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Friday, June 11th, 2010

Time Event
9:08p
Iron Man 2

On Friday the 4th, we went to see “Iron Man 2” and found it better than most critics did. We did not find that there were too many characters, or that the plot was too cluttered.  Of course, we are accustomed to comic books, and the fact that what we have here is a decent (if short, by modern standards) comic book story arc.

I wonder, do movie critics seem to think that actually reading comics might be beneath them? I can remember days when quite a few critics looked down on anything that wasn’t “cinema”—today, we would say “indie” or “art house”—and automatically condemned anything that was fantasy or science fiction to the “B” movie ghetto.  Now, with the critical success of films such as “The Lord of the Rings” or “District 9” it is OK to approve F&SF in movies, apparently if it comes from a “respectable” source, to wit a book between hard covers,  or someone who’s a film “auteur”. Mainstream comics, however, still don’t seem to be understood by the film reviewers.

That said, we liked “Iron Man 2”.  Robert Downey, Jr., continues to add depth and personality to the role of Tony Stark, who is keeping up a cocky and risk-seeking front to the world while being slowly poisoned by his arc reactor power source. (This is one of the weak points of the movie, since palladium, the metal blamed, is actually very inert--) Downey does a fine job of delivering Stark’s wise-cracking dialog, including a barrage of double entendre aimed at an obnoxious Senator (played with just enough smarm by Garry Shandling). In general, the script is as witty as any I’ve seen in a long time, as Stark sinks barbs into fatuous rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), argues about responsibility and the avoidance of it with “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and flirts with newcomer “Natalie Rushman” a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen), although his “here-we-are-in-the-foxhole” banter with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) during the climactic battle scene seems a bit forced.  (And, OK, does Tony Stark have the best job in the world or WHAT? He’s filthy rich, has the Iron Man gear to play with, AND has both Paltrow and Johanssen on his personal staff. Methinks it would be worth dealing with a few supervillains for that--.)

And, speaking of villians, there are some very good ones in the form of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and the aforementioned Justin Hammer (Rockwell).  Vanko is a worthy addition to the Marvel canon, showing the modern face of Russian crime. (In Marvel comics, Ivan’s “father”, Anton Vanko, was the creator of the “Crimson Dynamo” powered suit, used by Iron Man’s Cold War era Soviet foes.)  Rockwell’s Hammer is a great development. In the comics, there wasn’t much to choose between Justin Hammer and Obidaih Stane (villain of the last movie)—both were rocky-jawed, hard-as-nails, ruthless businessmen.  This Justin Hammer is an inspired departure, a monster of evil banality.  It’s as though the “Bill Lumbergh” character from “Office Space” had had just enough drive and tech savvy to become the head of an arms company before reaching  his level  of incompetence--.  He’s a cliché-spouting empty suit, whose envy of Stark makes him apt to be exploited by Vanko in pursuit of his revenge.

Special effects are up to series standard: purists will note that the “War Machine” version of the Stark armor is very faithful to the comic original, and there are little details, such as the fact that parts of Vanko’s ultimate armor resemble that of “Titanium Man,” another Soviet armored foe, which will gladden the true fans.

Of course, there is lots of violence and LOTS of explosions, although, true to the Marvel tradition, no sex, and no bad language (although Stark’s material in the Senate hearing is a bit “blue”--).  Fun for fans of the genre.

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