Saturday, May 22, 2010

Exfanding Review: Iron Man 2

Earlier this month, the Exfanding crew did the dorky thing and decided to see Iron Man 2 the night it opened. The theater was packed, the popcorn was popped, and we all managed to find each other without too much hassle.

And, since the Internet was screaming for one more IM 2 review, we figured we'd be the ones to do it. Because, really, we wouldn't want the Internet to be angry with us. Adding to the fun, we've managed to drag Neko, who came out to see the film with us, into helping us to write this review.

Here's what we thought of the movie. Feel free to add your own comments and tell us why we're wrong.

Movie sequels have a tendency to be more like movie suckquels--in general, how does Iron Man 2 stack up to its predecessor?

ALEX: Did you just say “suckquel”? Is that a thing now? Um, let’s see. I might get some heat over this, but what the heck.

I liked the first movie. I really and honestly did. When I left the movie theater, I said to myself that I’d just seen the best super hero film ever made.

And then, a couple months later, I saw The Dark Knight.

Yeah. And then Iron Man was very much not the best super hero film I’d ever seen. But, like the good and compulsive fanboy that I am, I bought and watched Iron Man on DVD, and I had the same feeling. Good movie--great super hero movie--but not as good as Dark Knight.

Which, I realize, isn’t fair. But that’s the impact Dark Knight had on me. Every other super hero movie feels...inferior in comparison. Like the original Spider-Man, a movie I adored when it came out, for example.

I watched that recently on cable, and it seems...antiquated. Over the top. And a little bit hokey. More Dark Knight effect? Perhaps.

That said, I really enjoyed Iron Man 2. I liked it better than the original--I’m not the biggest fan of origin stories to begin with, so, compared to the first one, I’ll take the sequel.

But it still wasn’t better than Dark Knight.

And that has me somewhat concerned, because I think I might have already seen the best super hero movie that will ever be made.

Which probably doesn't answer the question very well. Or, you know, at all.

NATHANIEL: Tangent, dude.

It's not often that I say something like this, but I think I enjoyed Iron Man 2 as much as the first movie. Iron Man had great acting, excellent pacing, entertaining action sequences, reasonably creative stories, and snappy dialogue, and Iron Man 2 had all of that as well, but in different quantities across the board and at different times during the film. Yet, somehow, it all balanced out to the same level of fun.

Which is good, because that final boss fight was a little anticlimactic. Coulda lost serious points right there for not having a more challenging final form.

NEKO: I went into the first Iron Man movie as a complete neophyte. I had never seen, read, or heard anything about the character prior to entering the theatre. From the first moment, Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance had me hooked, and I left the theatre a dedicated fangirl. I immediately went home and looked up anything I could find on the original Iron Man comics, and when I saw how faithfully they had translated the origin story for a modern audience, I was even more impressed.

I was a little more hesitant to see Iron Man 2, if only because the trailers made it seem like Attack of the Clone War Gundams 2. I don’t mind mech battles, but I was afraid it was going to lack plot in favour of being overly action-packed. I shouldn’t have worried. There was a surprising amount of dialogue, humor, and character development. Even the smallest parts got one-liners, and the overall acting was some of the best I’ve seen in a modern film, with special awards going to Downey Jr., Rourke, and Rockwell.

Additionally, there was a good balance of fan service and romance, with only an occasional hint of cheesiness. The action sequences were shiny enough to hold the audiences’ attention, while not being overused or overplayed. (Although they did tend to defenestrate the physics manual, and the final battle was a little too Captain Planet for my taste.)

In short, I think the first movie will always hold a special place in my heart because it introduced me to a new superhero I would grow to love. However, the second movie is equally amazing because it continues the character’s story, elaborating and enhancing on the framework already established.

I have a short attention span, and Iron Man 2 is just over two hours long. What does the movie do to maintain viewers' attention?

ALEX: Stuff blowed up real good.

