Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

Non Spoiler Review:
Iron Man 2 picks up a few months after the first film after Tony outed himself as Iron Man. He has since become a one man army spreading peace around the world. While Tony is enduring his own personal and corporate difficulties, he has to deal with the legacy of his father’s treatment of a former colleague, whose son is spoiling for revenge.

First, to be non-spoilery, this was a decent sequel to the first film which had big shoes to fill. While it did not damage the franchise by any means, it may be guilty of not furthering it along to any great extent (especially when one considers how the bar was raised between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). It was entertaining thoroughout, and while Robert Downey Jr. was allowed too much latitude to go over the top with his Tony Stark shtick, this was definitely a character-focused story, which is always a refreshing change for the super-hero genre.

So ultimately this is worth seeing, and aside from plot points I will go into next, a decent sequel that will not have you storming out of the theatre.

Spoilers Now!
I really don’t have a lot to nitpick in this movie. Perhaps my main criticism is that it didn’t spark any outrageous emotions on either end of the spectrum. I did not leave it gobsmacked like I did the Dark Knight, or choking back bile like I did Spiderman 3.

What Worked:
Iron Man is more about the characters than the fights, but it’s so far balanced both quite well. Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. are still fantastic, and their chemistry onscreen is obvious. They play off one another like people who have worked together for years.

The secondary characters, including the recast Don Cheadle, are also decent. And Scarlet Johansson, while not really essential to this film, was obviously being set up for more in the films to follow. Mickey Rourke chewed up his Russian accent like Pavel Chekov on acid, but he did convey the cold, sociopathic menace of the villain.

Familiar S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as well as Nick Fury return to create a bigger picture of this shared universe. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits (or biggest handicaps, depending on your point of view) is the set up of Iron Man in the greater Marvel universe of Hulk, Captain America, Avengers and Thor (which made a cameo after the end credits, in case you missed it). Which means that some characters may play a minor roll now, to be expanded upon in later features, and some references may seem thrown in for no reason (Tony Stark’s father has a roll in Captain America, and Cap's shield made an appearance in the movie).

The humour is great, and neither forced nor out of character, or played for slapstick. Even the dancing Iron Man scene, which could have spiralled wildly out of control into an abomination worthy of dancing Peter Parker in Spiderman 3, worked well given Tony’s alcoholism and playboy nature. (Though, there seemed to be copious amounts of broken glass being sprayed recklessly over crowds throughout this entire movie.)

No Rant, just Quibbles:
It would have been nice to see Iron Man as the peacemaker he’s made out to be in the Senate Hearings. All we have is Tony’s testimony that he’s privatized peacemaking, and yet we don’t have any montage or single scene of him doing super-heroics (aside from confronting the villains of the movie). Even Superman and Batman have their obligatory crime-fighting scenes prior to the big battles.

Robert Downey Jr is a great actor, and he’s totally redeemed himself in my eyes since the gong show of his early days. His characterization of Tony Stark is a refreshing portrayal of the super hero alter ego that is usually one of darkness and depression. But it’s almost like the writers said “Everyone loved Robert Downey in the first…lets amp it up to 11!” Pepper Pots had difficulty keeping up to him in conversation, and as an audience member I felt the same way trying to keep up to the verbal sparring at some points. So hopefully they tone him down a tad in the third film.

The jury is still out on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. I’m not getting a good sense of the character at the moment, so I hope this improves, as he’ll eventually have to carry his own movie at some point in the Marvel franchise and I want him to do more than play Samuel L. Jackson.

The choice of villain was one of the more weaker points. The first Iron Man had a corporate villain building his own battlesuit. What we get here is a corporate villain financing another villain to build an army of battlesuits, one of which the latter ultimately wears. So did we need more robots fighting? Hopefully the next film expands its scope a bit.

The fight at the Stark Expo was a decent climax, but if Mickey Rourke had such a callous regard for human life and wanted to destroy Tony as much as he seemed, why not just open fire directly on the thousands of people fleeing the mayhem? Instead he fires missiles into various pavilions while people scurry about in terror (from falling glass, of course). I know this would have warranted an R rating for the copious mayhem, but it just doesn’t feel right when a villain pulls his punches like that.

So, ultimately I would say the script needs just a little more discipline for the next movie. Now that Tony has confronted some of his demons, he can meet the next challenge head on, and hopefully a villain that doesn't spring from the business world or battle tech.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recommendation: DMZ

DMZ is a political graphic novel from Brian Wood, that begins with the premise of a second American Civil War a few years in the future. Sparked by too many forces spread too thinly in overseas wars, an insurgency develops in the Midwest that manages to gain a foothold across the country, leading to the declaration of the Free States. With America engaged in this new civil war, Manhattan becomes the no man’s land between both opposing forces. It is declared a Demilitarized Zone after being evacuated and suffering Baghdad-style bombing campaigns. Amid this setting, novice cameraman Matty Roth is stranded inside Manhattan and becomes the eyes and ears of Liberty News, reporting on the situation in the DMZ.

For anyone enjoying a well-written, thoughtful political thriller, DMZ delivers with a range of storylines—from individual episodes focusing on the richly devleoped characters (a doctor who elected to stay after the evacuation, former gangleaders who now run parts of Manhattan, and the individual soldiers stationed there) to larger political forces of the USA and Free States manipulating and vying for power in New York. All these elements are seen through the eyes of Matty Roth, who has to deal with his own loyalties, ambitions, and misgivings about what he is reporting, and ultimately the media celebrity he becomes both inside and outside the DMZ.

The series has shown considerable foresight, with one storyline dealing with a private security agency (Trustwell) that is involved in a massacre, more than a year before the Blackwater scandal in Iraq. Now, with the Tea Party movement and partisanship in the United States, it’s not so hard to imagine militia movements attempting to seize control somewhere in the Midwest.

One of the benefits of the Vertigo line of DC comics is that the writers exercise a great deal of control over their work, with an end date in sight—that means the story is ultimately self-contained and will wrap up without a sudden cancellation.

DMZ is published by DC Comics' Vertigo line. The art has a gritty style, but well done, and great care has been taken to properly render a believable bombed out New York City.

DMZ is entering its final stretch. It has passed 50 issues and these have been collected in eight trade paperbacks. Current storylines are dealing with the first free elections inside the DMZ, and Matty’s loyalties as an objective observer being called into question. I'm sure the ultimate resolution to the overall saga will not disappoint.
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