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After publically admit he is the mysterious super hero dubbed Iron Man, Stark Industries CEO Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) goes on a narcissistic binge, ignoring his developing health problems, and devolving into a drunken mess of dangerous behavior. Meanwhile Russian scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), angry over the fact that his father never got credit for his work with the ARC reactor technology, plots revenge on Tony, and business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) takes notice of the psychopathic genius’ talents.

Iron Man 2
A real game of hook, line, and sinker has been set for modern superhero movies, assuming the first one is any good, that is. X-Men was a clearly rushed production, with a slapped together third act, which acted as a trailer for the glorious X-Men 2. Eventually we were all let down by a half decent/half terrible X-Men 3. We were then taught a similar lesson with the Spider-Man franchise. The first one was good, but clearly needed a bit of a special effects spit polish, and kind of felt like two movies crammed into one. Spider-Man 2 was terrific, and left room for both growth and scope. Then Spider-Man 3 crammed too much into a limited time frame, and audiences were left with another mix of good fun, and perfect garbage. Batman Begins never jells as one film, but the first half sets up the hero nicely, and the second half acts as a fine sampling of times to come. The Dark Knight occasionally threatens to buckle under the weight of its plot and characters, but is by most accounts the usually second film stand out. We’ll have to see where that third movie goes. There has been a precedent set for improvement superhero movie sequels, arguably beginning with Super Man II, or for me personally, at least with Batman Returns. Even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was a step up on the first Fantastic Four, and Punisher Warzone, though otherwise unrelated to the previous film in the ‘franchise’ was quite a bit more entertaining.

Iron Man 2
The first Iron Man looked like the perfect candidate for the ultimate second film up-step. The origin story aspects worked unquestionably, and Robert Downey Jr. created a true original film character, but the direction seemed a little stifled, and the film ended with a bit of a thud. The perfect candidate status is magnified by the fan service post credit tease, letting the character and audience know that they were about to enter a much bigger world. Perhaps this means I went into Iron Man II with unfair expectations based on previous sequels, and the promise presented, but I was, non-the-less, disappointed. It isn’t a X-Men III sized ball-dropper, but it’s a little too much like Spider-Man 3, except the dizzying comedic heights aren’t contrasted by bafflingly daft plot holes, they’re replaced by too much plot, and not enough interesting story. The original trailer actually told almost the entire story in a much more efficient manner.

Iron Man 2
There’s a lot going on here, and too much of it grows repetitive. The previous film opened up the door for the first celebrity super hero on film, and the opening act clearly gets this point across – Tony is in denial about his impending death, SHIELD is building up into something bigger, and both Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer both want bloody revenge on Iron Man. There’s really no need to dwell on any of the angst (we have Spider-Man 2 for that, but director John Faverau and Downey Jr. really like hammering home Tony Stark’s attitude problems (an excess of alcoholism, narcissism followed by bouts with pouty angst), and spend a lot of film time on the subject. This faulty aspect of the film culminates with Rhodes putting the Mark 1 suit on and literally duking it out over the way his drunken behavior is dangerous to those around him. This scene isn’t just unnecessary, but ends a really lame ‘Chekov’s gun’ that will be called back to during the final boss fight, and gives an out of character excuse for Rhodes to hand the armour over to the army. Then everyone gets to feel guilty a little too long, and a subplot I thought I’d been dreaming about for years. I really thought I wanted a bigger universe expansion, but too much of Iron Man 2 feels like SHEILD, part ½, to be continued in Thor. Maybe the transition will grow less awkward as we approach The Avengers (I’m really looking forward to Joe Johnston’s take on Captain America).

Lost among this non-necessity are two very interesting villains, and a pair stunningly affecting performances from the leading ladies. There wasn’t a point in the entire film where I wasn’t wondering what was going on with those characters. Mickey Rouke’s presence is huge, and the shift in power between him and Sam Rockwell’s perfectly pathetic anti-Tony Stark is one of the film’s biggest and most satisfying surprises. I could honestly go for 30 solid more minutes with either character. I haven’t been a fan either Gwyneth Paltrow or Scarlet Johansson over the years, but they both offer much needed heart to the high fives, explosions, and boughts of angst. Sure, the costume and cold stare does a lot for Johansson, but her brief stint of ass-whomping may be the film’s best action sequence. Which brings us too the action. I had problems with the suit on suit stuff in the first film, and was thrilled when it was announced that Faverau was using Samurai Jack creator Gennady Tartakovsky for story board action support. There really was nowhere to go but up. Tartakovsky’s influence is apparent in a single scene as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll eat even a crumb like little oil in place of blood squirt, but otherwise the final act is just kind of noisy, a little bit visually confusing, and it all ends with a bit of a putter. When I say I really liked Rouke’s performance, I meant it, and I liked the threat he posed, but in the end he turned out to be an even more ineffective Final Boss than Iron Monger.

