by Steve Habrat
With 2008’s Iron Man, director Jon Favreau set the bar extremely high for the Iron Man franchise. While it left us all starving for more of the cocky hero, there was the feeling that if there is a sequel, it will most likely be unable to live up to the stellar first installment in the series. My fears were slightly confirmed in summer 2010 when I rushed out on my birthday to see Iron Man 2, which ended up being one notch below the original Iron Man. Sadly, Iron Man 2 was an even more expensive trailer for the upcoming Avengers film and not even really bothering to act as it’s own film. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Iron Man 2. It was clear that Favreau and Marvel Studios rushed the sequel into production and they simply drew up a loose story just so audiences wouldn’t have to wait until 2012 to see Iron Man rocket across the screen again. It was also apparent that nobody wanted to tinker with a good thing. Iron Man 2 tries desperately to capture the same clinking and clanging action, the sweet romance, and the clever laughs that made the original such a must-see, but there is too much interference from Marvel which takes some of the flesh and blood out of all the studio steel.
Iron Man 2 picks up with the world at peace in the wake of the Tony Stark (Played by Robert Downey, Jr.) revealing the Iron Man armor to the world. The U.S. government is harassing Stark to hand over his Iron Man armor over to authorities but Stark maintains that it is his own property and all the other foreign competitors are miles away from emulating his powerful weapon. Stark is also finds himself harassed by rival defense contractor Justin Hammer (Played by Sam Rockwell) who desperately wants to create his own line of armor of his own. While racing in the Circuit de Monaco, Stark is attacked by a mysterious man named Ivan Vanko (Played by Mickey Rourke), who has designed a powerful suit of armor of his own with lethal whip-like contraptions hanging from his arms. It turns out that Vanko’s father was an old partner of Stark’s father Howard, who was deported after he tried to profit from technology that he worked on with Howard Stark. Hammer takes notice of what Vanko has done and he recruits him to create a line of deadly drones that he can unleash on Stark. Stark, meanwhile, finds himself slowly being poisoned by the palladium core in the arc reactor that keeps him alive.
Iron Man 2 introduces us to two new characters including S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Played by Samuel L. Jackson, who showed up in a brief cameo in Iron Man) and secret agent Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff (Played by Scarlett Johansson), who acts as Stark’s new personal assistant. Both Fury and Romanoff are present in Iron Man 2 to simply allow the film to set up Iron Man’s place in the Avengers film rather than actually enrich the whole experience. While it is a neat Easter egg for diehard Marvel Comics fans, at times Romanoff seems a bit irrelevant in all the action, as she posseses the bigger role in the film over Fury. This is the exact problem with Iron Man 2, it reeks of studio involvement and control. It is very clear that Marvel demanded Favreau work these characters in at any cost and it takes a minor amount of the enjoyment out of this film. I wish things had felt more natural, much like they did in the original Iron Man. The one character that is allowed to grow is Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Played this time by Don Cheadle), who gets his wish to don the Mark II suit with some pretty hefty modifications and transforms into the scene stealing War Machine. Cheadle outshines all the forced characters that have been worked into Iron Man 2 and I loved it when Favreau would explore the destructive friendship between him and Stark.
Robert Downey, Jr. also gets the chance to build upon his raucous playboy Tony Stark, taking him down the darker routes that the first film slyly avoided. In Iron Man 2, Stark realizes that he is near death from the palladium core in his chest. He desperately searches for a new design but he also has accepted his death and he is determined to live out his last days in boozy style. In the comic books, Stark was a big drinker and it was nice to see Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux work that aspect into the film. I know many fans were upset that this aspect of Tony Stark was glossed over in the original film. At times, Stark’s one-liners seem a bit forced and frankly not as sharp as they were in the original film. Further troubling, Downey, Jr. seems like he is pushing the funnies out rather than allowing them to flow naturally. Nonetheless, he is still having a great time as Stark and his enjoyment is incredibly infectious.
Iron Man 2 ends up getting a handful of juiced up bad guys to terrorize Tony Stark. Mickey Rourke shines as the vengeful Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, a frankly much neater villain than Iron Monger (I did enjoy Bridges!). The electrifying showdown between him and Stark at Circuit de Monaco steals the entire movie and had me on the edge of my seat when I first saw it. Equally cool is the snide Justin Hammer, who desperately wants to upstage Stark and humiliate him. Rockwell is basically filling the businessman villain role that was left open from the first film and he does it with just as much enthusiasm as Bridges did. Paltrow also returns in a stronger role than she had in Iron Man, finding herself promoted to CEO as Stark Industries and courted by the stumbling Stark. Favreau and Theroux still can’t help themselves and once again find it necessary to toss her in harm’s way, making her character flirt with the typical superhero girlfriend in distress.
