Read it and weep. We gave "Iron Man 2" a shot and while some of us liked the film a bit better than our official review [a C+ grade is all it could muster], most of us here at The Playlist can agree the picture was an overstuffed semi-mess with myriad issues. We also all felt that most of the charm, zip and entertainment value evinced in the surprisingly fun "Iron Man" was sorely absent in this clunky sequel by director Jon Favreau.
Here's what we call the Good, the Bad, The Ugly: Things we loved, things we thought were silly and things we downright hated and if the above wasn't enough of a hint, be forewarned, we had more issues than praise.
Sam Rockwell Steals The Show The acting MVP of "Iron Man 2" was easily Sam Rockwell and he shined brightly as the considerably insecure, less successful foil to Tony Stark. His spray tan smarminess (see the orange hands?!?) and desperate longing for success was hilariously tragic. His lame attention-grabbing disco dance moves on stage? His inept and ineffectual bossing around of Mickey Rourke's "Whiplash" character? While Robert Downey, Jr. got a few good digs in what surely was an improv-lead quip-off in Monaco, Rockwell stole the charm factor away overall and that's saying something.
Gwyneth Paltrow: Thinking Person's Sex Symbol Yes, Scarlett Johansson looks sensational in a catsuit, but Playlisters of both genders were far more taken with Pepper Potts. Gwyneth Paltrow gets a far more interesting role than the usual superhero love interests (even if there is a bit of a damsel in distress moment at the end), making the likes of Maggie Gylenhaal and Liv Tyler look very token. More importantly, her chemistry with Downey Jr feels relaxed and genuine, with a very different rhythm to most modern couples, reminiscent more of screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s. The scene in her office framed between an executive toy provided the biggest laugh at the screening we attended.
Visual Effects and Action Sequences: By and large the action set pieces, the big finale at the Stark Expo, were breathlessly put together and beautifully shot (by Darren Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique). The execution of the drone fight and the subsequent battle ranks up there with some of the best action sequences in recent run of comic book movies (even though yes, a tad video-game-y). Gorgeously staged and executed with a fair bit of panache, the climactic robot-a-thon elicited big cheers from the audience we saw it with. However, yes, the concluding action sequence with Mickey Rourke is pretty anti-climactic and far too short.
Clark Gregg Leaves Us Wanting More: A character actor called "that guy" by lesser movie nerds, Clark Gregg was previously best known to the uninitiated for "The New Adventures of Old Christine." With "Iron Man 2" and the upcoming 'Avengers' movies, average moviegoers will now call him "Agent Coulson" (which we consider a step up). He sadly gets less screentime than his S.H.I.E.L.D. brethren, but we've got our fingers crossed that more Marvel movies mean more Gregg. Coulson's dry wit and fuck-you approach to Stark is one of the movie's high points.
The Music, Both Score And Songs: Every good superhero franchise needs an iconic theme; "Superman" had one, "Batman" has two, and even "X-Men" had a half-decent one. B-lister Ramin Djawadi singularly failed to deliver with the first "Iron Man," and John Debney didn't do a much better job for the sequel; it's ok, but very anonymous, as befits a composer who was behind "Valentine's Day" and "Old Dogs." The song picks aren't much better; we can live with the obnoxious party music of AC/DC (ugh), but an Iron Man/War Machine fight, set to "Another One Bites The Dust" and "Robot Rock"? A bit painfully on-the-nose, isn't it?
James Rhodes Is An Unusually Fast War Machine Study. OK, "Iron Man 2" can't have it both ways. While it's filled with painful exposition half the time, no one even stops to explain for a second how Rhodey (Don Cheadle) can all of a sudden get into the War Machine armor for the first time and be as much an expert as Tony Stark? Ok, he may have learned once or twice in the interim, but to be that proficient all of a sudden? Feels like Justin Theroux was at the laptop with a J on that one. Plus using Stark's one drunk scene as an excuse to have an Iron Man armor showdown... god, that scene was near embarrassing on multiple levels and deserves its own category.
Tech Talk Mumbo Jumbo: Firewall! Log in! Encrypted password! For a moment there, we thought we were watching "Hackers." We're not quite sure how come the military, the government and Justin Hammer seem incapable of creating a network that can't be hacked in under thirty seconds by anybody, but the technical globbitygook jargon was even more comically distracting. It all culminated at its worst during the eye-rolling digital magic hands sequence as Tony Stark figures out the new element/cure by waving this arms around, mumbling some whatchamacallit sci-fi science to himself and then having Jarvis proudly declare, "Congratulations sir, you've discovered a new element." Gee, that dramatic threat was pretty dangerous, huh? Please.
