The plan was ambitious, bold, and given my history, more than a little foolish. Carlos was to come down and go to dinner with my brother Achmed, my father and me, THEN we come back to my house and watch a movie, THEN go to the Midnight premiere of IRON MAN 2, THEN go to Steak & Shake to talk about the movie (and have sandwiches), THEN come back here where I write it all up.
This is not only (lately) more than I usually do in a night; I've had months with less action. But we were heroes, men of renown, men made of the hardest toughest material, "iron" men, if you will, and the 65% chance that the night might kill me dissuaded me not in the least.
No one ever said Common Sense was one of my super powers.
Rather than write up the whole night (including dinner, the first movie, the "backpack incident" and how my right arm quit working (which not only makes typing difficult, but merely closing a passenger-side door with my left hand about as dangerous as asking a woman if she's put on a couple), for now I am just going to tell you about the theater experience.
I don't know if you've ever been to a Midnight Movie premiere, but I heartily recommend it. If you're going to a 12:01 movie (the earliest time you can see it "on the day it comes out"), you are likely a hard-core enthusiast. Consequently, the crowds at these screenings tends to be totally awesome. They are loud, boisterous and jacked-up excited, but not ass-holian (like some opening-night douche-fests you've been to), because these are the true fans, the ones who simply could not wait a whole day.
Gotta love 'em.
[metalic voice] "This area is now cleared for your mid-mall snacking needs."
IRON MAN 2 was no exception. People were dressed up. I don't mean like "just came from the prom" dressed up. I mean full Iron Man costumes, baby! My favorite were two kids who had to be about 12 (or else were dwarves; with masks on it's impossible to tell): one was the red and gold Iron Man you're used to, the other was the all-silver version introduced in part two. They were dueling in the aisle before the movie started. Think Heavy Metal Harry Potter and you get the idea.
Because I was moving so slowly (besides the right arm I re-injured my back and both ankles; did I mention how much of a hero I am?), we did not get there until after 11:30, and the gi-normous theater was packed (they opened a second big screen, even more packed). We ended up in the second row, which made me leery, but the seats started far enough back that once we adjusted (about 5 minutes or so) to the size and speed of the action, it was actually really really really cool. Would I sit down there again? You know, I never thought I would say this, but I just might. I've always been a "first row of the elevated-stadium level" kind of guy, but this was pretty sweet.
IRON MAN 2 is the first official film of the Summer Season, so they showed the best Trailers of the year so far. I have found four of the five and put them below, along with my often-hilarious comments:
This was NOT the Trailer they showed, a slick new two and a half minute preview that blew me away. (I looked for 30 minutes but couldn't find it for you.) I find it fascinating that each of the three Trailers for INCEPTION present us with TOTALLY different movies. The one above seems cool but mysterious; the one we saw was huge into the "dream" aspect of the film, enough so that I told my brother the title was called ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE MATRIX CELL. Okay, not my best joke ever, but be patient; I got some doozies coming up.
I don't care much for Adam Sandler, and the way I feel about Rob Schneider is unprintable. I tried to come up with a plausible scenario where I would see GROWN UPS. I could not. The Trailer is pretty good, though, which isn't all that hard to do with comedy. The three easiest genres for Trailers are Comedy (where sometimes they LITERALLY put all the funny parts in the trailer), Action (just use a Classical music score with an operatic "big" sound and make your cuts faster and faster; nothing longer than 1.2 seconds) and RomComs (show her, show him, hint at a happy ending....chicks do not demand quality in their movies, and they often don't get it).
PRINCE OF PERSIA
My whole goal during the Trailers was to make my brother Achmed crack up, and after my Eternal Matrix dud I had to rebound in a big way. Jerry Bruckheimer brings a certain familiarity to any of his productions, which can be good and bad. One joke I thought of during the trailer was INTERNATIONAL TREASURE (since Bruckheimer produced NATIONAL TREASURE), but the real winner came as I struggled to "buy" Jake Gyllenhaal as Persian, let alone a ninja-esque prince. I leaned over and stage whispered to Achmed, "They were going to call it BROKEBACK CASTLE."