But actually, ya know, there was quite a bit of dialogue/exposition in this film. A surprising amount, really. And it was good, fast-paced, funny dialogue. Plus, Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t look like he’s acting.

The whole movie looks like he was just living his life and there happened to be someone filming him. He’s amazing, plain and simple, and he has the ability to captivate an audience, even if he's just sitting down and talking. Which he did a lot in this film.

And Mickey Rourke! He was great! I mean, sure, Mickey Rourke scares me enough as Mickey Rourke, but as a powered-up supervillain? *shudder*

Plus, stuff blowed up real good.

NEKO: I second Alex’s statement about Robert Downey, Jr. He has a charisma modifier of at least +6, and can fascinate a crowd at will.

The main thing Iron Man 2 does to maintain audience attention is it always give the audience something to look at, even during dialogue. Besides Downey Jr., the movie utilizes electric whips, spinning metal desk art, CG graphics, explosions, mech robots, and the many assets of Scarlett Johansson.

NATHANIEL: What was the question again?

What are a few things that particularly stood out to you about the film?

NEKO: The character development. The actors and actresses really became their roles, allowing any character development to be completely organic and plausible; evolving naturally from the events and dialogue they were presented with.

I also liked the clips of Stark’s father, because you could start to see parallels between father and son, and it helped to deepen Iron Man’s complexity.

Oh, and the entire sequence between Black Widow and the guards was merely a long advertisement for Scarlett Johansson posters.

ALEX: The acting. The one-liners. The stuff that blowed up real good. It had everything you'd want in a comic book movie. Oh, and Stan Lee's cameo was perfect.

Also, I loved the references to other Marvel characters and movies. At one point when Nick Fury was talking to Tony Stark, there was a news clip showing footage of the Hulk (the, um, Ed Norton one) rampaging through New York.

I thought (director) Jon Favreau's humor was especially evident in the sequel, and I loved that. Favreau's sensibilities skew somewhat towards the absurd at times, and I thought the scene in the fast food restaurant was But, somehow, some way, it worked.

NATHANIEL: One thing that got me was how the main villain never reacted the way I expected him to. On the surface, you've got a crazed, bitter, and brilliant man out for revenge--pretty standard, actually--but his motives and his reactions to the imbeciles around him constantly defied the stereotype. It's almost as though the bad guy existed on a higher plane than the world around him, out of phase with everything until his master plan required him to synch back up.

Also, there were a few times where I was genuinely caught off-guard by the action sequences in one of those "Oh, cool!" moments. It's one thing to do an action sequence well, but it's another thing to do an action sequence in a way I'd never thought of. Iron Man 2 surprised me from time to time, even in the little things.

Lastly, I am generally unforgiving when it comes to sudden recasting between installments of a franchise, but I was impressed by how smooth the "handoff" was between Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle. Then again, Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors, so I wasn't expecting to complain much, anyhow.

Overall, how groundbreaking, entertaining, and satisfying was the movie?

ALEX: Groundbreaking? Hmmm. I wouldn't say groundbreaking. Certainly entertaining and satisfying, though. The movie was long, as mentioned above, but the time flew by. I wasn't bored at all, and the movie moved along very quickly.

NEKO: Ditto to Alex’s statement.

NATHANIEL: I have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

What would you say is your favorite super hero/comic book film? How does IM2 stack up against that film?

ALEX: The Dark Knight. And, um, it doesn't. Stack up, that is. But lemme put that in context for a moment. Dark Knight catapulted its way into my top five favorite movies ever. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is still my favorite movie, though. Thanks for asking.)

And the thing about both Dark Knight and Butch and Sundance is that, any time either one is on TV, I sit down and watch it until the end.

No other movies have that effect on me. I'm not a huge film buff, granted, but I tend to think I enjoy quality movies. Dark Knight certainly fit that it had Batman in it.

So, yeah. Pretty much a guarantee to be my favorite super hero movie. And as good as Iron Man 2 was, it just wasn't at that level.

