Iron Man 2

Year 2010

Robert Downey, Jr as  Tony Stark/Iron Man
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle as Lt. Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes/War Machine  
Scarlett Johansson   as Natalie Rushman/Black Widow
Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (?)
Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Nick Fury - Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Garry Shandling as Senator Stern
Director - Jon Favreau
Screenwriter - Justin Theroux  

This movie is nothing more than a series of presumably cool effects in search of an identity. The effects aren't always that special and Sybil had less of an identity problem. Is it an action film? A showcase for CGI? A social commentary? A billboard for products? A medium for overacting? An anti laws of physics film? An Ayn Rand wannabe? A political lampoon? A contradiction to the Merry Marvel tenets of superherodom? Why, it's all this and more! More! More!

The movie treats delicate situations with a ham fist and destroys. The material presented to the writer for inclusion in the movie exceeded the writer's abilities. In fact, although only one person was credited with the screenplay, there had to be more than one to explain the hodgepodge that was filmed. This committee of writers was more destructive to the potential franchise than Iron Man was to his nemeses.

The plot? Iron Man fights more metal.

As for the schizophrenic nature of the movie, let me rhetorically answer my own questions in much the same way that Socrates answered questions put to him in "Plato's Republic". (Don't worry, I won't conclude that philosophers should run the country.)

Is it an action film? Yes, it is. There are the the requisite appearances of an enemy, He shows up first at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and than again at the grand finale. There's an assault on the villain's fortress by a new character and there's a battle between Iron Man and War Machine. Everyone's abilities and power fluctuate like a WWF competition. Should Iron Man win? Let's make him unstoppable. Should he lose? Let's make him clumsy and underpowered.

It's not just Iron Man. Vanko, Rhodes, Rushman, Hammer, Grand Prix drivers, chauffers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., politicians, lawyers, the whole stinking lot of characters in this movie can be counted on the have their daily or hourly cycles affect their ability to hold back their drool muchless their ability to be functional in any capacity. This gets annoying.

What about CGI? Is there any scene that doesn't include it? Most of it is, thankfully, well done. But there are a few instances of unshaded or unfinished images that look more like the original comic book than live action accessories. Name it and it blows up and with very spectacular, yet very unconvincing, results. Bystanders should be scarred, blinded, and deafened for life in nearly every scene. But they're not. The collateral damage should have leveled neighboring buildings, or at least peaked the interest of people in those buildings. But, nothing.

This is in keeping with the first problem, though. A race course can be ruined, but people nearby shouldn't be hurt so the catastrophe is limited to a five foot radius.

Is there social commentary? I think so. I mean Tony Stark appears before a Senate Committee and says something about single-handedly making the world a safe place. So, even though the poor are not mentioned, world peace is at least considered. If this had been a beauty pageant, this would have been enough to secure high marks from the judges. But these are Senators and a political agenda trumps world peace.

Is it a billboard for products? Definitely for franchise products. Oh, Captain America's partially assembled shield was amusing; but it looked like a wobbly piece of plastic and smacked of product placement so it lost its value as pure entertainment. Is the purpose of the movie to hawk other movies? Is it one long commercial for other proprietary assets? Nearly.

In addition to Iron Man, you've got Captain America and Thor who, at the time the movie was released, were yet to be unleashed on the ticket buyers. They are introduced in Iron Man 2, though, in an obvious non-sequitur manner. Why did that shield get there if it's so all fired important? Why? To sell the next movie, that's why!

If you want to talk about overacting, then talk about Iron Man 2. The most low keyed of the characters is played by Robert Downey, Jr. and half the time he's being a cheerleading showman for Senators, conventions, etc. as Tony Stark. As for Samuel L. Jackson, a little bit of his "screen presence" goes a long way with me. Fortunately, as Nick Fury, he dials it back just enough to be convincing in the role.

Don Cheadle? Who is Don Cheadle? Oh yeah, he did the Super Bowl commercials, the ones where he demonstrated his ability to identify numbers. He's a Lieutenant Colonel in this Iron Man universe? I've worked with Colonels. They aren't anything like Don Cheadle. They're quiet, fit, and confident. They're not inarticulate, skinny, and reactionary.

Maybe it's because I despised him in "Oceans Twelve" that I can't stand him in anything else. Casting Don Cheadle as an Army Colonel is like casting Danny Devito as Cassanova. But Don Cheadle gets his paycheck and the viewers suffer.

