IronMan II began its run at the Prytania Theatre at the stroke of midnight. The historic movie house is the last single screen theatre in Louisiana and the oldest in New Orleans (1915). It was a packed house filled with mostly anticipatory fans of the first film under the age of 35. That said, my dad discovered Iron Man on DVD recently and flipped out over it, he's just not much for midnight showings.
I knew it was time for the film to start when a group of people broke out into "Happy Birthday" as Thursday became Friday, and the audience all joined in. Next up was the 50's dancing candies and drinks singing, "Let's all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat." I took a minute to realize how many audiences had enjoyed the magic of so many movies here – since before color and sound.
When we resume the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) journey, the multi-billionaire with daddy issues confesses on CNN that he is, in fact, Iron Man, before the opening credits begin. Six months later, Stark hosts a weapons expo and makes a grand entrance worthy of a half-time show, complete with dancing girls. His already large ego has been expanded by his whole saving-the-world thing and he is clearly looking to be humbled as he announces to a Senate committee, "I have successfully privatized world peace."
Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is just the man to bring on the humbling. Surely Rourke (Academy Award winner for The Wrestler) is one of the most menacing bad guys in film and his character's beef with Stark is convincing enough to keep the story moving along.
Some actors come fully loaded with a built in reaction. Like Rourke brings menacing to the table with little more than showing up, Gary Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show), as the troublesome Senator Stern, illicits automatic laughter. Ditto, Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) in his role as a cocky billionaire arms dealer looking to overtake Stark's advances in weaponry and eager to hire Vanko to get the job done.
Rockwell is one of those most fun kind of actors, where you're never really sure what to expect, but your pretty sure it'll be fun. As Guy in Galaxy Quest, he had me at "I'm not even supposed to be here. I'm just 'Crewman Number Six.' I'm expendable. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is."
Director, Jon Favreau (Swingers), reprises his role as Happy Hogan, chauffeur, body guard and buddy to Stark. He seems to have quite a sense of humor about his once burgeoning acting career and impressive transition to directing. He allows both his star, Downey, and a girl to kick his butt on camera for our entertainment. Favreau also seems to be making a habit of making favorite movies. Swingers remains the quintessential Hollywood outsider movie of the 90's. Elf made us want to clap and shout, "I believe, I believe" so Santa's sleigh could fly. Iron Man was not just a blast for lovers of the comic and those (like me) who went in with a blank slate, it was also the moment it all came together for Robert Downey Jr.
To be honest, in the 90's I feared Downey would go the way of so many other great talents like River Phoenix or Heath Ledger. To see him in his 40's in better shape than he'd ever been and finally doing a big budget crowd pleaser after so many interesting movies no one saw, was to watch a star reborn.
Don Cheadle (Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen) had the tough job of replacing Terrence Howard as Rhodey, Stark's fellow ass kicker. The buddy-movie aspects of this film work really well throughout, but this should come as no surprise to anyone who's watched the many pairings of Favreau and Vince Vaughn.
And then there's the women. Gwyneth Paltrow is back as the perfectly imperfect Pepper Potts. The repartee between Paltrow and Downy continues to be fun and tamely sexy. New to the club is Scarlett Johansson as Stark's new assistant who's more than meets the eye.
As I watched Johannson as the latest of a long string of female action heroes with great hair, I couldn't help but think how normal female butt-kicking has become. I remember seeing the possibilities when Geena Davis kicked major ass and blew things up alongside Samuel Jackson in The Long Kiss Goodnight. Then Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft and the next thing you know, Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah carry out the most brutal bitch fight I've ever seen in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Now, we just accept that certain woman can diffuse bombs and flatten half a dozen men while in stilettos. I've gotta admit, I'm a sucker for it.
Speaking of Samuel Jackson, he was an obvious crowd favorite and Favreau exploited our memory of the diner scene from Pulp Fiction to good advantage.
Though the story was fairly paint-by-numbers, there were new twists on old movie scenes. Like so many action flicks, this movie has the cliche fight scene where a circle of men surround our hero and take turns attacking and failing until our hero stands alone surrounded by the dead and disabled. Favreau is a big movie lover as evidenced by the many film references in Swingers, so it can be no accident that he puts a fresh spin on this scene by borrowing from the memorable Indiana
Jones scene where Harrison Ford faces a killer showing off his sword skills, then, too worn out to fight, just shoots him.
Iron Man 2 has a consistent and fun sense of humor. Even the smallest of parts are cast with unforgettable actors, like Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Gregg is one of those guys we see all the time and tend to refer to as "the guy from…" as opposed to remembering his name. He's doing what he can to remind us there are no small parts, only small actors.
There were a few scenes I didn't love including a mine's-bigger-than-yours type fight between Cheadle and Downey. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like most people don't really enjoy watching art work and other fine things being destroyed. It reminded me of a 4 year old I saw once beating a plastic playhouse with a toy shovel. He stopped, looked at the house and proclaimed, "I destroy it to show how strong I am." Men made so much more sense to me after that moment. But busting up beautiful things that cost more than I'll ever make isn't the way to my entertainment bliss.
And I often have to ignore how feminine the super-hero aesthetic is with it's curvy macho second-skin costumes and chaste love stories. I didn't read comics as a child so it all looks a bit funny to me, no matter how much I like it.
The sets are beautiful, especially the stunning backdrop of Monaco and the many shots of Malibu's PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). Almost made me miss L.A. for a minute. Almost.
The shop robots are back; Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), the C-3PO of the duo, and Dum-E, the cutest robot since R2D2. Like most of the characters in the film, it's their incompetence that makes them relatable and likeable.
In Los Angeles, movie going audiences often applaud the screen as if it were live theater. This crowd was no different. Except this crowd laughed at the reference to James Joyce's Ulysses.
I watched the movie totally open to Favreau pulling off the best sequel since Terminator 2, but willing to settle for it just not ruining the memory of the first film. It's no T2, but it's a ton of big-budget fun. Leaving the theatre, I heard a patron say, "Too much acting, not enough action." Maybe so, but not for me. The movie delivered laughs, thrills and plenty of sock-pow.
When I stepped outside, the smell of burning oil (sort of like burning crayons) smacked me in the face and I remembered why I love movies more than I hate anything I see in them. Movies have always been there for me, waiting to transport me from the realities of coastline catastrophes and into a world where billionaires compete in robot suits for my entertainment.