Movie Review: IRON MAN 2 (2010)

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Movie Reviews

Directed by Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, John Slattery, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany, Gary Shandling, Jon Favreau
Review by Joshua Starnes


With the world now aware of his dual life as the armored superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces pressure from the government, the press, and the public to share his technology with the military. Unwilling to let go of his invention, Stark, along with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) at his side, must forge new alliances — and confront powerful enemies.



Most sequels offer you one of two choices in their approach: either bigger, louder and faster (the most popular choice), or smaller with a focus on characters over plot. Both of these choices offer certain costs and benefits. One gives you more bang for your buck but tends to be empty and heartless. The other will offer a surfeit of heart but with so little actually happening that you can’t help but feel unsatisfied. The ideal sequel will balance the two, upping the ante in threat and using it as an opportunity to deepen its characters and story.

“Iron Man 2” isn’t an ideal sequel but it is awful good, fixing most of the problems of the first movie without giving up what made it work to begin with.

To be fair, much of what made the first film work was Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, and that’s still true in the sequel. Better yet director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”) have given him some real problems to struggle with instead of just being charming and funny.

Because Tony Stark is dying. The materials in power core that keeps him alive are also deadly poisonous, it turns out, and Tony can’t find a cure. With the end starting to look nigh, Tony has turned his attention to his legacy, finding a good person to run his company and pick up his Iron Man mantle after he’s gone. Unfortunately there’s a dark side to his legacy as well in the form of mad Russian scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has figured out how to weaponize Stark’s power system and wants nothing more than to wipe Stark out once and for all.


They say you have to make one of these films to learn how to make one of these films and Favreau has certainly taken that lesson to heart, adding a great deal of style and panache to “Iron Man’s” already impressive repertoire. What was good about the first “Iron Man” is still good about the sequel and in many cases noticeably better. As good as Downey’s original performance was it is aided considerably by having to deal with the reality that he may not have cheated death after all, just put it off for a little bit. The quest sends him not just to cement his legacy but also an incentive to increase his already manic and unpredictable lifestyle–like spontaneously taking his Formula One driver’s place before the Monaco Grand Prix–which is the part of Stark that Downey really excels at.

It’s also a step above the original in terms of pure craft. While the original was solid but unassuming, the sequel looks every inch the big budget film it is. Matthew Libatique, who shot one of the best looking movies of the 00s—”The Fountain”—has substantially upped his game from the first film. The Monaco sequence in particular is gorgeous and illustrates in microcosm what makes “Iron Man 2” so successful. It’s extremely well paced, quick and funny and light on its feet before turning a sharp corner as Vanko attacks Stark on the racetrack while he is alone and unarmed. Even in the middle of a large action sequence Favreau keeps his eye solidly on his characters and working hard to make solid use of everyone, not just Downey, as his erstwhile Girl and Guy Friday’s—Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Happy Hogan—drive against traffic in a Formula One race to get Stark’s armor to him.

IRON MAN 2 POSTERIn fact almost every character gets significantly more to do, from Pepper struggling with running the company to Stark’s best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) being forced to decide where his loyalties lie, to Stark or the US Air Force. New characters, like Sam Rockwell’s unctuous Justin Hammer (a sort of anti-Tony Stark) are just as good, and yet for the most part they don’t overwhelm the film.

However, while Favreau et al. have solved a lot of the problems of the first film, several of them still remain, not least its propensity to climax without warning. A great deal of work has been put into building up the action sequences, with Industrial Light & Magic putting in some fantastic effects work, only to have them suddenly finish. It’s not as noticeable as in the first film but it’s still there, particularly in any sequence involving Vanko.

More insidious it’s starting to develop the ‘comic book universe’ problem. These premade stories come packed with large amounts of ready made stories and characters, and plenty of fans who want to see them on screen. Inevitably this seems to turn to introducing characters just to introduce them, letting them eat of screen time that would be better spent somewhere else. It’s most noticeable in Scarlet Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, who while well executed serves no important purpose. She moves the plot along, but there’s nothing she does that couldn’t be done by another, already existing character. However she does eat up valuable screen time that might be better used by Rhodey who is not around near enough considering how important he is to the climax. He’s the only character who still feels underdeveloped.

It’s also risking getting stuck in a rut. Because there are as yet no super powered people for Iron Man to fight he keeps getting stuck fighting iterations of ‘other guys in Iron Man armor’ and there’s only so many times you can go to that well.

Still “Iron Man 2” is far, far better than it is weak. Action junkies may find the middle more than a little slow as it dwells quite a bit on his existential dilemma, but that’s also where many of the films best moments lie. “Iron Man 2” is one of those rare films with something for everyone, good characters, excellent presentation and well designed adventure elements. Worth every penny.




