"If you can make God bleed, then people will cease to believe in Him." --Ivan Vanko
Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both John and Chris provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
OK, let's get the obvious out of the way first: "Iron Man 2" is not as good as its predecessor. That's not unusual. What is unusual is that "Iron Man 2" is still not bad. Indeed, if this had been the first entry in the series, with nothing to compare it to, many viewers who now criticize the film might actually have enjoyed it more.
Although I try not to read reviews of movies I know I'm going to be reviewing myself, I can't help hearing the opinions of friends and family about certain films. So it was with "Iron Man 2," and the interesting thing is, they were conflicting opinions. Several people said they didn't like the movie because it was all action and no characterization, that it was a nonstop flurry of activity from beginning to end. Several other people said they didn't like the movie because it didn't have enough action, that it was all talk, talk, talk, and no action. Huh?
Doubtlessly, different people see things differently. If it was the action in the first "Iron Man" movie they liked, that's what they wanted to see more of in the sequel. If it was the character development and character interrelationships they liked in the first film, that's what they wanted to see again in the sequel. As for me, I thought the filmmakers balanced just the right amount of action and nonaction in number two, along with a healthy dose of humor, a compromise that apparently failed to please every fan of the first film.
Robert Downey, Jr. again stars as Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, and again he may be at the center of the controversy. He's a terrific actor, one of those guys who makes any movie better just by his being in it. But his character in part two doesn't go from bad to good as it did in the first film; on the contrary, for much of the new movie it goes from good to worse. Let me explain.
In "Iron Man" we had basically an origin story. I love origin stories. I'm more interested in how a superhero became a superhero than in seeing him or her defeat an army of villains. It's why I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" more than many people did; it's entirely an origin story. With "Iron Man" we watched as a greedy, dissolute Tony Stark, with all the money in the world and wanting more, turned into a noble individual who decided to use his money to fight for good. But in "Iron Man 2," we get a more antic story, where we see Stark reverting to his old, selfish, narcissistic ways, getting drunk, embarrassing himself in public, his medical condition deteriorating, and his behavior less than heroic. Some audience members didn't seem to care if that was the way Tony Stark behaved in the comic books; they wanted their movie hero to behave heroically at all times. Live with it.
Stark Expo, a tech show Tony's father built years before, opens the movie with a ton of glitter and makes Tony's Iron Man the equivalent of a rock star. The glitz sets the tone for the sometimes zany action to follow, and Tony glories in his newfound stardom. Senator Stern (Gary Shandling), a pompous, posturing, windbag politician, doesn't find Tony or his hoarding the Iron Man technology for himself so glorious. Neither does Tony's main competitor in the armaments business, the sniveling Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
However, neither Stern nor Hammer are much of a threat to Tony. They're lightweights. The real villain is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian who is doubly dangerous because he's not only a genius, he's a brute. It's a pity his character gets a sort of short shrift in the proceedings with so much else going on. Stark is busy having major and minor conflicts not only with Vanko, Stern, and Hammer, but with his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); his best friend, Lt. Col. "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle); his newest assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johnansson); his driver, Happy Hogan (John Favreau, who also directed the film); his father (John Slattery); a special agent named Coulson (Clark Gregg); and the mysterious Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). He even fights with himself. About the only one he doesn't fight with is a guy selling strawberries (Alejandro Patino). And even then.... I mean, Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, or Preston Sturges could have directed this thing.
For me, the highlights of the film were, first, the interactions between Stark and Pepper, where Pepper is the only one to successfully stand up to him. Unfortunately, these exchanges are few and far between. And, second, the Monaco race sequence early on. However, the movie's big finale, which should have been a highlight, went on too long to keep my attention entirely, overstaying its welcome by a good ten minutes.
Two final notes: Audi must have underwritten most of the film, given the number of cars and logos we see everywhere. And be sure to wait until the end of the closing credits for more info on the enigmatic Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D alliance.
John's film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Chris:
Common wisdom dictates that the sequel rarely lives up to the original, but a quick survey of the superhero genre doesn't support this dismissal. "Superman 2," "Spider-Man 2" and "X-Men 2" are all superior to or at least equal to their predecessors and even the anemic "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" stumbles over the low bar set by the sorry first "Four." If we expand our scope to consider science-fiction, it's not difficult to argue that "Star Trek 2" and "The Empire Strikes Back" each represent the pinnacle of their respective franchises. Sure there's "Jaws 2" and "Exorcist: The Heretic" but for super-heroes at least, the second time has most often been the charm.
