help from Nick Fury and The Most Plot-Convenient Box In The World figures out a way to upgrade the arc reactor in such a way as to where it won't kill him.

This bit is actually one of my biggest problems with the movie. Stark works out after seeing a filmed message from his father that he hid the plans for an entirely new element in the design of his expo's grounds. I know what the point of the scene was--Stark never knew his father and never knew how proud he was of him and how he'd bequeathed the future to him--I got all that without the utterly obvious & damn silly device of him hiding the new element on his fucking fairgrounds.

This is a great excuse for a new suit of armour (now with Big Triangle) and a final showdown with War Machine and the Drones on the Expo's grounds. Y'see, Vanko having figured out how to seize control of them all in an effort to . . .y'know I'm not sure what the whole point of having Hammer's Drones shoot up Stark's expo really was, and as Vanko spent more time learning hacking than he did elocution, so I can only speculate it was a general "blow up his spot" kinda thing. He was very upset about his bird maybe--I really couldn't tell you.

The fight between War Machine, Iron Man, and the Drones is a good bit of business and plays a lot better than the Iron Monger fight from the first movie did, as the multiple Drones allow for a little variety and a good long fight wherein none of the principals takes their mask off just in case the people watching are too dumb to remember who's who (I really hate this cliche, and it took me out of the fight at the end of the first movie) which has a good Crowning Moment of Awesome for Iron Man (You'll know it when you see it) and culminates with a big fight with Whiplash in his new upgraded armor.

That part I'm not so crazy about. Having read some ancillary stuff about the making of the movie, the creators of the film were anxious to avoid a fight that looked too much like the Iron Monger fight, but that's pretty much what they ended up doing. It's not bad (and has a pretty cool resolution) it's just . . .a little disappointing.

You may have noticed I haven't talked much about Nick Fury or the Black Widow being in this movie. That's because they don't really do that much--the Widow gets to kick a little ass in an ultimately futile (but amusing) bit in the third act and Nick Fury shows up to nudge the plot along, shoehorn some stuff about the Avengers movie to come, and generally be Samuel L. Jedi for a little bit.

I know everyone's nerded out about the Avengers teases that were in the movie, and . . .yeah, wonderful. It's great they're trying to link a bunch of movies together and I hope it works, but trying to do all that within Iron Man 2 meant there were a lot of bits that didn't really work for this movie that just called attention to themselves. I laud them for what they're trying to do, but really . . .it needs to be a bit more invisible to be more enjoyable, and I'm looking right at that damn post-credits bit.

Anyhow, thankfully the movie finishes on a nice callback to the Senate stuff from the beginning of the movie and we're off until Iron Man 3 hits in 2012 or whenever.

A major quibble (for me, anyways)--the score is atrocious compared to the first one. I liked how the Iron Man theme gradually "built" through every iteration of the armour was a cool little extra touch and I missed that this time out, John Debney's score is generic, obvious and too damn loud in the bits of the score that aren't AC/DC's greatest hits collection (and seriously--given how obviously mercenary having AC/DCs song jammed willy-nilly on the soundtrack, y'all didn't even try to get "War Machine?" How hard could it have been--I mean, KISS will come to my house for $100.) and it really lets the movie down when it should be at a more epic pitch. I know we're well past the days of good purpose-built scores, but when done properly, they add a lot to the movie.

It may sound like I didn't like the movie as much as the first one and . . .well, I didn't. But only narrowly so--I've told people it's an A to the first movie's A+--The armor battles are suitably epic, the suitcase armour was awesome as hell, and the movie's weaker bits are fortunately eased by Robert Downey Jr's considerable charm and amused cheekiness in the face of . . .er, everything. The rest of the cast mostly acquits themselves well--no one really stands out, but no surprise there--Downey pretty much owned the first movie also, didn't he?

In short, it's pretty good, and doesn't suffer from a dramatic slide in quality as sequels often do (and before you bring up Spider-Man 2, I remind you that people who believe Spider-Man 2 was a great movie are also utterly, tragically and catastrophically wrong) and advances the first story in some interesting ways without having to leech off of "iconic" stories from the comics (not least of which because there aren't any). The idea of Stark's Iron Man tech touching off an arms race (or an Armour War?) is a good one, and hopefully it'll be carried through to a logical conclusion in the third movie.