NEKO: That’s a hard one. I’d say Batman Begins is my favourite superhero movie, as Batman is one of my all-time favourite superheroes, although I still love Batman Returns and Batman and Robin (for Catwoman and Poison Ivy, respectively). I also have to give a shout-out to Watchmen and to Kick-Ass, both of which defied traditional comic book standards: Watchmen taking comics movies to a deeper level both psychologically and cinematically, and Kick-Ass bringing comics alive in a real-world setting.

The first Iron Man movie was an incredibly close contender, though, because while I didn’t know anything about the character, Downey, Jr. single-handedly made me want to learn more. Also, the Iron Man films leave the audience energized and pumped, whereas most of the other films are darker and don’t really have as much of a victorious feeling as a bittersweet one. Additionally, Iron Man 2 makes a great sequel because it builds nicely on, and flows directly out of, the first movie. I don’t think it would be as strong as a stand-alone film.

NATHANIEL: Gotta go with Watchmen here. Most of the superhero/comics movies I've seen were from before I got into comics, so I just categorized them as action movies, of which I already have some clear favorites. Spider-Man 1 and 2 would've been my previous picks for superhero movie, though. I like clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and I like a happy ending; I tend not to like dark and gritty, especially if it feels more like reality and less like fiction.

That's why I didn't care much for Watchmen as a graphic novel--though I absolutely respect and appreciate what it is and does, it was kind of depressing to see all this serious stuff happening to (somewhat) average people. The movie, on the other hand, felt more like an alternate reality that was, by nature, dark and gritty, and the pacing, action sequences, visual style, and unprecedented faithfulness to the source material (as much as would fit, anyhow) made the work I already respected more likeable to me.

That being said, Iron Man 2 is much more my kind of movie, and I greatly enjoyed it, but it doesn't stack up as well against Watchmen as the first Iron Man does. It's strange; I like both Iron Man flicks about equally, but the first one is the better movie. I, like Alex, am not fond of origin stories, but IM 1 succeeds because the time leading up to Iron Man kicking butt isn't just filler; it's the story of Tony Stark, who is Iron Man. And we've already established we like Robert Downey, Jr., so it's not like it's a chore to sit through.

Iron Man 1 gets bonus points for being the best-told origin story I've ever seen, and though Iron Man 2 is equally entertaining, there's nothing about the nature of the movie that is fundamentally different from any other action movie, which is why it's not up there with Watchmen for me.

Iron Man was really the launching point for the "Marvel Universe" films--you know, the ones that don't star Spidey or the Fantastic Four (and don't get me started on Daredevil)--how bright/dim is the future of the Marvel Universe on film?

NATHANIEL: The biggest thing the Marvel movies have going for them is that they're interconnected. Even offhand comments about Marvel characters and events from totally different series make the movie universe feel bigger than it really is. There's potential for growth, the lack of which has been the undoing of almost every superhero movie series. The Batman and Spider-Man movies burned through good villains at an incredible rate, to the point where there was almost nowhere left to go. Acknowledging that other major characters and events exist in your universe provides countless opportunities for a dead-end series to bail itself out, or at least to live on through cameos. Plus, it builds an interest in other movies you might not otherwise see.

ALEX: From Downey, Jr.'s iconic performance as Tony Stark to the drop-dead awesome casting of Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, I think the Marvel Universe has a bright future in film.

NEKO: I have always been more of a DC fan, mostly because I liked specific characters, although I have liked the various X-Men comics over the years and recently read through all of Ultimate Fantastic Four and Skaar Son of Hulk.

My biggest problem with the recent Marvel films (X-Men 1-3, Spidey 1-3, Dejected Hulk and Relaunch Hulk, FF 1-2, etc.) has been that they have consistently deviated from established characters and canon stories in favour of making the films more “Hollywood.” I had the same gut reaction to all these films as I did when Looney Tunes re-designed all their characters a few years back: These are not “my” characters.