What about Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman? What happened to Natasha Romanoff or her other name Natalia Romanova? Name change! I have to admit though that Scarlett Johansson was a pleasant surprise. She's not my idea of a femme fatale (she's too naive and short), or a lawyer, or martial arts expert, or Russian spy for that matter, but she's effective enough in the movie as someone attractive.

Gwyneth Paltrow comes across as whiny and incompetent. Poor Pepper. She deserved better. Mickey Rourke shines. Oh, he overacts to a certain extent, but it fits his character's arrogance so it doesn't harm the portrayal.

It's okay to violate laws of physics provided you stay true to your departures. But this movie goes too far. One scene that sticks with me has Tony Stark tooling down the road in a convertible with ten foot slabs of plywood, which have miniature buildings attached, in the passenger seat. They stay put like good little sheets of plywood. Even the miniatures don't come off in the wind. That's some good forty year old glue.

In his basement, Tony Stark decides to build a new element. Can you do it, Tony? "No problem! A thirty foot particle accelerator will do the trick. Oh and I can use a level to achieve those microscopic adjustments and a monkey wrench to dial it in in case I'm more than ninety degrees off."

Wow! Imagine what Tony could do if he had a football field to work on! Higgs Boson, your days are numbered!

I won't even get into the instability or weight of a new element that gives off energy.

Well, if the writer/cook hadn't already added enough spices to the broth, he added one more. He introduced Ayn Rand's concept of Objectivism. Tony Stark, in true Howard Roark/Hank Reardon style, testifies that a man is entitled to keep his discoveries to himself if he so desires while the Senate Committee takes the position that an individual needs to share his discoveries with the government and let Congressman decide what to do with them.

Unfortunately, in the five or ten minutes that this came and went in the film, it glossed over a very important concept. Are we ants or stallions?

But this lifetime in seconds model is typical of the movie. Time to be promoted to run a company and then quit - one week. Time to manufacture a new element - two days tops if you use what's lying around. Time to become Iron Man's equal - less than a minute. Time to crack a 28 character password - instantaneous.

Let me digress while I'm ranting. In this movie, security codes are worthless. When Vanko goes to Hammer's lab, he logs in. How? Because he's smart. It's like saying that if you're smart enough you can know the winning lottery numbers regardless of the odds. It would be easier to predict the location of the next lightning strike than enter in a 28 character password correctly the first time.

In another scene, Tony's diligently working in his lab - creating life! Okay, it's a new element that gives off incredible amounts of energy rather than life. I imagine it's like plutonium but with cheese. Maybe this is life, too. The agent from S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to talk to Tony, so he punches in the key to the lab security door and enters. Tony! Change the code if you don't want to be disturbed.

As for the political side, Garry Shandling appears as Senator Stern. This is a role usually reserved for James Cromwell, the role of a treacherous, self-serving bureaucrat. Senator Stern gets his comeuppance for interfering with the work of Tony Stark, though, so have no fear.

The thing that annoyed me most about the film, the thing that really moved it into the category of torn and frayed despite all of the other issues was the constant betrayal. Pepper Potts betrays Tony be throwing him out of his own office. Rhodes betrays Tony by stealing one of his suits. (Where all of the other versions of Iron Man came from is not explained. Neither is Tony's nano-machine style disease that is killing him.)

One of the tenets of Marvel Comics is that the gadgets don't make the superhero, the man makes the superhero. Take away Captain America's shield, and you still have Captain America and there is only one Captain America. Give the shield to someone else and they are simply some guy with a shield. Captain America will best that individual without breaking a sweat because he's friggin' Captain America.

But Rhodey Rhodes can kick Iron Man's butt once he puts on an Iron Man suit of armor - no training required. According to Marvel, even if Rhodey was given years to train and Tony Stark was three sheets to the wind, Iron Man would still win because, given an equal playing field between two individuals, there is only one Iron Man.

Rhodey stole Tony's suit, the one Tony defended keeping from a Senate Committee. The lame rationalization by Rhodey that he did it because he was following military orders and then went further by kicking his "friend's" butt in the process, went way too far. In the end it provided another reason for me to dislike Don Cheadle.

But, the movie is a fluffy diversion. It's a far cry from great cinema and, unlike the first Iron Man movie which showed how well comic books can transfer to the screen, this one will be forgotten quickly.

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