It's not what it was, but it'll do.


C. Elam said...

I appreciate your review a lot, as it gives me confidence going into the movie. No, seriously - I know you like Iron Man, but I also know you don't think he's got a body of great stories *AND* I know you'll be more than happy to rip something if it's no damn good.

One thing I didn't understand in some of the negative mainstream reviews is they seem to think that Tony learned "humility" in the first movie. Errr, no, definitely not. A humble person wouldn't announce they were Iron Man as the closing credits rolled.

I have lauded Downey as possibly the best actor to EVER portray a superhero, and I'm pretty sure even if he didn't care much, he still would be. He makes playing Tony Stark as a believable, albeit larger-than-life, character seem easy.

I thought Whiplash was an odd choice, when there is a perfectly good villain with a similar alter ego (Crimson Dynamo) that might have a slight bit more pull. But then I think that they are probably trying to vary from the "dudes in armor beating each other" formula just a little, and I give them credit for reinventing Whiplash to make him semi-buyable.

I am terribly disappointed, however, that "War Machine" was not included. Jeff Van Camp's stint as Lord Humongous defined that as a song for badasses to me.

My word verification : "unuckerf", which is either one of Apache Chief's commands or some bizarre sex act. Possibly both.

Kazekage said...

"I know you'll be more than happy to rip something if it's no damn good."

That makes me sound like the most miserable sumbitch ever, but it's probably true. Yeah, as big a fan as I am of Iron Man, he has spent most of his published "life" not living up to its potential.

Yeahhh . . .that was totally not the vibe I got from the first one. I think Tony found a purpose, something he could sink his teeth into, but "humility?" Nope. In this one, the lesson is slightly more blatant, but it's filtered unmistakably through Tony Stark so . . .yeah.

Problem is, it still ended up being "two dudes in armour beating each other up," which was a bit of a dissapointment, but honest to God, there's not much else you can do. A lot of people think you can do the Mandarin, or Ultimo, or Fina Fang Foom, and these people are so utterly wrong it makes my teeth hurt.

There is no way, NO WAY that the Mandarin is going to work in an Iron Man movie, ever. I don't care whether he has his ten magic rings on his fingers, in his spine, or he has the world's most lethal Prince Albert, he totally sucks, he's an antiquated racist caricature, and he should be forgotten.

I think after "I Was Made For Loving You" it was universally decided the world would not pay attention to KISS again until they took off the makeup. Mind you, "Music From The Elder" makes a strong case for why one would do so. . .

C. Elam said...

I wouldn't say "miserable"; more like "brutally honest" and "unwilling to just go along with the crowd." I never have to wonder if you're hiding your true feelings in your reviews!

Yeah, exactly. I read an AP review that left me wondering if that fella had seen the same Iron Man movie I saw.

To make the Mandarin work in any sort of capacity, the biggest problem is YOU CAN'T CALL HIM "THE MANDARIN" as that is a ridiculous name even by the standards of a world where there are people named "Dr. Doom" and "Mr. Sinister." Point of fact, you'd have to jettison just about everything but the rings and start from scratch. And I question whether than could work.

Fin Fang Foom strikes me as a reach anyway, but a giant talky Chinese space dragon might not fly with the general public. Oh, maybe, but the logistics are just killing me.

I can never even remember who Ultimo is. Nuff said?

I can think of a handful of Iron Man villains you might be able to pull off credibly, but they'd have to go the Whiplash route and be reinvented from the ground up.

I have never heard "Music From The Elder", and everything I read leads me to believe this is a good thing.

Kazekage said...

Yeah. I don't know if people know this, but my real job is a diplomat. ;)

Well, you can, provided he's a sentient orange. But really, it's 2010, and Fu Manchu with magic rings of magicness is not going to fly any way shape or form. You could still do the Titanium Man or the Crimson Dynamo, because post Cold War Russia is still rich in story fodder. But really, the only Fu Manchu I needed to see in this century was Nicholas Cage in that Grindhouse trailer.

Yeah, as much as people like Fin Fang Foom, he's a punchline and should be kept as such.

