Iron Man 2

[Screenshot]I liked the first Iron Man movie. It had a reasonable amount of style and built in an interesting way on the established characters, making Tony Stark a thoroughly horrible human being in a way that was fundamentally likable.

Iron Man 2, by way of contrast, is 125 minutes of every single male character in the film systematically being a raging asshole to every other character. The female characters are occasionally catty but mostly sensible. Seriously, Tony Stark was so unsympathetic that I found it hard to be even remotely invested in the fact that he was secretly dying of palladium poisoning, which was probably just as well since the whole dying-of-palladium-poisoning subplot actually ended up not making a whole lot of sense, either narratively or physically. On the other hand, without that subplot all we really have is Iron Man pissing off his best buddy and then defeating the villain with The Power of Friendship. Woo.

I like Tony Stark and think he can be an interesting character; it kind of burns me to see the franchise torpedo like this. I’d like to blame it on the fact that these recent superhero films are apparently all supposed to build up towards some big blockbuster Avengers team film, but surely they could write a good film that leads up to a plausible Avengers team-up, no? It’s not like most of the sound and fury in this one was actually relevant to the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot, and, at that, Nick Fury’s role here seemed completely random and he could’ve been slotted in any of a dozen different places if necessary. As far as I can tell the only real effect of the Avengers connection on this film was to make the role of the Black Widow far larger than it really needed to be.

On technical issues: Iron Man 2 is very whooshy and shiny and full of things crashing into and destroying other things. These are kind of par for the course for a big-budget superhero film and it gets no points for them (not that they’re bad, as such, but it’s no more and no less than I expect).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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The Tick

[Screenshot]This is well-regarded as a faithful adaptation of Ben Edlund’s excellent comic book, but I found it oddly tedious — individual episodes felt rushed, and perhaps the line delivery was off, because I didn’t feel it packed the punch I thoguht the snappy dialogue in the comics had. There were animation difficulties as well: although in stills most of the characters look right, their motion feels blocky and cheap (I may have been spoiled by better, more recent animation), and lip movements match speech badly enough that I noticed (which I usually don’t). All in all, the adaptation felt somewhat half-hearted: either my memory of the comic books is unusually rose-tinted or they were a lot funnier and fresher than this series was. It’s possible that the better bits of the comic were unairable in broadcast for children.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Dark Knight

[Screenshot]I haven’t kept up very well with the Batman franchise’s forays into film. In the main, this has probably spared me much suffering (I have seen Tim Burton’s 1989 film, thank you, as well as the deliciously campy 1966 Adam West vehicle), but I guess I’ve missed out on the rejuvenation which was heralded by Batman Begins. This film received rave reviews in the press, which I will mostly concur with. There was indeed much to like here: the supporting cast clicked completely, in particular Heath Ledger’s show-stealing Joker (when does the Joker not steal the show?) and Aaron Eckhart’s subtly off-kilter performance as Harvey Dent. The plot’s well-constructed in places (except for a few clumsy contrivances), and the script is spot-on both as a Batman adaptation and as a film in its own right. A lot of care went into this thing, and where it works it really works.

Of course, there are places where it really didn’t work, at least for me. Christian Bale is the most conspicuous and most easily criticized problem. As Batman he’s awful, effecting a growl which is not so much “peerless badass” as “recovering from a moderate throat injury” (he’s a bit short on neck-bracing in his armor — I guess he could theoretically be both at once), and as Wayne he’s flat and lifeless. The physics and action sequences are, and I realize this is heresy, a place I couldn’t give this film a pass either. The car-and-truck (and helicopter, and motorcycle, jsut for the hell of it) chase through Gotham strains both the narrative credibility and the physical verisimillitude to the breaking point. A city police force, expecting an ambush, is caught flatfooted by a single ordinary big-rig truck? Said truck takes stunning amounts of abuse and never loses a tire or tips over or is otherwise incapacitated? Yes, it is all for the sake of the plot, but if your plot demands that impossible thins happen, even in the superhero genre, it might be time to come up with a different contrivance.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Iron Man

[Screenshot]This is one comic franchise I was neve much into, so one thing you’ll be spared is comparisons to the original property. I know that Iron Man is Tony Stark, heard of Stark Industries, had a major character-development arc involving alcoholism, and that his suit is actually an outgrowth of his pacemaker. All of that except the alcoholism is conspicuously present here, so as far as my ignorant viewpoint is concerned, we’ve checked off the “faithfulness” tag and never have to return to it.

A more useful question at this point is: how good is Iron Man, either as a satisfying film or as a representation of superheroes on the big screen? This film makes a pretty good argument that the two are mutually incompatible, because this is actually a pretty good film except for the faily incidental bits involving Iron Man doing actual superheroic things. I don’t know what it is about action movies these days, or maybe it’s just me these days, but I find the actual action scenes muddled rather than exciting, for the most part. The film as a whole stands up. Robert Downey, Jr. does an awfully good job in his role, managing to be simultaneously believably charismatic, unbelievably crass, and conscientious enough to be sympathetic. The person-to-person interactions work, and largely redeem the fairly silly and thin betrayal plot. The parts of the betrayal that fit into the whole business-and-morality theme (e.g. the continued arms supplies to known terrorists, and Stane’s resistence to shutting down large parts of the company) work well, and it’s perhaps because they work well that the whole Evil Iron Man Suit bit doesn’t actually work. There’s an unhappy non-connection between the concept of a corrupt executive obsessed with maintaning and growing the company, and a dude who actually builds and uses a supersuit (this has been a problem in many depictions of Lex Luthor, too). Unfortunately, that killed the character, and most of what was left of the movie, from my point of view.

But, still, it’s very good, and the superheroic framing works, even if the scenes of actual superheroicness don’t.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.