In part this is attributable to the increasing comfort level the actors develop playing the costumed characters they probably didn't train for at Julliard, but just as important is that the sequel doesn't need to squander any more screen time on the obligatory origin story. Our heroes and their supporting players arrive at Part Two as familiar friends, ready to leap directly into the fray. Batman – dead parents – can't stop whining about it – we got it, Bruce.
If "Iron Man 2" doesn't join the long list of improved sequels, it's partially a testament to the deft manner in which the first film handled Tony Stark's updated origin. Iron Man arrived in theaters largely unknown to the general audience. With an origin story not burdened down by mythology and pop culture awareness like Supes', director Jon Favreau was able to treat Stark's transformation into a superhero in a pragmatic way that he seamlessly integrated into the plot. Though quite long, the origin wasn't a prolonged foreword that led into the "real" story, but dropped us slam-bang into continuity.
Unburdened by the need to "establish" its protagonists, "Iron Man 2" unfortunately squanders a golden opportunity by replacing the origin story with a middle section light on action and laden with exposition. Tony's got an ego problem. Tony's got a drinking problem. Tony needs to reconcile with his dead father. His friends are worried. And his enemies are scheming. Or at least talking about scheming. And talking about it some more.
And yet "Iron Man 2" works quite well, in fits and starts to be sure, but it's a fine piece of entertainment. Favreau and new screenwriter Justin Theroux ("Tropic Thunder") understand that the first film worked so well not because of its action sequences (well-crafted, but not singularly outstanding) but because of the relationship between Tony and His Girl Friday, Pepper Potts, star-powered by Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow who spit rat-a-tat dialogue almost as effortlessly as Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
Downey Jr. has settled in as a modern-day John Wayne, content to play the smug role of Robert Downey Jr. in film after film. As with The Duke if you need somebody to play that kind of role, you know who to call. The two films have amped up Tony Stark's prick quotient from the printed page but Downey Jr.'s portrayal is pretty spot-on, emphasizing the sense of entitlement the genius magnate brings to his iron-clad persona. Tony Stark loves being Iron Man even more than he loves being Tony Stark, and he's happy to show it.
The sequel catches Tony at the height of euphoria over his new role. Iron Man sails in to the high-tech Stark Expo with a pyrotechnic display and "Ironette" dancers, a self-glorifying spectacle that would make Dennis Kozlowski jealous. Later in front of a Senate hearing, Tony declares himself America's greatest asset and promises world peace in short order.
As you can guess, Tony must pay penance for his hubris, and punishment arrives on multiple fronts. Not only is the suit threatening to be the literal death of him, but Tony has to face a demon from his past in the form of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a brilliant physicist (yes, Mickey Rourke) with a serious grudge against Tony because their daddies didn't get along too well. Working from Stark technology (also Vanko technology if you ask Ivan) he designs his own suit complete with electrically-charged whips that slice and dice Tony's delusions of invincibility.
Rourke isn't particularly menacing as the costumed Whiplash (he's never named such in the movie, but fans know these things) but he's much more compelling as Ivan Vanko which isn't a bad thing since Whiplash only gets two scenes but Vanko gets plenty. Sweaty, grubby, grunting and covered in Vory tattoos, he might not be anybody's idea of a genius scientist but he's one hell of a hard case even if he spends too much time in front of a keyboard.
In one of the film's more questionable decisions, the film converts longtime Iron Man nemesis Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) into comic relief as the incompetent munitions manufacturer permanently trying to prove himself Tony's equal. He's nowhere close, in fact he's a total twit, but he seems to know it and hires Vanko to do his dirty work enabling both men to take down their hated rival.
You don't need to know any more details about the plot. Once Vanko refines Hammer's weapons designs, there is a big honking fight at the end, a change of pace in a film surprisingly short on action sequences. Don Cheadle steps in competently as the new Rhodey but doesn't get to do nearly as much with the character as Terrence Howard did. He puts on another Iron Man suit (War Machine to the die-hards) and fights both with and alongside Tony. He gets a few snappy one-liners but little else. Scarlett Johansson is brought on board to wear spandex.
