Thursday, May 06, 2010

Iron Man 2: First Impressions.

I'm not sure if anyone else has said anything like this, if they let me know because I would like to read it, but after seeing Iron Man 2 tonight I've walked out with many first impressions and one very important conclusion. Cinematically speaking Marvel Studios and the "Avengers Initiative" has the future of movies standing on a very interesting and probably very dangerous precipice. This is ground that has not yet been tread on before (the X-Men films have kind've done it, but not quite to this extent).

As everyone is no doubt aware at this point, Marvel Studios has a plan. It's a grand plan. It's a plan that now has the financial backing of the Disney juggernaut, hell, the Disney Colossus, behind it. It starts with the Avenger Initiative, but where does it end? For the non-comic reader, what this is is a cinematic reproduction (or adaptation) of the Marvel Universe. What that means is this: Over the last 60+ years of its life Marvel Comics has given us many heroes, initially all were in their own titles, and their own universes, and their ramifications were all effective in their own universes. Much like the early Marvel films of the aughts (including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Punisher, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four) each of these films seemed to exist entirely separate of each other. Then in 2008 came Iron Man and everything changed. Not the movie itself. No, the movie was a thrill ride. It stood alone, and it stood proudly (with maybe a bit drunken of a swagger). It came after the credits. Half the audience left by the time it happened. The last credit rolled. The company title. Black screen and then bam:

Samuel L. Jackson. The basis for General Nick Fury in the Ultimate Marvel Universe was sitting in the living room of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, spouting off about the Avenger's Initiative, and everything fucking changed.

Comics entered the movie world, and the ball started rolling towards the Avengers. Two years later the Incredible Hulk has come out, Thor is in production, Chris Evans is cast as Captain America, and Iron Man 2 has just come out. And what does all this preface have to do with my review of Iron Man 2? This:

Continuing down the road that we are on with films that rely on established characters, or massive multi-character/multi-movie franchises we are facing what could potentially become the end of traditional cinema. In this sort of visual medium, television shows have always been akin to serialized stories or novels (see any sitcom for the serial, and shows like Lost or Battlestar Galactica for the novel). We have cable, and each week we tune in for another installment of what will hopefully come to a conclusion of sorts eventually (Lost has helped set the stand for future "maxiseries" televised novels (a rant for another time)) unless we fall prey to the Gilligan's Island Syndrome (also a rant for another time). Movies on the other hand are short stories (the well-made ones can be as far as novellas, but are generally shorter stories). We pay our ten bucks (hopefully less, probably more) and we sit down and are told a satisfying and mostly complete story. Sometimes there are series, but each film gives us a complete story. Even Christopher Nolan, the helmer of the current (and IMO, best) Batman incarnation has said that with the third film he will bring it to a conclusion because movies are not comics, and movies have to end. "Au Contraire," says Marvel with their Avenger Initiative. With the cashcow of the Marvel Universe and their established characters all they have to do is build in connections, and let the movie/money machine roll. Thus comes Iron Man 2.

Is it a good movie? Not really. Essentially it relies on a couple of pretty cheap deus ex machina plot devices (many scripts do, sure, but "don't cross the streams!" really?). It builds up a lot, and doesn't really give us the satisfactory ending we deserve. But on the whole it was a damn good ride. Stuff blows up real good. Tony has some funny one-liners. There's a few awkward sexual moments, and AC/DC provides a wonderful soundtrack.

Walking out of the movie my geek side was dancing like a drunken leprechaun inside my head, so pumped for the Avengers movie (2012), but my more mature movie-goer/storyteller mind was saying "wait a minute." The movie itself is a giant two hour preview for the Avengers. We're given teasers. The Hammer. The Shield. SHIELD logos. References to the black-ops. Fury saying he's "the most real person you'll meet." Things to get my comic reading, mythology loving head practically screaming and singing along with AC/DC (which I did considering it was a private screening and there was some alcohol involved). All this preparation for what's coming is great, but someone forgot to remind Favreau that we need Iron Man 2 first, before we can get Avengers, and that this movie needs to stand alone by its own merits.

To harp further on the story, Iron Man 2 confirms a lesson that was alluded to by the rather lackluster ending of the Dark Knight (a rant for another time), and made quantifiable by the trainwreck that was Spider-Man 3. When dealing with superhero films, an intricate story is fine, but what there needs to be is a very focused villain. Rhodey's potential betrayal, Hammer's ineptitude, the US Governments oppressively-presented attempts to acquire the Iron Man suit, Ivan Vanko's rather wasted early appearance and quick resolution. All of these villainous plots serve to muddle a story that can't quite find its focus. There is the beginning of intricate links between them, involving the introduction of War Machine, and drones for 4 out of the 5 branches of the military (what no love for the coast guard?) but then things go all explodey, and it seems like the script-writers were looking for a fast way to tie things up. All in preparation for a scene between Fury and Stark discussing what's to come, and not what's happening.

