Sunday, May 2, 2010

Iron Man love-in masquerading as a review

For some reason, I am fascinated by the fact that Iron Man 2 was written by Justin Theroux, who I know as he-of-the-dodgy-Irish-accent, Seamus O'Grady from Charlie's Angels 2. You know, the guy who was trying to kill Drew Barrymore? Not really relevant to anything, just an observation on my part.

Oh by the way, spoiler warning, so if you haven't seen the movie yet and intend to do so, go away and stop wasting time. I know, I'm rude, some of that Stark ego has transferred it seems.

This just in: Iron Man loves donuts

I did not have any particular expectations of this film, other than I wanted to have a good time. The first one was such a surprisingly great movie, I never once thought the sequel could live up to it. Sequels hardly ever do, after all - The Matrix Reloaded, Spider-Man 2, there's an exhaustive list. I must admit, for the first few minutes of the film, I wasn't sold either. Mikey Rourke's Ivan Venko didn't quite pull out the "Noooooo!" moment, but it was close, and this all before the opening sequence even finished. Hm. But then Tony came on, and I forgot to care. If ever there was proof that flawed, dysfunctional characters were the most interesting, he is it. Within the first fifteen minutes, the conflict, setting and characters are all introduced, and we're ready to get on with it. We do so with a bang.

Except for the plot hole at the Monaco Grand Prix (If no-one knew Tony was going to race, how did Ivan know? I suppose he could have gone just to terrorise Tony in general, and the race was just a luck. But it seems a bit too much like a happy coincidence that he's part of the intervention team), it's a tight story that keeps moving. It clocks in at just over two hours, and it definitely benefits from good pacing. Nothing worse than a film that drags in the middle *cough* Spider-Man *cough* I like a film with a convoluted storyline, I've heard complaints that there is too much happening in this film but I thought it all dove-tailed well in the end. The personal angst of Tony's rapid deterioration contrasts well with the combined team of the competitive Justin Hammer and the personal vendetta of Venko.

Don't mess with the bird

By far my favourite thing about this film is the fast witty dialogue - it's not just fun and effective, it's also intelligent. The Pepper/Tony interaction in particular is still blindingly quick. They've kept little things that recall the golden moments of the first film, but it's subtle and well-crafted, not just put in for comedic effect (something the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is guilty of.) All I really wanted of this film was the same attitude and sense of humour of the first, and it delivered, in spades. I think what sets Iron Man apart from many other superhero franchises is the fact that all the characters are well-developed. They're not just stand-ins to round out the lead, but they're given agency in their own right which in turn gives depth to the lead. You can believe in all of these characters as individuals who exist on their own terms when they're not on screen. They are not just props, or a means to an end, they build on each other. They have their own agendas and motivation, their own reasons for being, and that makes the entire thing much more interesting.

I just have to mention that Sam Rockwell, who plays weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer, is perhaps the most disco villain ever. Something about him is just so...disco. There's no other way to describe it. Actually, you might remember him from the first Charlie's Angels film, in which he played much the same villain - I think there was dancing in that one too. He is a phenomenal actor though, as I'm sure anyone who has seen 'Moon' would agree. I like the three piece suit look he sports in the film actually, it's better than the long jacket they've got RDJ in at the start. But I digress. The acting in this film is really solid all round, from Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury, Scarlett Johanssen's Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanov, Don Cheadle as Rhodey, and Rourke's turn as Ivan Vanko (it's always the Russians), I'm on board for all of them.

Shield: not just a super-secret *boy*band

By the way, revelation, how did I never notice that Paul Bettany was the voice of Jarvis, the world's coolest computer? Aaaah, brain freeze. (Now I want to watch 'A Knight's Tale', I know, my brain works in weird ways.)

Anyway, as my friends know, I have always had a strong aversion to comic-book/superhero movies. Spider-Man is my least favourite of the lot, though I am contractually obliged to see them all with lovely R whenever they come out as she is a big fan - I'm always willing to support others' fandoms. But through the years, I've generally tried to stay as far away from hero films as possible, I found them painfully didactic, predictable, cliched, and rather dull. Mostly because I never cared about the characters. I don't care about Peter Parker, I don't care about Clark Kent, they're boring, one-dimensional characters that I wish would be crushed by the ludicrous villain, but I know they won't be because they're superheroes and so frankly, why should I sit through a film I already know the outcome of? What has actually always annoyed me, and this is especially true of the Superman franchise (the old-school animation actually), is the way this near-invincible character always gets their ass kicked half-way through the thing and it's this big, dramatic "oh no!" moment, but you know he's going to get back up at the end and defeat the villain anyway. Not to mention the whining, and perfection. It's so formulaic, I can't bring myself to be interested. It's the same reason I don't read generic romance novels, I know from the first page exactly how it's going to play out. Now I know most things in life are derivative, and I'm not asking them to re-invent the wheel here, merely to pimp it out - make it interesting, give me something to care about. As it turns out, there are only three comic-book film franchises that I've watched and adored: X-Men, Batman (Nolan's) and Iron Man. They still had the formulaic story arcs, but they also had conflicted and multi-faceted characters that I could actually become invested in.

So, when Tony Stark stares into the mirror in Iron Man 2, thinking he's going to die, I feel it, and right there is the strength of this franchise; well-rounded characters that you want to believe in, faults and all.

Music: Thunderstruck - AC/DC
Mood: Procrastinating

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