Thursday, May 6th, 2010

An 'Iron Man 2' Review

HE'S A MAN, MADE OF IRON. BUT NOT REALLY, IT'S JUST THE SUIT THAT'S MADE OF IRON.I'm of the school that believes that early movie reviews should be spoiler-free and not reveal anything about the plot. So feel free to read this and not be concerned that you're going to find out anything more about the story other than the fact that there's a cast of characters and it's a continuation of the first movie.

The recent trend with comic book movie series is to always be bigger than the movie that came before it. A lot of times this has to do with the fact that technology gets better each year, and as a result the imaginations of the movie creators are freed to execute more wackadoo visuals. That being said, bigger is not always better and the results can be a mixed bag.

Successful examples of this exercise are movies like: X-Men and its sequel X2; Spiderman and Spiderman 2, and, obviously, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Conversely, less than stellar examples of pushing it too far are: X2 to X3: The Last Stand and Spiderman 2 and Spiderman 3. People will say that either Brett Ratner or Sony ruined X3 and Spiderman 3, respectively, but the fact is that ultimately it was the desires to pack more into the movies, whether it was by way of mutants or villains, that hurt both films.

Where does Iron Man 2 fall on this scale? Is it more of a Spiderman 2 or an X3? IMHO, it's probably somewhere between, maybe leaning a smidgen towards Spiderman 2. While the movie is definitely fun to watch and the actors are all pretty great, especially Robert Downey Jr. and Sam Rockwell, there's still a little of that "We're going to try to fit everything we can into this, because it has to be HUUUUUUGE!!!" feeling to the whole thing. There's a number of rushed scenes, and a fair amount of times when the movie asks you to ignore some pretty decently sized plot holes.

My biggest fear going into this movie was the integration of Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, and I was really pleasantly surprised by the results! This stems mostly from the fact that her normal go-to role is "free spirited"/slutty girl who poaches a guy just by way of her curvy-ness and independent-ness, and that wasn't something I really wanted for either my superhero movie or Pepper Potts.

So if you weren't really going to see Iron Man 2 because you didn't like the original Iron Man and didn't understand why they made a sequel for it (answer: because the first one made like $500 million), then you probably shouldn't go see this movie. But if you're a normal person who likes things and also enjoys a good superhero romp at the movies, go check this one out!

Also, Christiane Amanpour kills it in her cameo. If the talks of spinning her off in her own movie haven't happened yet, my guess is that they'll engage in those conversations soon.

16 Comments / Post A Comment

riotnrrd (#840)

I mostly agree with this review. I saw it the other day and was pleasantly surprised that it avoided the "pile in more crap" trap. Yes, it's a bit busier than the first but it's mythos-building. They (Marvel studios) are trying to expand the universe that Iron Man (both the man and the movie) operates in, to invlude the Avengers, Captain America and Thor. I liked this widening of the view, as it were, and the raising of the stakes. I don't think the theme of "superpowered heroes create superpowered villains" as well as "Dark Knight" but it didn't fumble it, either. I am glad that the rapid-fire, semi-improvised feel of the dialog remained in this film and, like you, was pleasantly surprised by Johansson not relying on her usual shtick.

paco (#2,190)

Sounds like the movie will do fine.

On a side note, Iron Man is a sort of interesting character (like Batman) in that he has no innate, inherited/mutant superpowers. Anyone remember the bad guy "Syndrome" in THE INCREDIBLES? He was basically Iron Man — the kid with no inherited superpowers, who developed technologies to make himself into a superhero. The depiction of the Syndrome character in THE INCREDIBLES always struck me as odd and off-putting (along with Brad Bird's relentless MEDIOCRITY BAD, EXCELLENCE GOOD BS).

Sorry, tangent.

deepomega (#1,720)

Gonna disagree – Syndrome's problem wasn't that he tried to rise above his station, but the tried to do it by… killing people. We don't really see much of the other superheroes, so it's probably hard to really guess whether maybe there WAS an Iron Man/Batman style good guy.

riotnrrd (#840)

"Sounds like the movie will do fine. "

Oh, absolutely. I really liked it. It's maybe not as good as the first one, but that one had a freshness to it that no sequel can have (by definition) and, by widening the universe a bit (which I think is fun it and of itself) the sequel becomes a bit more complex. However, almost everything that made the first one good: great action, great vfx, fun characters and witty dialog, are there in this one.

paco (#2,190)

Deepomega: Did Syndrome actually kill anyone in the movie?