The Occasionally Clunky Script: The script does a fair amount of expert juggling but occasionally drops the ball (or all of the balls). Examples of the worst boilerplate action dialogue that made us question whether or not we were actually having a good time: Scarlett bursting into the VERY CLEARLY EMPTY room of Mickey Rourke only to shout "He's not here!" Then there's the moment when Rhodey looks at all the dead robots, with the blinking lights, and finally says "They're bombs!" (Or something to that effect.) Even your average movie goer is smart enough to understand what was going on in these scenes.
Bad Special Effects: As stated in the "Good" section above, "Iron Man 2" largely wowed us with its FX, except for one moment in the otherwise awesome Monaco scene. Rourke's Siberia-cool Vanko calmly walks toward the camera as exploding cars careen past him. The shot didn't make us say, "Wow, that Ivan Vanko is one serious badass who doesn't even care that cars are blowing the fuck up around him." The awful blue screen made us think, "Of course he's fine. He's safe in a studio with a craft services table nearby."
Irrelevant Post-Credits Stinger Wears Irrelevance Proudly: What kind of fan-service is this, anyway? At the close of the "Iron Man 2" credits, we have a brief scene paying off Agent Coulson's trip to New Mexico. The camera pans down to reveal... a HAMMER! Hey, Marvel and co., admit it — you tossed off this scene in 30 minutes on the director's lunch break. If you're going to make the nerds in the audience wait through all those credits, at least give them something worthwhile, like another actor doing something interesting. As is, the casual fan doesn't know much about Thor, so they assume that it's not the weaponry of the God of Thunder, but something involving Justin Hammer, which is more than a reasonable conclusion.
Film As Two-Hour Set-up for Future Avengers Outings: Studio heads would normally shake their heads at a $200 million trailer, but Paramount seems just fine with spending that much for "Iron Man 2" only to pave the way for "Thor," "Captain America: The First Avenger," and more. Theroux's compromised script seems less concerned with its own narrative than with advancing the franchise, letting the S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot obscure development of Stark and Iron Man. We're all for geeky references, but a less-than-subtle Captain America moment feels less like a wink toward the knowing nerds and more like product placement.
No Real Sense Of Threat. Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell. You'd think at least one of those actors and their respective villains could have made Tony Stark sweat, right? Like its predecessor though, Stark never really looks threatened in the sequel with the main antagonist ultimately being his dwindling health and the convenient toxicity meter — a problem which is resolved early on anyway. The film's light, fun tone also means Stark's internal dramas, while somewhat interesting, are basically redundant as the potential for self-destruction is never there. It's probably what Favreau was hinting at with the drunk party scene, but with the abysmal execution of that scene comes Stark's continued floating in his comfort zone.
THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY:
Scarlett Johansson Is Iron Woman. The actress said in recent interviews she found it difficult to convey the "unwavering confidence" of her Black Widow character and boy does it show. She's so tightly wound, perhaps nervous to be around this cast, she's completely leaden and acts like she has a foreign object wedged far up her backside. Not helping her wooden case at all is the fact that her character dispenses each badguy the same way with a twisting neck flip maneuver. Mr. Favreau, get her a new trick already.
Samuel L. Jackson & The Non-Momentum. Like Scarjo, the once mighty Samuel L. Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb in this generally great cast of actors. Once again, playing a variation of his cool-guy "Pulp Fiction" character (once the arrogance went to Jackson's head, his acting abilities just shut down somewhere in the mid '90s). Even worse is the terrible 'Avengers' subplot he needs to anchor. It's bad enough that "Iron Man 2" feels like a commercial for the super hero team-up half the time and it's worse that anytime an 'Avengers'/Sam Jackson scene rears its head the movie grinds to a halt and all momentum is lost.
Villains That Don't Shower - Ok, let's get this straight — Ivan Vanko has potentially game-changing arc-reactor tech within his means, but he chooses to live in squalor with his dying dad. And when his dad dies, he finally builds this material to take out Tony Stark. But, for some reason, he waited for Stark to admit to the world that he's Iron Man before taking a path of action. Also, he doesn't groom his freakish nails and lets his raggedy hair trail behind him no matter where he goes. This is... not a villain with straightforward priorities.
- Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth, Kimber Meyers, Oliver Lyttelton & Simon Dang