REVIEW: ‘Iron Man 2’

Grade: C

Recently there has been an internet trend where YouTube users will post clips from popular movies with the CGI scenes edited out. The most popular examples of this are edits of last year’s 2012 and Avatar. The point of these videos is to emphasize the how the quality of these movies are completely diminished without the visual effects that they rely on. It seems to be the unwritten rule as of late that poor story lines and bad acting can be covered up with expensive visual effects, CGI, and 3D.

However, for Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, the exact opposite seems to be the case – it’s the CGI and visual effects that act like cheap filler for the character driven story.

In the summer of 2008, the original Iron Man film was a wonderful surprise. It didn’t have high expectations going into 2008, but turned out to be one of the big hits of the summer (in what was already an exceptional summer). It had incredibly smart writing, breathtaking action scenes, and perfect casting. It’s the film that made Robert Downey, Jr. a household name. It was exactly what an establishment film should be and left huge anticipations for the sequels.

The hype for Iron Man 2 could not have been much higher. Many were anticipating it to be the highest grossing film of the summer and it was released shortly after the announcement of the upcoming Avengers film series. Fans like myself were crossing their fingers for a superhero sequel along the lines of Spiderman 2 or The Dark Knight – films that took a darker approach and really delved into the psychology of the hero while simultaneously dazzling with some cutting edge visual effects.

Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 didn’t quite live up to its high expectations. It was well-written and the acting ensemble led by Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johanssen, Don Cheadle and the wonderful Sam Rockwell were fantastic. However, the action scenes, which are the bread and butter of any good summer blockbuster, felt like bad sex – messy, boring, and over too soon.

The movie picks up several years after the first film concluded with Tony Stark’s Stark Industries on top of the corporate world of private weapons contracting. The existence of his Iron Man suit has essentially guaranteed America’s safety and, as he claims, “established world peace.” Stark, the playboy, presents himself as the cocky invincible superhero. However, unbeknownst to the rest of the world there are two forces after Tony – the Palladium in his suit that is poisoning his blood and Ivan Vanko (Rourke), a vengeful Russian scientist.

Characters returning from the first film are Pepper Potts (Paltrow), Stark’s love and business partner, and Lt. Col James Rhodes, who puts on a suit himself and becomes War Machine (and who also got an actor change from Terence Howard to Don Cheadle for the sequel). New faces include Justin Hammer (Rockwell), the fast talking, but inept competitor and Natalie Rushman (Johanssen), who is secretly working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The witty Robert Downey, Jr. has a unique acting style that only someone like him can pull off without looking like a total asshole. He talks over other characters, rarely makes eye contact, and shoots a grin that says “you know that I’m as great as I think I am.” He was excellently complemented in this film by the cast of supporting characters. The best moments in the film come when there is nothing happening, but dialogue.

However, you don’t go to a film like Iron Man 2 for the dialogue and the action scenes for me personally were nothing special. I remember walking away from The Dark Knight with several vivid images captured in my mind. Nothing from Iron Man 2 stuck out to me as I was walking out of the theatre. There were a lot of generic explosions, and none of the fight scenes seemed to have a real climax. They came and went and were completely forgettable.

That might be one of the fundamental problems with a superhero like Iron Man. His world is so weapons and technology dependent that you can’t have an action scene that isn’t just a bunch of gunfire and bombs. It’s never a good sign when I find myself looking forward to the scenes where Iron Man gets out of his suit.

Bottom Line: In a rarity for summer action movies I wish Iron Man 2 would have given me more talking.

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  • i actually thought the story was weak and underdeveloped here. but i dind’t honestly go into the movie with high hopes on the storyline. i thoght the movie was a fun and entertaining.

  • You know, I read a number of reviews of “Iron Man” that criticized Favreau for not including enough fight scenes, and in the sequel people are complaining about there being too many. It’s like he can’t win for losing.

    While “Iron Man 2” isn’t in the same league as “The Dark Knight” or “Spider-Man 2,” I think it has some strong points: Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell as the villains; Don Cheadle as Rhodey (he’s better for the part than Terrence Howard); that thrilling beatdown at the Grand Prix; Samuel L. Jackson, who always steals the movie whenever he shows up.

  • This was the summer of VFX and using 3D as a test on audiences. Iron Man 2 was one of the first and arguably the biggest hits of the summer; the other one was Inception (another film heavy on visual effects component). Avatar kicked the door open and maybe films began to jump on the bandwagon but this summer has proven to us that move goers still want a good script and strong acting. Not that there was anything wrong with this summer’s big movies but they did not blow me away and I think the box office numbers tend to agree. This was more of a summer for animated movies. Which also uses a high VFX component but in a different capacity.

    Movies need to get back their adult audiences. Most of the moviegoers are kids and that is a great market but we need some really riveting movies that are complex and interesting. I think that having 3D high end VFX is great!! I work for a VFX company and I am all for it but I do think today’s films need to have more character development. Once the big studios figure out how to combine these two things, we are going to see some big numbers from the box office. As I said at the beginning, I think this summer was sort of a test run and we are going to see some major improvements during the Summer’s of 2011 and 2012. I write a blog about VFX at Boogie Studio, check it out.

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