But am I to sit here and harp and harp and harp about the story, about the occasionally draggy talky spots in the middle, about the way the story sort of drunkenly stumbles like Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit at his birthday party, and have you leave thinking that I walked out of the movie grumbling? Because I didn't. If you've made it this far you need to know that, if nothing else, I had a great time. It drunkenly stumbled and tumbled forward like a good comedian who is better when he's sober, but is still riotous when he's had a few, and I was led along happily to its lackluster conclusion, smiling and laughing, and cheering all the way. What it does, it does well, and what it doesn't do well it manages to slather in geeky nods to the fanboys that warmed the cockles of my comic reading heart. Go see it, if only for AC/DC, the shield, the hammer, and Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit that is almost physically impossible.

3 comments:

eha1990 May 8, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

I enjoyed your review of the movie. I do agree that Marvel is opening up a door that has never been opened before. Linking the Marvel movies together to form a single movie universe could be a disaster or a genius move, we'll just have to wait and see. I will be paying to see whatever Marvel movies come out because I'm a fanboy, comic book collector, & geek. It will be challenging to have so many big name superheroes in the Avengers movie without it being at least 4 hours long. The X-Men movies were good, but superhero teams don't translate so well into superhero team movies mainly because you don't have enough time to establish the origins of team members. But I guess that Marvel has decided to put out individual movies to establish the backgrounds of the team members of the Avengers which may work fine in the long run.

I thought the movie was just as good as the first Iron Man. Iron Man 2 had more comedic moments in it, but the laughs fit in very well. I believe there will definitely be an Iron Man 3, at least I hope so. Using Whiplash and Hammer as villains brought a decent amount of balance to the film. I like how they worked in more of the Avengers storyline. It was also good to see Howard Stark in the movie too, you never hear too much about Howard Stark in the comic books.

I guess how Fury ended things with Stark left Marvel room to go either way in terms of having Iron Man in the new Avengers movie. Finding Thor's hammer in the desert sets up the new Thor movie that is being worked on. The Captain America shield that Tony used to prop up his particle accelerator machine had to be an early prototype of some sort of Captain America's shield. I'm guessing that Howard Stark played a role in the creation of Captain America's shield back in the day. Will we see Howard Stark in the upcoming Captain America movie? It will be interesting to see where Marvel goes from here. There are still plenty of good villains in the Iron Man universe. I'm guessing that the next movie will be about either The Mandarin, Modock, or A.I.M. The end of the movie where Tony kisses Pepper makes no sense. They tried to develop a relationship in the first Iron Man and that didn't work, so why do it again in Iron Man 2?

I don't expect the upcoming Avengers movie to be anything like the comic book because it simply can't be, but it should still be good if done right without being hindered by a limited budget. I have no doubts that the Avenger movie may be the most expensive movie Marvel makes to date. We'll just have to wait and see true believers!

SmHoop May 9, 2010 at 4:18 AM  

I disagree with some parts of your review. I think the villains weren't very important because they were just there to help iron man grow and we didn't need some huge villain like the first to get him to become a super hero. And as for wat eha1990 said, yes, the Avengers movie could be 4 hours long..who says it won't be a 2 part or 3 part series? Look at Lord of the Rings. I'm sure they can stretch one story line across three movies [The Avengers] with all their history in comics when LOTR is really just about a guy going from point A to B and having crazy shit happen in between if you really, really boil it down. And with the news that Joss Whedon will be directing The Avengers, apparently, I really have nothing to worry about. Especially if Favreau and the directors of Hulk/Thor/Cap are on set to just make sure the stories all blend and the characters are seen as they were in their movies, which I'm sure they will.

The only thing that pisses me off about this whole Marvel Universe of movies thing...is Fox. They own X-Men and Spider-man...so...there's no chance of, say, in the Avengers movie, of wolverine (hugh jackman) just walking in the background in one of the scenes and someone going "HOLY SHIT THAT WAS WOLVERINE!"

:(

But as the Easter eggs section on Geek Tryant pointed out..there's some maps with Wakanda, Antarctica (savage lands?), Lavatia (tho Fox owns FF right?), Atlantis....Marvel Studios may have some plans for a lot of movies down the pipeline and like if this all works otu and people dig it...what if its like...

Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Cap, Avengers, [other Marvel movie], [other Marvel movie], then another Avengers movie that addresses the growing threats in the last two like Namor coming to attack surface or some crazy shit. They can really do anything when working within a giant universe!

SmHoop May 9, 2010 at 4:20 AM  

but actors aging could be a problem as Downey Jr would be pretty old at that point and they would have to bring in some new guys and make the new Avenger line up...movies take so damn long to make..