Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Iron Man 2 (2010)

There's a plus side to never having watched a Marvel movie in the past seven years: Watching the films for the first time now, I'm able to immerse myself in the Marvel world and watch a number of them in a relatively short time span.

Marvel film No. 4 for July, following CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), and IRON MAN (2008), was IRON MAN 2 (2010).

I was warned by multiple people not to expect much from IRON MAN 2, so I seem to be in the minority: I thought IRON MAN 2 was a terrific movie, and indeed, it was my favorite of the four Marvel films I've seen to date.

It's been six months since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealed he's Iron Man to the public. Congress is pressuring him to turn over the technology to the U.S. military, but Tony is more concerned with other problems, such as the fact that the reactor implanted in his chest to keep him alive is slowly killing him via blood poisoning.

The depressed Tony acts out in childish ways at times, with his distraction from important business frustrating his loyal aide Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tony solves this problem by promoting Pepper to CEO of Stark Industries.

At the same time, there's a Russian (Mickey Rourke) named Ivan building an Iron Man himself; Tony's competitor, weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), wants to sell Iron Man technology to the U.S. military and enters into an uneasy partnership with Ivan.

Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD, who knew Tony's father Howard (John Slattery), shows up with some important information for Tony...

I thought this film had so much going for it; although there's a villain and plenty of action, including an exciting sequence at the Monaco Grand Prix, at its heart this is a film about Tony's relationships with the various people in his life, including his dead father. His relationship with Pepper reaches a point where it will go forward or end, and his friendship with Rhodey (Don Cheadle, a big improvement on Terrence Howard) is strained by Rhodey's commitment to his employer, the U.S. military.

Then there are new relationships with members of SHIELD, including Nick Fury, the Black Widow (the awesome Scarlett Johansson, whose character seems to be a direct descendant of Mrs. Emma Peel), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg); I suspect Coulson's milquetoast looks and mild demeanor hide a dangerous man inside. Coulson's interactions with Tony are quietly hilarious, especially the scene where Coulson announces he's leaving for New Mexico. The scene where Tony learns the Black Widow is more than just a secretary at his company is also wonderfully amusing.

It seems rather daring to feature a character as egocentric as Tony Stark as a superhero, but in Downey's hands it works because he's a fully rounded character -- who has enough self-awareness not to argue when Nick Fury tells him he's been assessed as narcissistic. Although Tony grew up a lot in the first IRON MAN film, it's a slow process. What makes the character really interesting is the contrast of scenes where Tony is a flamboyant showman -- the scene where he testifies in front of a Congressional committee is priceless -- with quietly affecting sequences where Tony watches old movie footage of his father, struggles to develop a new invention, or grasps at ways to repair his relationship with Pepper. Downey also brings a lot of humor to the role as the quick-thinking Tony.

Gwyneth Paltrow is pitch perfect as the most important woman in Tony's life. I really felt for her in the scene where she's just learned Tony donated away the art collection she'd spent years curating; on the other hand, the moment where Tony first sees Natalie (Johansson) and turns to Pepper and says "I want one" was very funny, while the fact he could even joke about that to Pepper illustrates their close bond.

As the saying goes, there's a lot more to unpack. Take, for instance, the way that the old footage of Howard Stark (John Slattery) is clearly inspired by Walt Disney's presentation of Epcot; note that at one point there are Stark Expo posters behind Howard, just as there were World's Fair posters in some vintageWalt Disney footage.

The Stark Expo also seems more than a little inspired by the '64 World's Fair in which Disney played such a big role -- in fact, Richard Sherman, who wrote "It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for the World's Fair, wrote "Make Way for Tomorrow Today" for IRON MAN 2! Great stuff for the Disney nerds in the audience.

(And speaking of interesting allusions, what was with that Captain America shield Agent Coulson was holding in Tony's basement lab?)

All in all IRON MAN 2 was a highly enjoyable film which gives its many characters time to breathe and lets their relationships move forward. A very well-done film I'm certain to return to in the future.

IRON MAN 2 was directed by Jon Favreau, who also appears onscreen as driver/bodyguard Happy. (I loved the scene where Happy "helps" the Black Widow.) It was filmed by Matthew Libatique.

Paul Bettany returns as Jarvis, the voice of Tony's robot. Gary Shandling makes his first appearance as Senator Stern, a role he would reprise in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Leslie Bibb returns as a "journalist" which leads to a very amusing scene with Pepper.

Parental Advisory: IRON MAN 2 is rated PG-13 for intense action sequences and brief language. As with the other films, there are lots of explosions but no graphic or disturbing violence.

I had some promotional credits and streamed IRON MAN 2 in HD from Amazon Instant Video. It looked great. It's also available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

I'm with you on this one too, I find the casting really works great and adds so much (have to admit Iron Man movies are the first time I enjoyed watching Paltrow). I kind of envy you coming to these purely as a movie fan, comic readers easily get in a snit about faithful adaptations, and that can colour opinions a lot, whereas if these work as movies then even drastic departures are acceptable in my opinion.

Are you sticking around for the after-credits scenes on these Marvel movies? They hint at sequels and other upcoming Marvel characters.

5:46 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

Yay! I'm not alone in the world anymore! :-D I'm really glad this one wasn't a disappointment for you. I love all the things you talk about, for the same reasons. I love that contrast you mention in Tony, of the flamboyant showman, to how he behaves when he's alone, particularly when he's sure he's dying, and I love all the old footage of his father. This remains my second favorite Marvel movie, behind the first Avengers.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina and Deb, I'm so glad to know the two of you thought as much of this film as I did. My family thinks I'm a bit nuts in ranking it so highly LOL. I think one of the reasons I liked it is, as someone pointed out on Twitter, the villain isn't really that big a deal -- it's more a relationship film. I wonder if some people were disappointed because they wanted more excitement or action set pieces -- although this film really does have those too.

Kristina, I suspect you're right about it being a plus not making any comparisons to comics! (My daughters are comic book nerds too!) Husband clued me in not to turn the movie off during the end credits -- although I usually watch them anyway. :)

Deb, that contrast in the "two Tonys" really is interesting and a big part of why the movies work. I'm hoping to see the first AVENGERS film pretty soon, although I will probably watch THOR and ANT-MAN first. (My son works at a movie theater during the summer and can sign me in to see the latter now that it's been out a couple weeks! LOL.)

Best wishes,

12:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. Deb, you might enjoy returning to my review of IRON MAN to check out my husband's comments on the music.


12:13 AM  

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