Iron Man was the first Marvel film to stay true to the source character, both in plot and in spirit. Fury was also spot-on, and casting for the next Marvel film looks promising, too. As long as Marvel realizes that fans will respect them more for not changing everything they love about these characters, the future of the MU on film will be fine.

Going along with that thought: This film, more than any other, featured the integration of Marvel Universe characters--either on screen or implied through dialogue/props/secret Nick Fury files--and in that regard was very similar to a Marvel comic. Did it work on film?

NATHANIEL: I'm sorry; did you just skip over my last paragraph? Do I really need to answer this one again? ::sigh:: Alex, you can answer this. Did it work?

ALEX: Boy, did it. Marvel Films has a coherent, line-wide integration, and for the first time ever, the Marvel Comics Universe is being faithfully translated up on the silver screen. I can't wait for Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers. I really can't wait to see how those characters are handled.

More than anything else, Iron Man 2 got me completely jazzed about what's to come.

NEKO: I was happy to see references to other Marvel characters in the film. Marvel comics have always taken into account that there are many superheroes operating in the same area at any given time, and team-ups / confrontations are common.

There was one prop-related sequence in Iron Man 2 that perfectly summed up Tony Stark’s arrogance in being “America’s Superhero,” while simultaneously paying homage to another Marvel icon. It was seamlessly integrated, and packed just enough punch to get an audience reaction.

We stuck around to watch the "bonus" scene after the credits. Did it do anything for ya?

NEKO: I think it was a perfect introduction to the next movie. It was just subtle enough to leave non-fans wondering, but left just enough of a clue to make even passive fans psyched.

NATHANIEL: I'm wondering why I'm psyched. What kind of fan does that make me?

ALEX: Without spoiling it, I'll say that I liked it a lot. It was a cool nod to what's to come for Marvel, and from the reaction of the other audience members, I think most people dug it. I liked it because it worked both as an extension of IM 2 and as a tease for future films.

It wasn't some throwaway scene in a bar--it was a meaningful and important.

And I want to see the movie in which the featured character will appear. Pretty much mission accomplished on Marvel's part, I'd say.


Mission accomplished, indeed. That's our big ol' review of Iron Man 2; call us out on it as you will!


Scott said...

Nathaniel: Bit of an oops, but the first film had Terrance Howard, not Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Flashman85 said...

Good catch, Scott; fixed, thanks. I haven't seen the first film since it came to DVD, and when I think of Rhodes, I picture Cuba Gooding, Jr. for some reason. It doesn't help that I've seen virtually none of Terrence Howard's other movies to help me remember him.

Scott said...

Glad to see you fixed my typo too. >.>

I've been looking forward to seeing Iron Man 2, but I'm waiting til it comes out on DVD for obvious reasons. Its anticipation rating is nowhere near as high as Sherlock Holme's was, though...

Flashman85 said...

I'd say it's acceptable to wait for Iron Man 2 to come to DVD, but action sequences always look better on the big screen.

Given that I'm an action/sci-fi/technology fan, and that the 1800s are among my least favorite commonly used settings for a story, and that I'm not much of a fan of stories centered around the occult, I was way more excited for Iron Man 2 than Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was entertaining enough, but it's already faded out of my memory quite a bit, and I don't have any desire to rewatch it any time soon (though that's true of most movies).

Scott said...

I can't hear well enough to watch movies in a theater; conversations are just muddy and hard to understand most of the time. I think the last time I watched a movie in a theater was 300, which certainly merited it and had a bare minimum of conversation. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Actually "BLADE" was the Marvel Movie that opened the door for the Marvel Universe on Film. Prior, all of the Marvel movies were not profitable.

Blade was the first successful Marvel Film.

Flashman85 said...

Anonymous: Ah, we weren't actually talking about profitability, but continuity--the Marvel Cinematic Universe that includes Iron Man 1-2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers.