Friday, May 07, 2010

Film Reviews: 'Iron Man 2'

Hollywood Gets It Right, Again

Posted by Chris Yogerst on May 7th, 2010

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), our favorite cunning industrialist, is back in top form in Iron Man 2. Just when we think our government can’t lean farther to the Left, Hollywood shows us at least they still know how to get it right on occasion. Now more than ever, the pro-free market, anti-government control concepts in Iron Man 2 are important in our contemporary culture.

The film begins six months later with the oily Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) demanding that Stark hand over his Iron Man weapon to the “proper authorities” (i.e. the government). Stark’s response is simple, “you want my property – you can’t have it!” The Iron Man suit may be a weapon but it is also a clear nuclear deterrent, as Stark defines it. The senator continues to categorize Iron Man out of context in order to push his regulatory agenda.

Iron Man 2 also continues to show the advantages of military innovation, however, the reactor that keeps Stark’s heart beating is now beginning to poison him so he must prepare the company for future success in case of his death. Desperate measures ensue after Stark gives up on trying to fix his heart problem and appoints Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) as CEO of the company. The government is not giving up on trying to once again gain control of national defense. Therefore, Stark wants to make sure he has someone he trusts at the helm of Stark Industries in the event of his untimely death.

The government is not the only problem; however, Hammer Industries’ flaky front man Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) exploits the government’s interest in his company in order to plot against Stark’s reputation. The government’s obsession with controlling Stark rendered them helpless to the villainous Russian Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who was hired to invent a weapon that would trump Iron Man. Vanko’s only motive was to kill Stark with no concern for possible collateral damage.

As expected, it is the strong-willed, intelligent capitalist that built Iron Man who comes to the rescue and once again keeps America safe from not only its own government but also its enemies overseas. Stark remains a patriot in the truest sense and knows he holds the key to keeping America safe. Instead of trying to save himself, he puts his focus on saving the country and in turn his company from destructive government control, a notion that any small government supporter can appreciate.

It is no secret that the Iron Man character is conservative, creator Stan Lee discusses him in the DVD commentary of the first film:

“It was the height of the Cold War. The readers – the young readers – if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous… I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like – that none of our readers would like – and shove him down their throats and make them like him.”

Therefore Lee’s intent was to see if he could make conservatism cool and the wild success of the first film would sure tell us that it worked. Although the Stark character was not without criticism in the first film seeing that he was a bit of a lady-killer. In the sequel, however, he is much more of a social conservative. Stark’s witty and flirtatious ways are still ever present even though is obviously loyal to Pepper in Iron Man 2. Instead of seducing the liberal journalists he avoids them completely.

The media as a whole is pushed aside without remorse in Iron Man 2. Where Stark cared about his image in the first film, he gave up trying to keep a politically correct profile in the sequel and put his full attention towards the future of Stark Industries. There is even a scene where we see Fox News and Bill O’Reilly that doesn’t involve a cheap shot at either of them. We know that the Iron Man films lean right, but it’s difficult to believe the studios let this fly.

Front Page assistant editor David Swindle wrote about the first Iron Man film last year in a piece called Superhero Conservatism:

“Why does the superhero genre bend to right? Quite simply, because the conventions upon which it has been built force such a trajectory. Almost all superhero stories involve a clash between good and evil or order and chaos. The superhero genre acknowledges evil’s existence and the need for it to be opposed, usually with force.”

In Iron Man 2 the enemy is twofold, the primary villain is the U.S. government that is unsuccessfully trying to once again monopolize national defense. Their quest for power left them blind to the motivations of an additional villain, Ivan Vanko, who sought to destroy Stark while proving he could also breach military security in the process. Therefore, showing us that government control is not only unnecessary but it can also be destructive. Instead of attacking America, enemies of the country go after Iron Man because they know they cannot defeat the U.S. with Stark running the show.

The government in the film is reminiscent to the current administration’s continued reckless drive for power and control. The dominant purpose behind health care reform was about control, not the well-being of the American people. This is similar to the way government in the film cares less about national security and more about owning the machine that makes it possible. Iron Man 2 is a useful manifestation of capitalist principles that are ignored by today’s government leaders. The free market will collapse under the weight of big government and Tony Stark knows this better than anyone.

Just like Iron Man, its sequel has all of the elements for a guaranteed commercial success. Acknowledging the fight between good and evil as well as the importance of the free market is something that resonates with many Americans in today’s political climate (and was also proven with the success of the first film). Tony Stark endures as a hip personification of capitalism with his humorous charm and eternal drive for success not to mention interest in national security. Stark Industries has privatized world peace, what could be better?