In any event, the film portrayed Syndrome's main threat to all that is good as this: his threat to "make everyone super." That equalization — the elimination of specialness, giftedness, etc. — would apparently horrify Brad Bird, who never tires of reminding us in movie after movie that some people are born gifted, and others are not, and those who are not gifted should accept their station and get out of the way of the gifted. That's just how it goes, kids! Bird, who seems like he must be an Ayn Rand fan, cherishes the hierarchy between the gifted and the ungifted. See Ratatouille; see also Hindu caste system.

paco (#2,190)

Deepomega: Wait, now I'm remembering. Syndrome did start wiping out the superheroes on his secret island. So there's that.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

You have to remember that the Pixar films are aimed at kids, a lot of whom are terrified of excelling for fear they'll be made fun of by other, dumber kids. I took away the pretty standard kids'-fare message that talent is nothing to be ashamed of.

And isn't MEDIOCRITY BAD kind of… um… true?

rajma (#2,918)

One problem with the "MEDIOCRITY BAD, EXCELLENCE GOOD" message is that human beings are not very adept at recognizing which camp they fall into:

Also, I think the fear of failing is at least as big a problem as the fear of excelling. Whatever path Bird took, the only way most people become any good at anything is by understanding and being okay with being mediocre for awhile. Make a kid ashamed of her failures and you're less likely to see what she's really capable of.

deepomega (#1,720)

Yeah the Objectivism was out in full force in The Incredibles, but it was a sort of whitewashed shiny objectivism – or, maybe more accurately, Meritocratism? The conclusion was, everyone should do their best goddamn job, but they shouldn't try to kill people who are better than them. Which feels pretty solid to me!

Also, there wasn't too much on failure – we didn't really see anyone fail. We just saw people succeed at being assholes.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

But that's just it; the consistent message of the movie is that being ashamed is bad. The protagonists were unhappy when the law forced them to be ashamed; the antagonist was driven to be a bad guy because of his shame. The Aesop is pretty clearly "don't be ashamed of your talents OR your shortcomings." Comparing that to Rand is beyond silly.

paco (#2,190)

DD: "Don't be ashamed" is one way to put it. "Revel in your superiority" and "know your place" is another.

You're very right to point out that these are kids' movies. That's precisely why I think it's kind of fucked up that Bird's message in these movies is that you're either a born genius/athlete/artist or not. That's the "Aesop" I took from THE INCREDIBLES (and RATATOUILLE). Is that the message a kid needs to hear at age 5 or 6 as he watches this movie in the back of his mom's Odyssey? That there's no place in Bird's world view for merit obtained through work, labor, discipline, etc. (On this topic, I often wonder, what is the "merit" in being "born smart"? What is the different (merit-wise) between being born smart and being born into a billion-dollar inheritance?)

In the end, it's pretty hard for me to get around the intentionally provocative line Bird tosses into THE INCREDIBLES: "When the time comes, you'll know what to do. It's in your blood." Now, I know the movie had kind of cool retro sheen going, but what's with the pro-eugenics suggestion?

But in any event, I think our differing takes on this may just be a matter of identification or affiliation. You appear to be on Team Former Gifted Children. (I'm on Team Satisfactory/Needs Improvement.)

(Apologies again for the tangent, and for hijacking the comment thread.)

This was a very nice hijacking and a good conversation. You both made very good cases.

I think part of the problem is that in the superhero genre (or cartoons in general) talent is almost always equivalent to moral worth (because cartoons are two dimensional, as they say) whereas in the real world it isn't like that; real people have a lot more things at which to be talented or not.

Likewise with meritocrats. Some of them are the simple workers plugging away that make the world run. Others are Eichmann. I guess I think we should respect results, wherever they come from. Burroughs was a natural talent but lazy while Sartre worked like a damned dog all night and yet neither of them managed to make very satisfying novels.

And as for whether its better that the results come from this or that that's just going to go on and on forever like chocolate or vanilla, a matter of taste (more or less). Teach yer kids to do good however they can. Said the monkey to the groundhog.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Guilty as charged. But my Team Former Gifted Children allegiance doesn't stop me from, for instance, completely disavowing IQ tests as egregious pseudoscience, or heaping disdain upon MENSA and their membership.

I think MNIMA has a good point here; you can decide to take superpowers as the sole measure of merit in the movie, because it's a superhero movie largely concerned with superpowers. The real-world truth, however, is that there are going to be things you're good at and there are going to be things you suck at.

The movie pretty clearly encapsulates talent in the heroes and feelings of inadequacy in the villains. But, as with any good superhero story, the audience is pushed to sympathize with the villain as well as the heroes, and see aspects of themselves in both. The villain's problem is pretty clearly that he has fixated on his own lack of one type of talent (superpowers) while ignoring the value of his talent in another area (robotics), making him miserable. So the message is not to fixate on your failings as the villain does, but to revel in your talent as the heroes do.

heroofthebeach (#2,280)

I heard Christiane Amanpour might be getting her own TV series! Do you think it's going to be set in the same universe?

paco (#2,190)

What is the different = What is the difference …

martinih (#4,798)

This funny and insightful review changed my life.

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