Iron Man 2

Video


Yet another 1080p transfer that, to no one’s surprise, looks pretty close to utterly perfect. Director John Favreau takes some care to separate the various worlds the major characters embody. Starks world is lit up like Las Vegas, mostly at night, featuring high contrast blacks and whites, and gorgeous neon hues. Ivan’s world is darker, less colourful, and features more subtle sickly greens. Hammer’s world is bleached in fluorescents, and made to look melded from clear plastics. The one thing all these styles share in common is a nice sense of heightened detail, which occasionally leads to some minor jaggies and halos. Overall the final battle in the bio-dome (or whatever it is) features the most impressive contrast and details. On the SD DVD this section is a little muddy, and features some unfortunate digital blocking. The film grain works wonders to separate Ivan and Stark’s worlds, and is never excessive beyond texture. Some of the backgrounds look a little blotchy, but I don’t think there’s any excesses of DNR jiggering. I hesitantly refer to this as reference level material.

Iron Man 2

Audio


Iron Man 2 comes fitted with a busy and boisterous DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, featuring a few minor mix issues, all of which I noticed in the theater. Basically, crowd scenes have so volume consistency issues, and the post-production folley work is a little too high on the mix to not draw attention to itself. That’s about all I have to complain about. The post credit re-introduction of Iron Man himself is a nice preview of things too come, featuring the blare of AC/DC’s ‘Shoot to Thrill’ set nicely against some cool directional flying effects, fireworks, and a big, multi-channel crowd cheering. Later on, Whiplash attacks Stark on a race track, which leads to some incredible directional work, LFE rocking explosions, wicked electronic zaps, and a nice contrasting volume levels when needed. The climatic Drone and Whiplash battles are, of course, the real show-stopper, pulling just about every trick whimsical and noisy piece of aural artwork available. Relative B-lister John Debney’s score, in collaboration with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, is similar to the original film’s score, and not particularly surprising, but is usually mixed at the optimum level, especially during the big action moments.

Iron Man 2

Extras


Disc one extras begin with director John Favreau’s solo audio commentary. Favs is chock full of information, and most of it is genuinely interesting, and that stuff that isn’t so interesting is shaded by the director’s warmth. There’s too much on-screen narration, and dwelling on subtext, but overall Favs treats the track intelligently, points out a couple of easy to miss Easter Eggs, and generally has fun at his own expense.

The ‘SHIELD DATA’ vault works with a pop up footage scan mode, along with ‘The Vault’ menu. From what I’ve gathered in my made rush to get this review out I’ve decided that there isn’t anything in the pop-up mode missing from the Vault mode. These include 15 scenes from the film with short technical pop-ups of some of the bits that blow by quickly on screen, some in depth turn-arounds of some of the digital armour, and other general knowledge. A pretty disappointing showing. These are augmented by 21 text based personnel dossiers (including Steve Rogers, which is, of course, classified), Howard Stark’s Lock-Box, a series of artifacts including the first issue of Captain America, Army records, personal photos, a technical notebook, Stark Expo catalogue covers, news articles, a ‘Where’s Waldo’ shot of the Arctic (I can’t find him), ARC reactor blueprints, a map of the cosmos (probably something to do with Thor), and Gamma Chair charts. Case Files finish up the section, including links to personnel dossiers, text based field reports, Declassified Visual Records (more commercial and news stuff that zips by in the background during the film), a link back to Howard Starks Lock Box and the Weapons and Technology stuff used during the pop-ups, and the pop-ups themselves. The stuff used to tease future films is pretty thin in actual content, more like direct pointing our of various Easter Eggs tossed over the entire film. The disc’s only other extra is another PiP option utilizing storyboards, animatics, and other previsualization data.

Blu-ray disc number two continues with a whole slew of documentaries, including a 4-part ‘Making of’ Doc, 6 behind the scenes features, along with 8 deleted scenes and more. Unfortunately the disc I was sent appears to be a dud. I tried it on two players and got nothing out of it. I’m very disappointed, but figure the disc has been available for a long enough period of time that my opinions on the quality of these extras is moot anyway.

Iron Man 2

Overall


So I’ll take my comparison back to Spider-Man 3 – as a whole Iron Man 2 is a let down, but it’s not without a few outstanding performances, show-stoppingly oddball touches. More important, there’s still places to go with the characters, but after they finish their little Avengers team-up (which I’m skeptical about to say the least), Fav’s and Downey Jr. really need to get over ‘keeping it real’, and tear the roof off the one thing Tony Stark can’t beat with science – magic. If they’re too afraid of getting hokey I don’t see any more challenges besides larger robots, which is being well covered by Michael Bay and other minions of Satan. The Blu-ray looks and sounds spectacular, and the extras are huge, or so I assume, since my second Blu-ray wouldn’t work, and I was too late to ask for another one. I’m very sorry about my recent absence on the site, but my health is on the way up and I’m going to tear through this overdo stuff as quickly as possible.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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