Film Archive for May, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

Directed by Jon Favreau

Spoiler Alert: This review contains some minor spoilers for Iron Man 2. If you want to go into the film knowing absolutely nothing about it, don’t read until you’ve seen it.

The problem with sequels is how seldom they live up to the promise of their predecessors. Such is unfortunately the case with Iron Man 2, which huffs and puffs but doesn’t quite succeed in blowing the house down.

Sure, okay, Iron Man 2 has lots of things you’ll like: big, glossy, action scenes, heaps of CGI special effects, and a brainy, brawny bad guy (played byMickey Rourke with a Russian accent, no less) who teams up with a somewhat less formidable bad guy (played by Sam Rockwell, no less). Rourke’s bad guy is dangerous in a Micky Rourke-crazy sort of way; Rockwell’s bad guy is just dangerous in the way that a lot of incompetent people with more money, power and ego than moral compass or brains with which to use them can be. Or perhaps, in much the same way that people with the money and power in Hollywood to greenlight mediocre sequels to comic book adaptations can be.

Oh, I jest, I jest … kind of. I don’t really think Jon Favreau and the production team behind Iron Man 2 are dangerous, per se, nor do I think they’ve created a pro-Republican, pro-military piece of agitprop disguised as an action film. It’s more just that it’s disappointing as hell that these folks had heaps of money with which to make an sequel to Iron Man at least equal to — and worthy of — the first, and rather than using the money and talent they had to accomplish this, they largely blew it by focusing more on setting things up for the Avengers storyline, and lavishing more attention on creating nifty effects than on crafting an actual story (see: the first Iron Man) with a character arc (see also: the first Iron Man) that audiences could get behind and care about.

Oh, well. At least it’s still better than either of the Transformers movies.

In trying to figure out just where things went awry between the first Iron Man and the second, it’s hard not to point a finger at the script, particularly given the absence of the writing team (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) that did such a spectacular job with the first film. The script for Iron Man took Tony Stark, an interesting comic-book character if there ever was one, and then crafted a story that allowed the writers (and Downey Jr, in his interpretation of the character) to take us inside Stark to explore both the physical and emotional reasons why he became Iron Man to begin with.

And Favreau did all this in an engaging way, juggling a good story with plenty of effects and fight scenes to satisfy the comic-book lovers who wanted plenty of bang for their buck; he succeeded, in fact, far better than anyone really expected.

Iron Man 2, however, doesn’t seem to know just what kind of story it wants to be when it grows up. The storyline (scripted by Justin Theroux, who also penned the equally unfocused Tropic Thunder script) is just all over the place, as if Theroux either wasn’t sure what story he wanted to tell, or had too many people influencing what went into the final script.

Is this a story about the dying Stark, ironically being killed by that which is keeping him alive, seeking redemption before it’s too late? Is it a classic good guys-bad guys action story? A cautionary tale about one man’s ego? A “good of the people” versus “selfish greed” thing?  Or is the first two-thirds of the film nothing more than a pathway to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and the Avengers?

What I do know is that I was often bored while watching Iron Man 2 (and I wasn’t bored for a second watching Iron Man), in spite of the plethora of nifty CGI effects Favreau has wedged into every nook and cranny of this film. When you’re pondering how crappy the security in Monaco must be for Rourke as bad-guy Ivan to not only make it through airport security with his bad-ass whips-of-lightning get-up, but onto the racetrack itself with his weapon suit on under his coveralls, you know the movie’s lost a bit of its momentum (and it loses more of it a few minutes later with the silliness of how the whole racetrack attack scene gets resolved).

As for Scarlett Johansson as Natalie-from-Legal/Natasha … what can I say? Favreau, perhaps taking notes from Michael Bay‘s fawning drooling over  Megan Fox in the Transformers flicks, has Johannson posing more than a Playboy centerfold (you can practically hear someone shouting at her, “Crouch like a sexy tiger, Scarlett! Rrrrrrrrowwww!”). Sure, she gets to sex it up in a sexy, skin tight costume that emphasize her assets — which I guess is what every serious actress who’s worked with the likes of Woody Allen really wants, right? As for her big action-fight sequence, I might have been more impressed if it hadn’t been lit like a Vogue shoot, and if I hadn’t just seen an 11-year-old do the same things, only better, in Kick-Ass.

Gwyneth Paltrow
doesn’t get to sex it up like Scarlett, though there are plenty of shots that focus on her body for those who are into Paltrow (and either she’s curvier than she used to be, or costuming worked overtime to give her some). She tries her best to give Pepper Potts some intellectual and emotional weight here, to make her be more than just the smart, classy girl Tony Stark secretly wants to bed (perhaps even wed?) while he’s surrounding himself with barely covered boobs and asses and lusting after Johannson’s Natalie-from-Legal. But this is more the Paltrow of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow than the Paltrow of, say, Two Lovers.

I suppose Stark promoting Potts to CEO and signing control of the company over to her could be seen as a mark on the belt of feminism somehow, though I’m not sure a woman being promoted simply because the man doesn’t want to deal with all the details anymore — and then resigning a week later because it’s just alltoo much, could actually be read as a watermark of feminist achievement.

All that aside, for what it is, Iron Man 2 does have some things going for it, most importantly the return of Robert Downey, Jr., (who, for the record, I would watch in just about anything) as Tony Stark, the super-rich super-brainiac who invented the Iron Man suit and IS, as he brashly tells a Senate committee, Iron Man. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s best bud/sympathetic representation of the military establishment, without making us miss Howard much. And Rourke and Rockwell make dandy bad guys for Our Hero to go up against, though I think the script misses largely that Stark’s biggest enemy is himself.

Iron Man 2 also has other things a comic-book movie should have, like, weapons — lots and lots of weapons — and fights and explosions — lots and lots of those, too. If special effects and CGI battle sequences are your thing, you’ll leave Iron Man 2 feeling very sated indeed.

Garry Shandling makes gets to smirk and smarm his way through a side part as a slimy politician (is there any other kind?) who gets his comeuppance, more or less. I did find it interesting that there’s been some buzz about this film as pro-military, pro-Conservative propoganda when Shandling’s character is basically advocating not a capitalist position, which would hold that Stark’s invention is his to do with as he wishes, but a socialist one, which would argue (as Shandling’s Senator Stern does) that the good of the people outweighs Stark’s right to control and own his intellectual and physical property.

Stern obviously hasn’t been reading his Ayn Rand, but then neither does Stark turn all Howard Roark and start blowing up Iron Man suits by way of keeping them out of the hands of the thieves, either. All of which is just another way in which the script seems uncertain of its ideas and philosophical underpinnings.

But that’s okay because the ends — be it the right of the people to military protection or the right of the people to a CGI-packed, bang-’em-up comic book adaptation — always justifies the means, does it not? And the United States does not now and never has engaged in torture. And if you believe either of those things, I’ve got an awesome Iron Man suit to sell you … for the right price.

Bottom line: Is Iron Man 2 worth seeing? Yes, take the kids to see it (unless you’re a parent who freaks out over comic-bookish violence), or go see it with a pack of friends, by all means. But take it with a hefty dose of popcorn salt … this is enjoyable, mostly harmless weekend multiplex fodder, not anywhere near as surprisingly smart or engaging as its predecessor.

-by Kim Voynar

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon