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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Movie Review: "Iron Man 2"

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Favreau, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg
2.5 Stars

"Iron Man 2" is about Tony Stark overcompensating for the fact that he's secretly dying. It's also about Whiplash seeking revenge on the Stark empire. And Stark's best friend becoming War Machine. And the US government wanting the Iron Man technology. And Justin Hammer's company going to war against Tony Stark's company. And Stark's secretary becoming CEO while inching toward a romantic relationship with him. And SHIELD trying to recruit Iron Man for The Avengers. And Black Widow infiltrating Stark Industries. And SHIELD tracking a mystery happening in New Mexico. And Stark's relationship with his late father, who apparently was Walt Disney.

Tired yet? Yeah, I don't know what the hell "Iron Man 2" is really about, either.

Overall this sequel is a muddled, pointless, incoherent mess, ensuring that while more watchable than something like say, "Batman & Robin," it doesn't hold up to the infinitely better "The Dark Knight," "X2: X-Men United" or "Superman II," the superhero sequels by which all other superhero sequels should rightly be measured.

Which isn't to say "Iron Man 2" doesn't have a few things going for it, like some really cool action sequences: Whiplash's first tussle with Iron Man, at the Grand Prix, is pretty killer, 'though the audience is only sort of vaguely aware of what's motivating everyone (and likely saw it already in the trailer). Black Widow dispenses with some thugs in a scene very reminiscent of "X2," 'though it's not really clear what her role is in all of the events nor why she can only do battle in a catsuit.

Iron Man vs. War Machine is cool (and even fun!), although we have no idea why these two best friends are going at it this hard. It sort of just happens. I suppose it's kind of an intervention (hints of Stark's alcoholism! Hurray!) on the Don Cheadle character's part, but who knows? Director / co-star Jon Favreau throws in an "inside-the-mask" POV throughout the movie that helps sync the CGI heroes and the performers, which is nice.

Other than these action sequences (which are surprisingly few and far between for a summer blockbuster), this superhero sequel coasts along on the strength of an incredible cast of performers, all equally adept at drama and comedy (particularly Downey - no relation, Rourke, scene-stealer Rockwell and Paltrow), the goodwill audiences have for the first "Iron Man" and comic guys like myself have for the Marvel Universe in general (was that Captain America's shield? Thor's hammer? Neat-o).

I can watch Downey do just about anything, especially when he's turned loose to turn on the charm and crack-wise while clearly hiding some self-loathing and inner turmoil. I can't think of many performers better at that combination and he's in fine form, as well as in great physical shape, here. But it just isn't enough to hold together an entire movie without a clear cut, well-defined and compelling story.

The confusion doled out in the meandering and exhausting middle section of "Iron Man 2" is largely thanks to the all-too-familiar superhero sequel problem of too many half-baked plot lines, vague motivations and a house party full of minor characters who make us geeks "ooh" and "ah" by their mere inclusion but who are so underdeveloped that only the truest of the true will give a rat's ass about what happens to them.

Case in point: both Whiplash, played by the excellent Mickey Rourke (who still has the guy from "9½ Weeks" buried somewhere in his very interesting face), and Black Widow (the surprisingly athletic and of course unsurprisingly hot Scarlett Johansson) are in this movie, but I don't think either of those code names are ever even spoken.

If you didn't catch the end credits sequence in the first one, let alone the first movie in general, you'll have no idea who the hell Sam Jackson is playing and what exactly he's doing. His SHIELD sidekick, played by Clark Gregg, is cool and funny and all, but utterly pointless. (Wondering what SHIELD is? Too bad. You'll have to Netflix the first movie or pickup a comic book. It's not like "Empire Strikes Back" told us anything about The Force, right? Wait, it did).

In fact, most of the characters in this movie have no business being here as they only distract from Iron Man. I root hard for these movies to succeed and I revel in the inclusion of so many nods to the mythos, but driving home from the theater I had to accept how undercooked and overly cluttered "Iron Man 2" ended up.

My friend Dave Quiggle, who saw the movie with me, pointed out how similar the Stark / Whiplash story is to "Rocky III." Stark is on top of the world, flashy, arrogant in the movie's beginning, while a sinister street level villain plots against him in the shadows and takes him down in a very public way... Should "Iron Man 2" make us think about "Rocky III" while we're watching it? Ah, Clubber Lang. We hardly knew ya'.

One last thing I have to mention: the first time we see Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johannson in full costume, they are sitting in a donut shop (also one of LA's best known landmarks; maybe not the place for clandestine agents to have a meeting) with Downey, in full armor. It's instantly reminiscent of "Pulp Fiction" to see Jackson speaking bad-mother-effer-ese in a restaurant booth.

Not only does this scene pull you right out of the movie and remind you that you're watching actors dressed up in crazy get-ups, it also reminds you that "Iron Man 2" is nowhere near as good as "Pulp Fiction." With this cast bringing their A-game, an enthusiastic director like Favreau at the helm and audiences more accepting than ever of the Marvel Universe, it should have been.


Don Clark said...

Noooo!!!!!!!!! Still going at midnight. Damn.

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