REVIEW: You’re Going to Love the Imperfect ‘Iron Man 2′

by John Nolte

Though the highly anticipated “Iron Man 2” qualifies as a hilarious, entertaining, irreverent, and openly patriotic summer blockbuster well worth the price of admission (and then some), like most sequels, the continuing story of Tony Stark and company does falls short of its predecessor, especially in what I call the “lift department.” Superhero films that transcend their genre contain an unforgettable moment or two that lifts the hair on the back of your neck, pulls you out of your chair, and urges you to stand and cheer. The original “Iron Man” had a number of those moments. And while the follow-up has a whole lot going for it, this is where it most lacks.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has privatized world peace. Yes, all on his own as Iron Man, Stark has whipped the world into behaving itself and it’s completely gone to his already bloated head. Obviously this wasn’t accomplished through the changing of our enemies’ hearts, but rather through the superior firepower that comes with being Iron Man. This is the reason/excuse our government, led by the oily Senator Stern (a very funny Gary Shandling) uses to demand Stark turn over the suit to the Pentagon. During a hearing televised on CSPAN, Stark can’t bring himself to politely decline. With his ego red-lining, (he has saved the world, after all), he both insults the Senator and dares him to try and take the suit away from him.

Game on.

In this vacuum steps a rival arms dealer, Justin Hammer (a delightfully twitchy Sam Rockwell), who’s desperate to replicate the Iron Man technology and scoop up all that Pentagon money while at the same time fulfilling a desire to humiliate Stark by elbowing Iron Man into irrelevancy. Hope arrives in the form of Ivan Vanko (a quietly menacing Mickey Rourke), a Russian scientist burning with both a hate for Stark and the technical know-how to fulfill Hammer’s mercenary desires.

As a whole, if you look real close, the film’s overall narrative doesn’t hold together all that well. But the individual pieces are so delightfully scripted and performed you don’t really notice… or care. Through the first act and right up until the dynamite initial–and very well staged and shot–encounter between Stark and Vanko, everything pops as all the familiar themes and characters effortlessly pick up right where they left off. And while the second act, except for an awkward and surprisingly claustrophobic sequence involving Stark’s birthday party, never ceases to hold your attention and entertain, the structure just isn’t there, nor is the action.

There is a lot going on with the characters, though maybe too much. The relationship between the luscious Pepper Potts and Stark is as Tracy/Hepburn as ever, but the troubling dynamic between Stark and his deceased father feels artificial, especially when it results in the solving (seemingly out of nowhere) of one of Stark’s biggest problems. One area where you do feel the narrative pieces fall satisfactorily into place is with the arrival of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Much track is laid for the Avenger team Fury’s putting together and you will want to hang around for a post-credit scene.

One area where the sequel improves on the original is with its climax. This time it’s big and lusty and exciting as opposed to rock ‘em sock ‘em robots duking it out on the Hollywood freeway. But back to the lack of lift….

There were three moments in the first “Iron Man” that took my movie-loving breath away. Stark’s initial escape in his crude Iron Man suit, his first flight, and that delicious moment when he figured out that being a superhero means no longer watching helplessly as tragedy plays out on the television. Iron Man flying off to lay waste to those Jihadists terrorizing that village was a moment this country had been collectively waiting for our Hollywood Masters to deliver since the attacks on September 11th.
The best way to describe the sequel is to think about what the original would’ve been like without those moments; worthwhile and fun but far from a classic.

Jon Favreau’s direction and the snappy dialogue, like most of the performances (as Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson is a little in over her head with this cast, but kick some ass she does) are uniformly excellent, and if I haven’t said so before, Robert Downey Jr. is a friggin’ movie star in the very best sense of the word. Is there another actor out there capable of throwing around a character’s rank narcissism and irreverence but never at the expense of sincerity? He’s a marvel to watch, if you’ll pardon the pun.

If anything, this second Iron Man chapter is even more patriotic than the first. The military, as personified by Don Cheadle’s Lt. Col. Rhoades, is treated with utmost respect and Stark’s language about what he’s doing is never qualified with any of that maddening, namby-pamby United NationSpeak that’s plagued every movie made since Bush beat Gore. Stark says with no embarrassment whatsoever that he is “securing America,” and that he’s proud to “serve a great nation.” He even throws a kind word to the Boy Scouts of America. And later, a very funny and not-so-subtle riff on the megalomania surrounding Obama iconography ranks as iconoclastic when compared to what we’re seeing from today’s lockstep film industry.

