Archive for June, 2010

Iron Man 2 Review

‘Sequels never better the first film,’ says the movie bible. Sure, there are rare exceptions – Aliens, Terminator 2, Hannah Montana 2: Crimson Massacre, etc – but the rule remains true. This rule, however, does not seem to apply to comic book movies, where the sequel – freed from the shackles of the origin story – is nearly always better than the first film. Iron Man 2 keeps this proud tradition alive.

Just a few short months have passed since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) revealed himself as Iron Man and the world has never been more peaceful. However, dark forces are gathering against ol’ tin head. One the one side, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of the man who helped Tony’s father Howard invent the original Arc Reactor. Bitter and vengeful, Vanko creates his own Arc Reactor and electric whips, becoming the villain Whiplash. On the other side, the defence department, who demand the Iron Man suit be turned over to the military. If Stark refuses, they are more than willing to turn to industry rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

But that’s not the end of Stark’s troubles. The palladium core that keeps the shrapnel from entering his heart is now poisoning his blood. Faced with his own mortality, Stark goes off the rails, making Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) the CEO, alienating Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and drinking heavily. There’s also the small matter of Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), Pepper’s new secretary who seems to know a surprising amount of martial arts…

If that synopsis sounds overstuffed then that’s because it is. Iron Man 2 is packed to the gills with new characters, new situations and more things going on. Even director Jon Faverau’s cameo as bodyguard Happy Hogan is extended to four times the length it was in the first film.

In spite of that, Iron Man 2 is a consistent delight, providing spectacle, action, warmth, wit and humour in a tidy package that manages to avoid outstaying its two hour long welcome. The story moves along with the speed of a freight train, cramming in a ridiculous number of ideas and scenes with style and aplomb. One minute Tony Stark is single-handedly defeating the defence department with a few carefully chosen words, the next he’s battling Whiplash in the middle of the Monaco Grand Prix. The pace of the scripting, incredibly, manages to keep everything in check and simultaneously hit all the plot points that a film should – acts 1, 2 and 3 are all very clearly defined.

The downsides are many, unfortunately. The sheer number of things going on in the film means that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow doesn’t actually have anything to do until the very end, while Whiplash’s backstory and reason for hating Stark is given an incredibly brief five minute explanation in the prologue. There are also only two fights with Whiplash in the entire film and both of those are pitifully short. The few memories Stark has of his father feel a little ham-fisted and lightweight in their attempt to add depth to the drama and really needed expanding. Also, Samuel L Jackson’s appearances as Nick Fury are too few and too short – he needs to have a much bigger role in the expanding universe.

Still, for all of those complaints, there are just as many incredible things to like. Tony Stark is still the only superhero just as interesting outside the costume as he is in it, there’s twice as much humour on offer and about ten times the action. Jon Favreau is clearly a director who can direct ballsy action scenes and the weight of the cast beneath him are talented enough to carry the human drama.

It might not be close to perfect, but Iron Man 2 has a lot to like about it. Bigger, badder, tougher, funnier and more exciting than the first one. Perhaps the rule should be changed to, ‘sequels never better the first film – unless the film is a comic book adaptation.’

4 stars

Clash of the Titans 3D Review

Summer’s here and it’s time for blockbuster CGI-fests to roll out and show off how big their budgets are. Or, rather, summer’s not here yet and it’s time to roll out those potential blockbuster CGI-fests that would get trampled underfoot in the more crowded months. This second category sums up Clash of the Titans quite nicely.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) is the result of a union between Zeus (Liam Neeson) and a human queen, a failed abortion attempt by enraged King Calibos and a childhood under the steady hands of humble fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite). Life is going well for Perseus until the King of Argos offends the gods and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) kills Perseus’ family.

Hades then persuades Zeus to punish the mortals for their arrogance and delivers Argos with a choice – sacrifice Princess Andromeda or be destroyed by a titan known as the Kraken. So begins an epic quest to defy the gods.

This movie is so stuffed with big ideas and scale that it’s a wonder there are any human characters on screen at all. While all characterisation and dialogue is strictly paper-thin, the action unfolds on such a grand scale that it might accidentally inflict brain damage on anyone trying to take it all in at once.

The easiest way to describe the cast is thus: Gods, bastards (who become good guys), hero character, woman, bastards (who stay bastards) and exposition girl, played with typical blandness by Gemma Arterton. The macho men spend their time on screen running from encounter with big CGI monster to encounter with big CGI monster without really every pausing to do anything except ask Gemma Arterton stupid questions that require explanation.

In spite of that, Clash of the Titans doesn’t suck as hard as it maybe should. The action is choreographed magnificently throughout, with every bump, thrust and blow feeling like it makes one hell of an impact. If action was the point of the film, it succeeds admirably. The CGI is outstanding, managing to look realistic in spite of the inherent silliness of the visuals. Giant scorpions, half women-half snakes, a winged horse – all these are both visually different to each other and look as if they’re almost there on screen.

That’s not to say that they look like they’re coming out of the screen – the 3D technology is probably the weakest yet in films. Clash of the Titans was not designed to make full advantage of this (the 3D tech was something thrust upon the film a month before release) and so it doesn’t make any difference. In fact, you could quite happily sit there without the glasses on and not notice anything besides a slightly blurry background.

On the whole, it’s an experience that might not provide complete satisfaction, but then again it’s a big, dumb movie that plays Connect 4 with Greek mythology. At least with this big, dumb movie you won’t be left feeling like your wallet has been sexually abused.

3 stars