I'm really torn here. At one time in my life The A-Team was the coolest thing ever. Tuesday was the only night of the week I was allowed to stay up until nine o'clock, just so we could watch The A-Team at eight. So, there is a certain amount of trepidation for me. Why do I need to see a movie version that (at best) would be a simulacrum and at worst damnable parody? On the other hand, I do love me some Liam Neeson, and the Trailer was pretty friggin' awesome. When B.A. started whistling the old theme song.....well, I was almost hooked.
Definitely had mixed feelings about this for months. On the one hand, I'm a huge Robin Hood fan in general, and director Ridley Scott has made some of the kickassingest movies of the last 30 years (BLACK HAWK DOWN, ALIEN, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BLACK RAIN). On the other hand, while I fully acknowledge that Russell Crowe is a great actor, I just don't like him, and the last time Crowe and Scott teamed up in an historical epic they came up with GLADIATOR, which I downright loathed. However, the Trailer is really good, and I'll probably end up seeing it (if only for Cate Blanchett, who's probably my favorite living (and "of age") actress. But forget all that - I had my best joke in 4 days. You remember the famous quote from GLADIATOR, right? And you've seen the 1973 Disney Robin Hood with the animals, right? Okay. So, near the end of the preview, right as Russell was making some speech about never giving up or something, I turned to my brother and said, "At my signal, unleash oo-de-lally!" He was still laughing about it on the way home.
Okay, on to the main attraction.
IRON MAN 2
There are any number of ways a sequel can go, but in the real world, you must please your fans, the ones who see a film 3 times opening day, and 15 times total. They are the difference between mild hit and blockbuster, and they must be appeased. There is one rule that MUST be obeyed, one simple guiding principle that no sequel dare ignore:
The fanboys demand more in their sequels. They even have their own spelling! More action, more fights, more chicks in tight tights. Whatever you did in round one, you better be willing to top yourself and then some in Round 2.
It is largely because of this that sequels are rarely better than their predecessors. Not only is the Novelty of Concept gone, but the film must be Pumped Up to the eXtreme, or else.
I won't lie: IRON MAN 2 does not ignore this rule. There are scenes, frankly unnecessary scenes, that really only exist as elaborate set-pieces to show off some killer action. You gotta know that going in. A sequel - an Action sequel, a Super Hero sequel, a Blockbuster Hit sequel, is never going to be as organic, never going to "flow" as much through the story, because the beast must be fed.
The question then is, knowing that going in, is the extra...everything at least fun? Do we get our share of laughs? Are we in "Whoa!" mode often enough? Are there Hot Girls aplenty?
IRON MAN 2 - they know what they're doing.
When last we left IRON MAN, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., who once again is brilliant) had just announced to the world that he indeed was the metal marvel. Part Dos opens at the Hubris-redefining Stark Expo, where Tony explains how Iron Man is so damn invincible that no one dares be bad any more. The U.S. military can just chill, 'cause he gotz this. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Expo will be a year-long celebration of humanity, where the best and brightest will come together to leave a legacy for the children.
But there's trouble in the smithy! Offstage it is revealed that Palladium, the element used to run Tony's Arc/heart thingy, the device that keeps him alive and lets him "connect" to the Iron Man suit, is slowly killing him. (Tony has a handheld device that reads "Stark Toxicity Level," in case there were any in the audience who weren't picking up what director Jon Favreau is throwing down. I realize it's picking nits to complain about subtlety in a movie about a hero named after 1) His species and 2) his costume raw material, but this whole scene felt clunky and inelegant to me. Where the first movie let the idea seep into us a little, here we're hit over the head with Tony's arrogance ("No one is man enough to challenge me!" he says. Yeah, let's see how that works out) and his fragile mortality, as that which makes him special, that which keeps him alive, is also doing him in.
Will any bad guy DARE challenge Iron Man, and will Tony's quest to find a solution to the Arc mini-reactor's toxicity be achieved?????
(You're new here, aren't you?)
The rest of the movie plays out like it plays out, and if you want more details, go online and read a plot summary. I don't write reviews to rehash the story, but to tell you whether or not I liked the film, and more importantly why, and to give you enough information for you to make a decision whether you're likely to as well.
