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‘Iron Man 2’ largely succeeds

By Staff | May 26, 2010

Do you want to be a hero on the silver screen? Get in line.

After “believing a man can fly” courtesy of “Superman: The Movie,” special effects, computer generated and digital effects have caught up with the artistic imagery of comic books and/or graphic novels. Where once superheroes versus super villains represented, at best, a straight to animation reality, the new wizardry seamlessly places live action characters into digital worlds. In other words, it’s expensive but possible and cost effective to bring the superheroes vividly to life in settings imitating those imagined by artists in pen and ink.

Enter the latest explosive foray into the Marvel Universe, as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) amps up extraordinarily detailed battle scenes in his quest to maintain peace on the planet. The sequel heavily relies on the premise that the military wants the weapon formula — a fallback since science and fiction melded.

Offsetting the Defense Department pressures, the feature refreshingly focuses on the empowerment of women in Stark’s life as well as his own narcissism (a trait Downey was born to display). A surprise unfolds too when, in the grand comic book tradition of guest cameo appearances, Nick Fury (Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.)  worms his way into the plot, conveniently foreshadowing a long awaited project — the Avengers.

The film’s focus on aspects of Stark’s characterization has him contending with his own mortality. The device that extended his life (and partially enlivens Iron Man) is gradually shortening his life. He has to discover a new means to keep his heart pumping, or it’s dying time for him. Knowing that he may not experience another birthday, Stark has adapted risky, eccentric behaviors that have powers that be worried about his ability to keep the world’s powers quelled and a state of peace maintained.

Early scenes at the Stark Industries trade show — complete with dancing Iron-ettes (similar to Rockettes ) — could be labeled as a chorus line of dancers massaging self serving egos, which Downey himself, in a haughty display of condescension and glamorized self–absorption, repeatedly declares, “The suit and I are one.” Recognizing Downey’s numerous brushes with real life issues, it’s hard to separate the actor from the character he portrays.

For comic book purists, though, these scenes recall a period when Stark turned to alcoholism and seceded use of his Iron Man costume to a successor. Downey stumbles and sputters nicely, though, and these dark characterization ventures do little to advance the plot or cohesively meld with the rest of the story. His ‘ladies man’ personality (patterned from Hugh Heffner?) simmers between subtle sexual harassment and playful verbage. Aside from the haughty opening expo portion, Downey’s flirtatious but nearer a one-woman-man than a James Bond one-nighter.

On the other hand, the strong women —  Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson — place the film’s gender equality stance parallel to the anti-Cold War and anti-Military Industrial Complex themes of the early comic book panels. Both of the female heavyweights provide more than the usual action flick viewer candy; instead, each have strong professional corporate grind positions (albeit one is a C.E.O.) whose responsibilities override their good looks.

Visual delights? The demolition derby Grand Prix and the metal grinding battles.

LETTERS TO JULIET: One of the better romantic comedy premises, though it’s still very much in keeping with the formula. A wall in a Verona courtyard holds “lost love” pleas to Juliet. Instead, of allowing the notes to stay unanswered, “the secretaries of Juliet” answer each. Still, the hope of the poster is for a second chance, not just an acknowledgment.

When a “fact checking” would-be journalist (Amanda Seyfried) reads one written 50 years ago by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), it touches her heart. She responds and Claire comes to Italy with her nephew to search for her beloved Lorenzo whom she ditched half a century ago due to parental intrusions.

A quest ensues in which Sophie, the writer, and Claire both absorb unintended discoveries about themselves. “If it’s true love, you need only the courage to follow your heart… .” That’s how it always is on screen — what would happen if the “wishing well” magic returned love unrequited?

ROBIN HOOD: Upfront, this is not a re-telling of Robin Hood, the vigilante, saving souls from the king’s noose or taking back tax money from the Sheriff. This is a prequel — in comic fantasy terms the “origin” of how Robin Longstride became forever an outlaw and avenging vigilante in Sherwood Forest. Translation: You will watch lots of background sequences, instead of rousing and repeated stints of arrows flying through the air as rams batter stone walls.

Thinking Person’s Note: The tax trouble of the King of England comes about from his pursuing numerous foreign adventures, which now require him to squeeze Englishmen of money and limit their civil rights. Sound familiar?

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com