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Movie Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

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the_dark_knight_rises_poster.jpgReviewed 1 week before the film premiered in 2012


Review by Joshua Starnes


Eight years after the Joker’s reign of anarchy, the Dark Knight is forced to return from his imposed exile to save Gotham City from the brutal guerrilla terrorist Bane with the help of the enigmatic Selina.


So let’s get the obvious out of the way up front. No, it’s not as good as “The Dark Knight.” That said, “The Dark Knight Rises” is probably as good a follow-up as you could reasonably expect, providing everything you could possibly want from a Batman film.

Except that it’s not really a Batman film, though he is inextricably bound up in it. More so than any of the previous installments, “The Dark Knight Rises” is an ensemble film that just often includes Batman (Christian Bale) but just as often doesn’t, spending large amounts of time with the investigations of young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the machinations of hulking villain Bane (Anne Hathaway) or the crimes of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).

But, if Batman is not always readily present in “The Dark Knight Rises” it is always about him in a way none of the other films in the series has been, examining the reasons for his existence and asking hard questions about whether they’re strong enough that he needs to stay around forever.

We pick up the action eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and time has not been kind to Bruce Wayne. The years of jumping from rooftops and onto moving cars have irrevocably damaged his body to the point where he needs help from hi-tech leg bracers to do more than limp. His sacrifice has helped bring Gotham to a point of general peace, however, and Wayne and his alter-ego have gone into general seclusion. That is until a beautiful cat burglar breaks into his home to steal his fingerprints, gradually seducing him back into the world crime and criminals once again.

There is a stark and unglamorous undercurrent to “The Dark Knight Rises” as it asks difficult questions about, among other things, accepting the eventual consequences of your life and dealing with the realization that you can’t really go home again. Bale, who has grown immensely as an actor even since “The Dark Knight,” has always presented something a flawed Batman, a talented man who is prone to not giving his enemies enough credit due to the extent of skills, nor of seeing his own weaknesses. His older, broken Bruce Wayne is a man desperate to prove to himself that he is still the man he was, and refusing to admit that might not be the man he should be anymore.

As good as he is, he is nearly upstaged by Hardy’s Bane, a hulking wall of a man with patience and cunning to match who is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, including nearly being thrown out of a plane. With a mask covering much of his face, Hardy’s performance is largely body language and silky voice control, but he makes the most of it, commanding his scenes. That said, with the deep voice, the slow menace and the breathing sounds, it’s often hard not to think about Darth Vader when he’s around and for all his strength’s he lacks a little in originality.

The rest of the supporting cast is nearly as good, though they benefit from a script (from director Christopher Nolan and brother Jonathan, based on a story by Nolan and David Goyer) that focuses on character as much as action and plot, giving everyone a moment to shine. Part of that is the sprawling length of the narrative, which allows major characters to disappear for long periods of time without losing to much in the way of presence in the film. Commissioner Gordon and loyal butler Alfred, in particular, only figure in about half of the film, and yet they always feel like they’re around. Even the new women in Bruce’s life, cat burglar Selina and wealthy business woman Miranda (Marion Cotillard) come and go as the plot dictates, making the best of the moments they do get.

As Bruce continues investigating what the beautiful Selina is up to and how she may be tied up with a dirty businessman on the Wayne Enterprises board of directors, he gradually becomes aware of wheels within wheels moving around him, particularly once a daring daylight raid on the Gotham Stock Exchange causes him to lose most of the vast resources he has taken for granted for so long. In typical Bruce fashion he continues to barrel along, heading straight for a headlong confrontation with Bane without bothering to stop and think if he is really the man he used to be.

Ultimately, and not surprisingly, “The Dark Knight Rises” belongs to its director, not its actors or characters. All of Nolan’s great screen interests are here as he fuses his themes about facing fear and human nature with his great love of science fiction devices and twisty crime plots. Bane’s exact plan is labyrinthine and there are hints of a man behind the man in his backstory who is actually pulling the strings. “The Dark Knight Rises” is steeped not just in general Batman mythology but within its own, calling back to each of the previous films but particularly “Batman Begins” as the choices of Bruce’s past come back to haunt him.

The end result is exquisitely crafted, with everything we deserve from action films but seldom get, even if it is not quite as relentlessly entertaining as “The Dark Knight Rises.” The sheer length and breadth of its scope often robs the film of inertia, particularly during the climax which comes along suddenly before quickly shifting gears. And for all the excellent work done by all the actors, particularly Gordon-Leavitt as a young cop representing Bruce’s youthful idealism, Batman’s own frequent absence from his own film is noticeable.

What flaws “The Dark Knight Rises” has are few and far between, with most of it hitting the just the right note as it prances between the darkest depths and the most hopeful highs like a cat on a hot tin roof. There is a definite feeling of The End throughout that perfectly fits “The Dark Knight Rises” and allows us to look over what flaws it does have. This should be the blueprint for summer spectacle. You can keep your “Transformers,” I’ll take “The Dark Knight Rises.”

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