Besides Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow is back as long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts, and she once again hits it out of the park. Still caring way too much about Tony (when will you learn, girls?), Pepper is up for a promotion, which may be more than she bargained for. (How's that for a tease?) I like how Paltrow plays her role, naturally, in tandem with the other actors, and not trying to steal the scene. I'm not always her biggest fan, but I have nothing but praise for her here; she can grind my pepper any time. (Groan.)
Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Rhodey has more to do here, actually getting into one of the suits. I'm a long-time member of the Don Cheadle fan club, and it's great to see him all sidekicky.
Sam Rockwell is sleazy weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer. I've never liked Rockwell, but then again, he usually plays people I'm not supposed to like, so I guess that works out.
More impressive is Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a psychopath Russian physicist with a hatred for all things Stark. Mickey is sure at his Rourkiest here, embodying the character fully. I joked with Carlos and Achmed that it was hard to tell if Rourke just knocked the character out of the park, or if they told Mickey he WAS a psychopath Russian physicist, and let him play himself. Rourke is one of those few actors (coughcough GaryBusey coughcough StevenSegal coughcough) where you really can't tell. (Along similar lines; Vanko is one of the dirtiest character you will ever see. Fantastic makeup job, or did they just let the Mick roll in from a night of...whatever the hell he does and go with that? Again: no way to tell.)
(The suit helps, too)
I will confess that I have never really been a fan of Scarlett Johansson. I never feel any warmth from her, and her attempts at gravitas seem like a Keanu-like lack of range. However, Scarlett's character Natalie Rushman IS cold and standoffish, and I must admit, it totally works! First time ever I managed to enjoy a role of hers. She needs to quit playing people with positive attitudes and stick to cold-hearted bitches!
Kate Mara plays a U.S. Marshal. She's on camera maybe 30 seconds, but it wouldn't be very sporting of me not to show her, would it?
Not her actual Marshal costume.
Garry Shandling plays a slimy Senator, which at first threw me. I kept thinking, "What is Garry Shandling, of all people, doing in this movie?" Then I realized I might be committing the Al Bundy sin. For the longest time Ed O'Neil, a terrific actor, couldn't get work because he was so identified as Al Bundy. It's not really fair, so I relaxed and let him be all schmucky as the asshole Senator bound and determined to get the Iron Man suit away from Tony.
Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles as members of S.H.I.E.L.D, and both are great again. Marvel is taking their time setting up the Nick Fury character, but I for one cannot wait for Jackson to be in his own movie.
Oh, and Olivia Munn plays someone named Chess Roberts. Embarrassingly, I cannot remember her in the movie, so I'm putting three pictures of her up instead of one, to help me remember. (Young struggling actors need all the help they can get.)
I liked the fights a lot, and the action sequences were certainly thrilling (if not always necessary to my more snobbish tastes). I thought all the roles were cast perfectly, which is the most underrated part of pulling off a super-hero movie. (coughcough GusGorman coughcough EddieBrockJr. coughcough)
To be honest, my favorite parts of the movie had nothing to do with Rourke's Vanko, even though he was seedy and menacing. All that felt rote, paint-by-numbers. I enjoyed Tony's struggle with his own mortality, his balancing act between his public persona, his private life, and the incessant demands of being the world's peace-keeper. Watching Tony try to keep his own demons in check was fascinating, and seeing Tony struggle with longtime Gal Friday Pepper and best friend Rhodey had real emotional depth. I would rather have watched a "character movie" about Tony, seeing him reaching out to his dead father, unlock the secrets of unlimited power, and try to walk that line between genius and madness.
But THAT movie wouldn't be allowed an eleventy-billion dollar budget. That movie would not be allowed in "sequel" form, when the Rule of MOAR prevails.
So we got this movie, but I ain't complaining. The cast was top-dollar, the action was a-brawler, the Comedy had more galler, the music reminded me of Mahler, the suit was still red and yaller and the dames made me want to sit up and holler.
Okay, that sucked as a closing joke. At least I can still unleash oo-de-lally.
May 7, 2010
[See what Hyperion thought of the first IRON MAN]
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