So go! Have fun. Take the kids. And thank Favreau and company for proving that in the talented hands of those willing you can still make timeless universal themes cool, entertaining, and very profitable.

In the immortal words of Justin Hammer: “God bless Iron Man. God bless America.”

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Posted May 5th 2010 at 12:55 pm in Film, Reviews

Iron Man 2: A Love Letter to Ronald Reagan?

The film is a big, brash, exciting, and brainy adventure, supercharged by its love for core American values.

by John Boot
May 7, 2010

America just might have found itself its truest superhero. Who needs Superman when there’s Iron Man 2? Tony Stark isn’t just a patriot and a lifesaver. He’s bold, he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s a capitalist individualist defender of property rights. And he likes to give speeches surrounded by dancing girls.

Iron Man was fun but Iron Man 2 is even better, with a script (by Justin Theroux) so laced with wit that it if you took away the fireballs and just had actors reading it on a bare stage like a Noel Coward piece, it would still be an entertaining evening.

The main flaws of the first film — let’s face it, the finale with Jeff Bridges was a bore, and so was Terrence Howard, the blandest buddy since Robin — are gone in the sequel. This one features nifty fireworks — including a nifty Monte Carlo race scene — plus two excellent yet very different villains (Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke), the superb Don Cheadle stepping in for Howard (who reportedly demanded more money than the producers were willing to pay), just enough Nicky Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to make us want more, and a blowout of an ending.

Oh yeah, and the movie is also a virtual love letter to Ronald Reagan.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., whose performance seems meant to school Christian Bale in the art of playing things loose) finds himself in trouble with a weaselly senator (Garry Shandling). The lawmaker accuses Stark, who has been boasting to the world of his ability to keep the peace, of purposely developing an offensive weapon that he misleadingly calls a defensive weapon.

That this is exactly the argument liberals (and the Soviets) used to excoriate Ronald Reagan and his SDI plan is delicious — but it gets better. As played by Shandling, the senator, who is from Pennsylvania, bears more than a slight resemblance to Arlen Specter, the classic Capitol Hill weasel who called himself a Republican for as long as he found it convenient and is now not only a Democrat but one of the most reliably liberal members of his caucus.

Still better: In front of Congress, which Tony rightly mocks as his intellectual and moral inferiors, he delivers a stout defense of private property when the senator demands that he simply turn over the blueprints to his Iron Man suit. Stark points out that the country is doomed if it has to rely for its defense on the government’s chosen contractor, headed by a corporate tool named Justin Hammer (Rockwell) who thinks he is as smart as Tony but isn’t, quite.

And yet still better: Tony has his own Shepard Fairey-style “Hope” poster. It says “Iron Man” — a cheeky rebuke to an America that can elect a commander in chief who thinks perpetual apologizing is a bargaining position.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a terrifyingly single-minded Russian named Ivan (Mickey Rourke, who as he did in The Wrestler uses his wrecked looks to excellent effect), whose deceased father had a blood feud against Tony’s late dad (John Slattery of Mad Men), develops his own knockoff Iron Man suit and comes looking for Tony. He finds him, at the Monte Carlo car race that Tony joins on a lark.

But thanks to the twin high-voltage whips that Ivan can use to strip the side off an armored car, Tony, his bodyguard (director Jon Favreau), and his best girl Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) find themselves in danger of being outgunned by this snarling, almost wordless psycho. Naturally Justin Hammer and Ivan soon join forces — as Tony notices with his typical heedless bravado that a flaw in the power source he uses to operate his mechanical heart is slowly, fatally poisoning him.

That’s a lot of story — and I haven’t even mentioned Tony’s mysterious new assistant (Scarlett Johansson). But it all comes through clearly in Theroux’s fast-moving script. The action scenes are robust, especially the finale at the old World’s Fair site in Queens, N.Y., that also inspired the big finish of Men in Black, and Downey makes his many one-liners zing (he tells Nick Fury he doesn’t want to join his “superhero boy band”). Yet Rockwell is his equal, particularly in a hilarious monologue in which he describes his favorite weapons like “Uncle Gazpacho” (so called for the chunky red mess it tends to make of enemies) and “the ex-wife.”

Iron Man 2 is a big, brash, exciting, and brainy adventure, supercharged by its love for core American values. When the liberals huff that Tony Stark is a “lone gunslinger,” you know what he’s thinking: “Senator Weasel can have the rights to my Iron Man suit just as soon as he pries them out of my cold, dead hands.”

John Boot is the pen name of a conservative writer operating under deep cover in the liberal media.

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