Literally every time I've spoken to someone or switched on a TV lately, it seems the whole country is in the grip of Iron Man fever. It's quite surprising, considering the original film was an adaptation of perhaps a lesser-known comic, and was primarily seen as an underdog. Up against Chris Nolan's gritty adaptations of the Batman series, and the violent, R-rated Watchmen movie, it seemed that Joel Schumacher Cartoony Style of Comic Book Film had suffered a severe backlash from which it could never bounce back. So when narcissistic, self-important, flamboyant tycoon Tony Stark made the leap to the big screen it was a huge surprise.
The first Iron Man film was important also, in that it made a bonafide superstar out of Robert Downey Jr. It's no secret that literally everyone and their mum is in love with him, but his career always seemed to be in the shadows of his drunken, drug-crazed wildchild image. (I had to use everyone and their mum because, despite being a tired old cliche, it's true. Me and my mum both love him). Thankfully, he's now sobered up his act and emerged as the genuine star he always threatened to be. Jon Favreau, too, found himself at the helm of the biggest surprise success stories of all the comic adaptations; not bad for someone better remembered as Monica's millionaire boyfriend in Friends who wanted to be a UFC fighter.
So, what were we to expect second time around? Obviously the success of the first film meant a bigger budget, bigger cast and even bigger explosions. Oh, and an even more bad-ass Iron Man suit. I LITERALLY couldn't wait. Ross and I had planned to go see it in IMAX, but one Saturday night later and we were a bit bleary-eyed and unable to move to get into town on time. We eventually made it into town for the 10:50 pm showing, and I was shocked to find that even at that time on a Sunday, the screen was about 3/4 full.
There's always a danger in franchises such as these, that the directors are over-eager to take it in a much 'darker' direction. Yeah, it's good to see a little bit of depth, and Batman Forever/ Batman & Robin proved that too much neon is never a good thing. But sometimes the dark, brooding tone gets in the way of the fun. After all, I don't want to read a comic book to be depressed and mope-y, and I don't want to feel the same from watching a film! Thankfully, this time around, Favreau et al opted to go for "bigger and ballsier", rather than "meaner and moodier". Tony Stark is a character who does nothing by half, who is flashy and ostentatious and is probably the only person who could get away with dressing cheerleaders in itty-bitty Iron Man costumes and fly onto the stage. It might be big and dumb, but damn, is it fun!
Of course, the bigger and better tag doesn't just apply to the budget and the special effects. The cast has been beefed up to; from Mickey Rourke as the growling, deranged physicist Whiplash, out for revenge for his father's exile, to Scarlett Johansson sexing up the screen in a PVC catsuit, to Sam Rockwell, as fast-talking, smarmy weapons expert Justin Hammer, there were so many new faces and interweaving storylines that at times it seemed a little bit over-busy, but everyone played their parts brilliantly. I had high hopes after the post-credit scene with Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, which gave us a tantalising lead in to the sequel, and hinted at the prospect of The Avengers. I won't give anything away, but DO NOT leave the cinema when the credits come up in Iron Man 2... there's another cheeky wee surprise waiting at the end. (Although I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle seeing RDJ AND Edward Norton [as Bruce Banner]on screen at the same time, without the aid of a respirator and someone to fan me...)
Of course, with all these new characters, plot devices and of course, the obligatory love interest between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth 'how boring d'ya reckon her dinner parties are?' Paltrow) that it tends to feel a little bit over-stuffed. The fights between Iron Man, sidekick James Rhodes (who has an Iron Man suit of his own) and Justin Hammer's military drones are slick and impressive, but after a while the clanging of metal feels a bit impersonal. Mercifully, everything moves along swiftly and we don't see too much of Tony in the suit, and more of him as a person. The multiple storylines play off each other well though, despite it often feeling like the film is just a plot device to drive the audience to go and see Thor.
Thankfully this doesn't seem to affect the performances at all, and RDJr seems to be the human embodiment of 'charisma'. At the same time, there are some moments when we see a chink in the armour, and he underplays the Tony Stark Brand brilliantly. The patter between him and Pepper is snappy, and they talk over the end of one another's sentences. To me, this makes it feel more like they're real people having a real argument, and not just some stilted, scripted lovers' tiff. I've been in love with Scarlett Johansson since seeing Lost In Translation in the cinema, and she does a fine job of pouting in a catsuit and beating up bad guys- which is really all the role requires of her. There's no allusion to her being the 'Black Widow' though, so I can only imagine they're saving this for a later film... most infuriating!
Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell play off each other brilliantly, and make great complementary villains. The one big problem I did have though, was Jon Favreau's director's cameo now bumped up to a supporting role. I didn't see any need for it, except to get himself in on the action. After all it's his film, he's allowed to, but it felt like an unnecessary ego trip. Hopefully next time he'll just go back to chaffeuring, and leave the ass-kicking to the real heroes.
As much fun as it is, I felt a bit cheated by the Big Final Battle...it seemed to be over too quickly. Also, there was only one moment in the film when I felt Tony was in real danger. At the Monaco Grand Prix, we first see Whiplash, electrical whips fizzing and crackling with potential danger, cutting cars in half as he skips menacingly towards Team Stark's racecar. After that, Ol' Mick seemed to get a bit sidelined into 'working in the lab', and Tony is once again free to zip around town and hang out in giant doughnuts, worry-free.
The film is littered with Marvel in-jokes too, including an appearance from Captain America's shield. It makes the whole thing feel frustratingly incomplete, but hey, it's a whole mess of fun and everyone is clearly having a blast. In fact, I'm going back to see it next week, when I'm sure I'll forget all my negativity for 2 hours and get swept up on the Tony Stark Rollercoaster all over again... As for Mickey Rourke, well, as insanely weird as he is, I'm watching Angel Heart to remind myself that he was once good-looking, but can't quite get Whiplash's dodgy highlights out of my head. Such a pity!
Monday, 3 May 2010
RDJr+Comic Books+AC/DC = Hmm...
And now for something on a much lighter tone, and back to the original point of having this blog in the first place!