As promised, here is one of the two belated Friday Flashbacks, the one connected to IRON MAN 3. The one for THE GREAT GATSBY will go up a bit later today and then the first on time one, for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS will debut tomorrow.
So, without further ado, here we go!
IRON MAN 2
IRON MAN 2 is a nice look at how surprising people with your first film can derail the chances that the second one will be enjoyed.
The conventional wisdom on IM2 is that it is not as good as the first one, but my sort of “elevator review of it has always been, “If you like IRON MAN, you’ll also like IRON MAN 2” and the reason is that I genuinely think they are roughly the same in quality. It just happens that IRON MAN came first and thus has the advantage of the shock of the new.
If IM2 was first—well it’d be confusing because you’d be dropped into the middle of this story and you’d miss all sorts of important information and…perhaps I’m being too literal. To begin again, if IM2 came first, I think IRON MAN would be talked about as the somewhat disappointing film and IM2 would that superhero movie that surprised everyone on its way to make bags full of cash.
This is not to say it is a perfect film. Of course, neither was IRON MAN. But the films do differ in that they handle different things to vary degrees of success. IRON MAN felt like it required less leaps in logic—beyond the whole builds of suit of armor from scraps in a third world country and his total lack of a security detail—while IM2 seemed to find Favreau becoming increasingly more comfortable with choreographing and filming action sequences. The Obidian Stane-Tony Stark armored faceoff might have more emotional heft than the fights in 2, but for pure visceral on-screen splash, the race track scene where Whiplash first tangles with our titular hero has everything in the first film beat coming and going.
But, of course, it does not serve a film to compare it only to its predecessors so let me quickly rundown of how I feel about IRON MAN 2. I like the idea of the arc reactor slowly killing Tony but I feel the movie often fails to fully realize that potential. In particular, Tony’s drunken birthday party had the capacity to be a much darker moment of the soul than it ends up being. The resolution of how the arc reactor is improved to stop killing him is a bit silly too.
That said, the movie coaxes forth strong performances from pretty much everyone onscreen. Robert Downey Jr. continues to ably demonstrate how entitled Tony is to his cockiness while still letting us see how it can endanger everyone and everything if it is left to curdle. Sam Rockwell as Stark’s disappointing doubleganger Justin Hammer exudes just enough broken charisma to sell himself as Stark-lite. Mickey Rouke seems to exist on a different plane of reality and while that means the picture ultimately cannot seem to harness his weird energy, it’s fun to watch it try. Without IRON MAN 2, Agent Coulson is not as important to the Marvel movie franchises or as popular. And, finally, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots gets to run the company and largely avoid damsel in distress status while spitting chewy dialogue right back out at RDJ’s Stark, possibly the only person who can hang with him and match his rhythm in the whole franchise.
I recommend it as both a movie as something to watch to prep for an IRON MAN 3 showing.
KISS KISS BANG BANG
However, the really great choice to precede IM3 isn’t an IRON MAN film. It is not even a superhero flick. Instead, it is the directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black—the writer-director of IM3—and it stars, that’s right, Robert Downey Jr. Plus, Val Kilmer! And you know how we feel about Val Kilmer round these parts (we like him. We like him very much).
A meta neo-noir, the film casts Downey as a New York City hoodlum who evades police b pretending to be part of an open call audition. Lo and behold, one thing leads to another and he’s off to Hollywood to learn how to convincingly play a private investigator on-screen from an actual PI “Gay” Perry (Kilmer). Somehow, this gets him embroiled in a dual set of cases that resemble the books beloved by his childhood crush (Michelle Moynihan) who he just happens to re-encounter on the Left Coast. Oh, and it’s Christmastime. Because this is a Shane Black movie after all.
The film is twisted up so many times some might think it is too complex for its own good. I personally love the genre and the genre convention of an incredibly intricate plot that is spelled out, definitively, at the film’s climax. Well-shot on a shoestring budget with two actors who’s stars had fallen considerably at the time, Downey and Kilmer seem to relish everything about being in the picture. They spit the dialogue with an ease that makes it, although very stylized, feel perfectly reasonable for the situation.
The film also nicely nods to the stock characters of noir while nicely sidestepping them. The femme fatale is anything but, our narrator is neither patsy nor competent hero, and his sidekick is, really, the guy who the story would revolve around if this was a typical yarn. The supporting players are a bit more conventional, perhaps, but it never bothered me.
My only complaint is that, as the film hits its crescendo, the bullets pile up to such a degree that the impact of when Downey kills a man who is himself a murderer about a half hour earlier. Downey underplays both the rage that sucks out all emotion in the moment of pulling the trigger and the rush of guilt that follows it so perfectly, it is a shame that the climax portrays the firing of a bullet as such a trifle.
But, overall, a great overlooked flick.
Plus, Abe Lincoln shows up and he’s all the rage these days.