"Iron Man 2" offers its fair share of small-scale pleasures: an amusing fight sequence for Happy Hogan (Favreau), an even funnier Stan Lee cameo, Hammer's phallic array of bigger and biggest guns, Samuel L. Jackson and Downey Jr. outsmugging each other, the strategic placement of some iconic Marvel props, and the sight of drunk Iron Man who is not as much of a bastard as drunk Superman though he tries his best. But with a plot that is only intermittently engaging and several squandered characters, Downey Jr. is required to do a lot of heavy lifting.
Even his perfect marriage to the role of Tony Stark wouldn't be sufficient without Paltrow's Pepper as foil. Pepper is every bit the equal to Tony, as is Paltrow to Downey Jr. What's more, Pepper is a refreshing counterpoint to the now-tiresome "hot chick who kicks ass better than the guys" (that role is taken by Johansson). She's smart, confident and achieves her goals without engaging in any macho showdowns, the rare example in the superhero world of a woman who at least resembles a fully-realized character (granted, it's on a relative scale) rather than just an adolescent male projection.
Superhero movies have not fared as well in the three slot: "Spider-Man 3," "X-Men 3," and the one where Superman fights Richard Pryor for example. With Marvel's slate for the next few years already declared, it will be at least three years before we find out if Iron Man can buck the trend. As long as Downey Jr. and Paltrow are aboard, the chances are pretty strong.
And, yes, you should stay through the credits if only to prove that you "be worthy."
Chris's film rating: 7/10
Paramount present the film in its original aspect ratio, 2.35:1, using an MPEG-4 codec and a dual-layer BD50. The result is a mostly sharp, clear, clean transfer. However, there are some scenes of musky darkness that look a bit soft and obscured in detail. It's pretty much the way I remember the scenes from the movie theater, so it's nothing to worry about. Of more concern is that the film can be oddly grainy in parts, giving it a somewhat rough appearance. Otherwise, the colors look bright and solid, although a bit glossy, with deep blacks and glowing whites, fairly natural skin tones, and mostly precise definition. It also helps that there are no visible examples of edge enhancement, excessive noise filtering, or other digital manipulations. So, expect a bright, colorful, well-contrasted image, slightly glassy and a touch gritty.
The sound engineers have used lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for the soundtrack, and, as we might expect, it rocks. This is an "Iron Man" movie, after all. We hear a broad stereo spread, extensively dispersed surround sonics, wide dynamics, and strong impact. If anything, the sound is a tad too bass heavy for my taste, occasionally clouding dialogue, but I suppose the bass response is exactly what most action-movie fans want.
Disc one of this three-disc Combo Pack includes the feature film on Blu-ray, plus several bonus items. The first item is an audio commentary by director Jon Favreau (HD). The second item is access to the "S.H.I.E.L.D Data Vault" (HD), which contains pop-up notes during the film and a series of case files, tech details, and info on the characters. The third item is a "Previsualization and Animatics" (HD) feature, which allows for picture-in-picture inserts for storyboards and such. The extras on disc one conclude with seventeen scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two, also a dual-layer Blu-ray, includes the bulk of the special features, all of it in high definition. To begin, we get "Ultimate Iron Man: The Making of Iron Man 2," which includes four segments: "Rebuilding the Suit," "A Return to Action," "Expanding the Universe," and "Building A Legacy," totaling an hour and twenty-seven minutes in widescreen. After that we get a series of short featurettes, also in widescreen and totaling a little over thirty minutes: "Creating Stark Expo," "Practical Meets Digital," "Illustrated Origin: Nick Fury," "Illustrated Origin: Black Widow," "Illustrated Origin: War Machine, " and "Working with DJ AM." Finally, there are eight deleted scenes totaling almost seventeen minutes, with optional director commentary; a series of eleven concept-art galleries; a music video, "Shoot to Thrill" by AC/DC; three widescreen theatrical trailers; and three trailers for other Marvel products: two games and an animation.
Disc three contains a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy. The three discs come housed in a standard Blu-ray case with an inner sleeve, the case further enclosed in an attractively embossed slipcover.
It's hard for me seriously to fault "Iron Man 2" on any absolute scale. The movie does exactly what it sets out to do, providing audiences with a flawed superhero, his relationship with several friends, his slide into overindulgence and vainglory, his rise again from the depths, and his fights for right and justice. Along the way, the movie offers an abundance of thrills, laughs, and interpersonal communications. Yeah, action and talk; a little something for everyone.