Saturday, May 08, 2010
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlet Johansson
Director: Jon Favreau
Runtime: 124 min.
Verdict: Not as HolyMotherofGod AWESOME as its predecessor, but still awesome. And it is so profoundly refreshing to have two of Hollywood (Liberal-land’s) biggest action-superhero franchises advocating strongly conservative politics (Individuality, Capitalism, Authoritarian). And I wonder if Downey Jr. is the greatest star we have.
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Ivan Vanko (Mr. Rourke), probably on a death wish, walks onto the Monaco Grand Prix race track whipping his electromechanical lashes. He is out to avenge his life (more on the back-story later) and so to kill Tony Stark (Mr. Downey Jr.). Tony Stark, in an impromptu display of his textbook narcissism, decides to drive his team’s race car himself. Vanko, I bet, when he hatched this assassination plot in Russia, never would’ve considered such a predicament. What I bet is he was attempting to merely whiplash race cars, Stark’s team’s included, so that Iron Man makes an appearance. Several race cars serve as collateral damage, and rank bad CGI pastes Mr. Rourke in the foreground of several explosions. Stark’s car is part of the carnage too.
That is when I wondered – was Ivan planning to kill Tony Stark, or was he planning to fight Iron Man. He later remarks – If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. Dear reader, it is a fascinating little moment in a fascinatingly subtle film. The God here isn’t just some mythological superhero big-talk, for Iron Man is the God of capitalism, and as a result the very face of America. This is not a pseudo-liberal guilt-ridden revisionist film, this is an unabashedly patriotic one. Tony Stark is God in a very political sense, and in these times where he has successfully privatized world peace, he is as much a symbol of American dominance as the national flag, or well, Doc Manhattan.
That is where lay the catch. Everybody knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. We watch superhero films, and we read superhero comics, and when we see Clark Kent in the vicinity of trouble we expect Superman to turn up and bail us out. With all superheroes the identity is hidden, and hence that expectation resides only in us viewers and readers. But, with Tony Stark and Iron Man, the citizens within the tale are capable of this expectation too, and so it makes the job of someone like Whiplash that much easier. I mean, if Tony Stark can’t save himself, what good would he be saving us.
This is where Iron Man 2 leads us to. Stark’s batteries are pumping toxic stuff into his blood, and he is slowly dying. But then again he wouldn’t die, and you know that as well as me. So that there is a needless little screenwriting device that only serves the purpose of causing Stark to go awry in his superhero ways, so that he can be back. Like it happened to Peter Parker when he threw his suit, or when he blinded us with his awesome street-dancing prowess. I kind of am tired of that little arc, and Iron Man 2 handles it most embarrassingly. And were it not for the incredible genius of Mr. Downey Jr., who I sincerely consider to be our greatest star and easily one of the best actors ever, the way the scriptwriting team handles it, bringing the memories of his dad Howard Stark into the mix, it would be a near total laugh-fest. Mr. Downey Jr. is irreverent, a total brat, yet so sincere and likeable. As it always is with me, I believe it is those big eyes.
I think you have a fair idea what to expect from this installment of Stark’s adventures. I mean, apart from struggling with his own mortality (he after all isn’t God) and a Russian arch villain in Vanko, who is just about as much of a genius as Stark himself, he has to deal with senators and SHIELD and rival businessmen and smoking-hot but totally needless Natalie Rushman (Ms. Johansson) and a Nick Fury, who like all of us, believes Samuel L. Jackson is a sheer explosion of pure unadulterated awesomeness, and so seems to be imitating him.
Iron Man 2 is fun. In a land where even Superman is trying to go all dark and brooding, Mr. Favreau’s approach is a breath of fresh air. There is charming romance caused due to two brilliant actors, Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Downey Jr., clearly enjoying themselves. This is a fun comic-book movie, trying to deal with serious situations, but without ever going all Shakespearean on us. It always seeks to give us a wow Iron Man moment, and it cracks us up with Tony Stark lines. Iron Drones go about general destruction when a little kid wearing a Iron Man helmet amidst the stampede tries to be Iron Man himself. It is the kind of moment we rarely seem to be having at the movies these days. The action, or whatever there is, is fun, but it is just not the drawing factor of the film. I sit here writing about the film, and I barely seem to remember anything worthwhile, save Ms. Johansson in patchy CGI fight sequences. And I like that. Forget wall-to-wall action dear reader, there is hardly enough action to keep the bricks in place. And that is not a bad thing at all. It is always nice to see pleasant actors. I mean, almost, except until Mr. Cheadle rests his chin on his right thumb for the 2341st time in his career. He might be a nice actor, but I believe there’s a terrible dullness about him that just doesn’t gel well with Mr. Favreau’s tone. Marvel, Mr. Terence Howard’s exit was a loss.
Mr. Rourke is strictly one of those traditional villains. I don’t know, but the Whiplash character just doesn’t work. There’s this whole obligatory back-story about his daddy, and it is quite ineffective. When they say by-the-numbers filmmaking, this is it. The whole back-story serves as somewhat of a prologue, where Vanko cries real hard on his daddy’s deathbed. Why, I ask? Why waste such an emotional moment, where it serves no other purpose than to advance the plot. I think that is the problem with most of these blockbusters, Iron Man 2 included, that most of the film exists to advance the plot. It is simple. In fact it is so simple I have to stifle a yawn writing about it.
And there is Mr. Rockwell, in easily the film’s most interesting character, apart from of course the titular guy. It is a fascinating character because the guy, Hammer, wishes to be a tycoon as big as Tony Stark but is not. He is even incapable of being a proper villain. He is just the bad and dare I say pathetic face of capitalism, the kind of which gets squashed often in the competition. I rarely come across such well written characters (not some barely fleshed-out stereotypes) these days. I don’t know, but there’s something tragic about the man.
The film’s most fascinating imagery though is the climax. Here’s Hammer introducing the future defense forces mad completely out of drones. It is quite intimidating, and I was reminded of Edward Zwick’s The Siege. And I was reminded of The Terminator franchise. You have machines, huge machines, as the cornerstone of your dominance. Does Favreau, by way of Vanko, allude to the iron hand of the iron curtain? I mean, if this was your government, you could assume what we’re talking about here. Capitalism and individualism is fine. Is proper. Is in fact how God is. I mean, at the end of the day, it is always reassuring knowing that he’s an individual. But when you imagine God as an army of iron-clad Goliaths stretching upto the horizon, you would be wetting your pants even if you were Iron Man himself.
By the way, it’s good to be back.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 9:09 PM