Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spending Some Quality Time With Anthony

Where have I been the last 48 hours? I’m sure this is the question you are all asking. I’m touched by your concern. I’ve been a bit busy with work and commitments related to my sons. But the things that probably put the biggest delay in my blogging over the last two days has been the time I’ve spent with my good friend, Anthony.

You may know him. His last name is Stark. Yes, now you get it, I’m certain. I went to see Iron Man 2 with my wife and kids and every unoccupied moment since has been spent thinking about it. I’ve spent a great deal of time staring out into space and annoying my wife by randomly saying, “Wasn’t it awesome when (fill in any movie scene here),” and, “It’s cool how they have Tony Stark deal with people trying to steal and abuse the technology he’s developed because that has always been a running theme in the comic book.” I know, big nerd.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, allow me to recommend it. If you were a fan of the first movie, you’ll enjoy this one just as much. While the action has been cranked up from the first installment of the adventures of the leader of Stark Industries, the plot and depth of the characters has not suffered. While I promise not to spoil anything, let me get into a few specifics.

Tony Stark’s inner turmoil was on display. It’s one of the great aspects of the character. Iron Man has always been unique in the Marvel Universe (or in comic book lore in general for that matter) because he’s a regular guy when he’s not in the suit. He possesses a great power in his intellect, yet the threat of that suit and his technology being stolen has always been of great concern. It weighs on his daily.

Robert Downey Jr. did a great job once again at capturing the intelligence yet cockiness and immaturity that has been a Stark trademark since the sixties. The Senate hearing near the film’s beginning was a perfect example of this and Downey rocked it. It was the perfect display of Tony Stark being just as dynamic a character out of the suit as in it. The story also touched on Stark’s struggle with alcohol, another running theme in the comic.

But while those behind the movie and director Jon Favreau may have done well with Stark himself, the addition of the film’s new characters was where I expected the movie to either sink or swim.

James Rhodes, Tony Stark’s long standing military buddy, was played by Don Cheadle this time around. His role included more back and forth than Terrence Howard was allowed. It was done well. It was funny and dramatic at once as he and Downey exchanged banter and arguments in the way real life friends might. Cheadle also got to put on the War Machine suit, see some real action and really kick some ass. Cheadle and War Machine were a definite positive additions to the movie.

Every good superhero movie relies on a good villain. Iron Man 2’s main antagonist was Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash. I must admit, I was a bit turned off by the many tattoos, the thick, cheesy Russian accent and constant need to have a toothpick in his mouth. I’ve never spent any time in prison, but I would think a toothpick would be frowned upon while incarcerated. These hokey bits aside, Rourke displayed Whiplash as a troubled, dark, menacing villain with a self-created axe to grind with Stark and pulled it off. He was no Joker, but he was just as formidable an opponent as Jeff Bridges’ Obidia Stane was in the first movie. Thus, I give Whiplash the thumbs up as well.

There was also the presence of Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. A more passive villain than Whiplash, Hammer created another competitor looking to steal a bit of Stark Tech from Tony and use it for his own selfish reasons. Rockwell was annoying, but I think that’s just what he was going for. I’ll give him the nod as the weasely secondary villain.

This brings me to one of the things I was very worried about when seeing the previews of this movie: S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel. It was obvious from the trailers that both Nick Fury and Black Widow were to be featured in Iron Man 2. Samuel L. Jackson played a good Fury. You didn’t get a chance to see this in the secret scene after the end credits of the first film, but Jackson did a sound job here. He was the secretive, authoritative, all-knowing leader of a super spy organization that you would hope for. He’s also a dead ringer for the Nick Fury of Marvel’s Ultimates series (an alternate reality version of the Avengers which the recent Marvel movies seem to be borrowing heavily from).

As for Black Widow, I was very concerned about Scarlett Johansson. In my opinion, she’s not a great actress. Pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that. I was less than excited to have her involved in the movie and with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in the same movie I feared Johansson’s acting would seem that much stiffer. I think Favreau may have had similar fears because her need to actually act was kept as a minimum. She spoke very little and the lines she did have called for a stiff delivery. The power of her character resided in her action scenes, which were signature Natasha Romanova (though I think they lost the –a for the film). Favreau must have learned a lesson from the Transformers movies. They let Megan Fox speak way too often. Overall, they did a great job of dropping two important characters for the future of the Marvel movies into this film and I applaud that.

There were also a few Marvel references in the film which were done well. I won’t talk about them here because if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’ll spoil things. I’ll just tell you that the movie was great. Action, suspense, good characters and sharp story telling. If you enjoyed the first Iron Man, you’ll like part 2. If you didn’t see the first, you can still enjoy this one. It leaves you satisfied, yet looking forward to future editions.

One important piece of advice: If you are a Marvel fan, stay past the end credits. You’ll thank me.

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