Iron Man 2 attempts to be bigger than the original film, with bigger showdowns, more armored brawlers, extended action, and spiced up special effects. I wish that Iron Man 2 would have taken on a personality of its own and Marvel would have backed off the project. I feel that if Favreau wouldn’t have had Marvel breathing down his back, there may have been a different outcome. Yet there is still fun to be found in Iron Man 2, especially the final battle with Iron Man and War Machine battling a group of deadly drones created Hammer and Whiplash. Thankfully, Iron Man 2 did not feel the need to convert itself into 3D, which I think was a wise decision since 3D was all the rage (and still is) at the time. Overall, there is a bit of magic missing in Iron Man 2 and that is mostly because the film goes through the same song and dance that the first film did, just building slightly on its character which I suppose is a positive. It’s no Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight but Iron Man 2 is still a spirited follow-up to its predecessor.
Iron Man 2 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
I avoided seeing The Expendables like I was avoiding a plague when it was released back in August of 2010. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about a handful of has-been action stars (and two still respectable ones) stomping around on the movie screen while trying to relive their glory days. I finally forced myself to sit down and endure the Sylvester Stallone action vehicle and my worst fears were confirmed. This movie has got to be one of the most astonishing things I have ever laid eyes on. The Expendables is a completely delusional film, one that doesn’t settle on reminiscing about the good old days, but rather painstakingly tries to make the plea that there is still a place for these mindless and ultra-violent shoot-em-ups in the cinema world. I hate to break it to Stallone, but there just isn’t a place for this kind of crapola. The Expendables is so jacked up on testosterone, that the mere hint of vulnerability and emotion practically makes Stallone and his beefcake crew sick to their stomachs and calling anyone who shows some of vulnerability or emotion a sissy.
The Expendables follows a group of highly trained mercenaries lead by Barney Ross (Played by Stallone) who are enlisted by the mysterious Mr. Church (Played by Bruce Willis) to travel to a small island between the Gulf of Mexico and South America and bring down a brutal dictator (Played by David Zayas). Rounding up a team that includes blades specialist Lee Christmas (Played by Jason Statham), sniper Gunnar Jensen (Played by Dolph Lundgren), martial artist Yin Yang (Played by Jet Li), heavy weapons expert Hale Caesar (Played by Terry Crews), and demolitions expert Toll Road (Played by Randy Couture), The Expendables, as they like to call themselves, head to the island where they discover that the dictator is backed by nasty ex-CIA officer named James Munroe (Played by Eric Roberts) and his personal bodyguards Paine (Played by Steve Austin) and The Brit (Played by Gary Daniels). Ross also makes it a personal quest to see to it that he protects the beautiful Sandra (Played by Gisele Itié), the helpless daughter of the dictator who is being savagely tortured by Munroe and his men.
If you are looking for anything that resembles depth, character development, or a beefy plot, you better start looking somewhere else. The Expendables couldn’t be a more straightforward film. It is also incredibly empty-headed and stupid, filling out its runtime with extended shoot-outs, car chases, and bone snapping mano y manos. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Hey, that is why we are watching this!” The problem with the film is that it has absolutely no point whatsoever. It exists solely to blow things up, waste some fake blood, and allow Stallone to still think he has some form of relevance in our current world. What he completely misses is that audiences have embraced much more vulnerable heroes, ones who have some complexities and layers to them. There is a reason that action films of this sort have been largely left in the past and a good majority of these actors have been almost entirely forgotten by audiences.
The acting in The Expendables is basically what you would expect. It’s almost all one dimensional, blank, and consists of lots of flexing. The only two actors who check in any sort of noteworthy performance are Willis as the briefly seen Mr. Church, who grins through his dialogue and all but winks at the audience as he asks, “Gotta problem with that?” The very talented Mickey Rourke shows up as Tool, the groups mission coordinator who also runs a tattoo parlor the gang likes to hang out in. Rourke ends up being the only character that reveals some emotional scars, wounds caused by the grisly stuff he has seen in the past. His eyes leak in one scene, a sequence I’m surprised that Stallone even allowed into the film. Everything and everyone else ends up being a blank slate with a machine gun. To make matters worse, the dialogue that is provided by Stallone and David Callaham is all written to set up for cringe inducing one-liners for the group members to spout off to each other as they riddle soldier extras with bullets.
I suppose if you are in the target audience for The Expendables, you are absolutely going to love it regardless of what I say. If you are the type who enjoys spending your weekend watching 80’s action movies and wrestling, you have probably already seen this more times than you can count. There are two minor positives in The Expendables, mostly in the expertly photographed action sequences and the editing. To be honest, I never thought I would praise the editing in a film like this in a million years but I guess there is a first for everything. The climactic shoot out boasts incredibly well done editing, allowing all the action to be extremely coherent and clear. Alas, a turd is still a turd and The Expendables is most certainly a turd. If Stallone would have forced his rag tag crew to confront the traits of the new breed of action films, the ones where the heroes wear their emotions on their sleeves, The Expendables may have turned out to be an interesting fusion of old school action with new school sentiment. I guess I’ll be one of the sissy men here and say that I did not favor Stallone’s tasteless and irresponsible testosterone boost.
The Expendables is now available of Blu-ray and DVD.