Ultimo is a big metal guy who . . .well, stomps around and zaps things with eyebeams. It's a bit limited . . .but then, he is an Iron Man baddie.

"Music From The Elder" is a concept album. By KISS. It is even more ghastly than you can possibly imagine.

C. Elam said...

I can guarantee that not only would I pay to see a movie where Iron Man fights a sentient orange, but I would see it TWICE.

But yes, as someone who has been poking holes in the "yellow peril" stereotype for the better part of the last 5 years, I am with you. It amazes me it lasted as long as it did in comics.

I could get behind the Crimson Dynamo and/or Titanium Man. Just please, no fake "Russian" names for them. As a language nerd, I can appreciate the thought someone put into translating "Titanium Man", but just stop already.

*I* like Fin Fang Foom, but I'm not cracked out enough to think people watching a movie wouldn't hear that name and bust out laughing before they even see him. As for Ultimo, I shall now Google image search him.

*slight pause*

Wow, he is even more generic-looking than I could've imagined.

I was thinking along the lines of someone like Blizzard, if Cousin Ahnold hasn't ruined everyone for ice power bad guys. It's still a bit of a reach, but the name "Blizzard" is vaguely more presentable than Mandarin, Fin Fang Foom, or Ultimo.

I've been promised the chance to listen to an obscure prog band's album's worth of songs about Marvel superheroes. I am pretty sure I will be hearing something even more ghastly than KISS.

Kazekage said...

Man, me too. Maybe that's the hidden ingredient for Iron Man 3's success? Iron man vs. citrus.

I'm not. Remember--DC's spent the last few years re-aging and re-crackerizing their legacy characters . . .a little friendly racism for the folks who built our railroads is to be expected.

I always thought "Crimson Dynamo" was a hell of an awesome name, bt I could never for the life of me work out why no one ever came up with a design for the character that really lived up to the name.

I know, right? And yet, THIS is an iconic Iron Man foe. There is no way that should even be possible, short of a dramatic lowering of standards.

Blizzard would be a possibility. Unicorn, possibly. Firepower would be ideal, even though you're basically talking about *another* final battle with another guy in an armored suit.

I can't decide whether that would or wouldn't be worse than "The Elder," actually . . .

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Maybe the solution is to import a villain from another franchise? There's no rule that says Film Tony has to deal exclusively with Comic Tony's bad guys - let them put him up against Ultron or HYDRA (or, dare I say it, MODOK?) and it should work out just fine...

Kazekage said...

Actually, I think the thing to do would be to attempt something like what Matt Fraction tried (and failed to hit the mark becase, well, Fraction) with Ezekiel Stane--create a biological response to the Iron Man suit and maybe play that thing out, as it's about all they could really do that doesn't involve two guys in similar armour suits beating the crap out of each other. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Wouldn't that just be a guy in a metal suit and a guy in a glowing skin suit shooting lasers at each other? How would you differentiate bio-tech from "regular" tech?

Kazekage said...

I reckon you have to do it in terms of appearance and how you get to that point--yes, you have two guys basically throwing energy at each other, but it at least will look substantially different from the previous 2 fights.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think it's just a question of context - Nick Fury aside, the first two films don't have many explicit connections to the overall Marvel universe, so they've only shown Stark dealing with threats that are thematically relevant to him. Once they do the Avengers bit and put him in a wider "genre pool", it should be quite interesting to see how they'll use him...

Kazekage said...

True enough, but it's probably for the best to keep the individual movies as self-contained as possible, as the idea of an Avengers movie written & directed by Whedon gives me pause.

Also, there are very few non-problematic and credible Avengers villains, so . . .yeah. *L*

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

At least it's not Michael Bay. :)

Seriously, off the top of my head the only ones that come to mind are Ultron and Kang, and good luck trying to boil down Kang's backstory for film...

Kazekage said...

For me, that's damning with faint praise. I work so hard to avoid everything Whedon . . .

Yeah, Ultron's too, really. In fact, off the top of my head, really every enduring Avengers nemesis is intimately tied to a character or three--the Grim Reaper was one that immediately came to mind, and his sole connection to the Avengers is through Wonder Man, for God's sake.