While this is breaking my usual two-posts-a-week schedule, there didn't seem any point holding onto these until next Wednesday (which is when I normally post reviews, unless they're stuck onto the end of my Saturday essay) as big films like Iron Man 2
tend to be a spur-of-the-moment thing, making late reviews pointless, while Alice Creed
is just a film I wanted to give attention to at some point. Enjoy.
NON-GAMING REVIEW #5 Film Review Scale - 5/5: Masterpiece; 4/5: Very Good; 3/5: Decent; 2/5: Weak; 1/5: Awful; 0/5: Uwe Boll IRON MAN 2 Dir: Jon Favreau Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell.
From what was generally considered a second-tier Marvel property, Iron Man
popped up to become one of the only blockbusters to stand up to the Dark Knight
behemoth in audiences' memories of 2008. Iron Man 2
comes with bigger money, bigger stars (it's hard to believe that only two years ago Downey Jr., now virtually an American national treasure, was still seen as a support actor piecing back together his damaged reputation) and bigger expectations.
It's those increased expectations which wound Iron Man
deeper than any electric whips ever could. The unexpected pleasures of the first film, most memorably Downey Jr's weapons-grade charisma in the lead role, were enough to overshadow its flaws (the tepid second half and unexciting 'metal men punching each other' final fight especially), but Iron Man 2
needed to put some serious substance behind its front man's performance if it was to prove itself as worthy of the bigger stage it had been thrust onto.
A mirror for the sequel's failings is held up by Tony Stark's competitors' failed attempts to build a rival Iron Man suit. Just as their suits are a cocktail of the latest and largest weaponry and look great on a show floor, in practice they fall apart because all the work has gone into the aesthetics and individual elements without considering the less glamourous logistics needed to stabilise and hold everything together. Iron Man 2
has plenty of impressive components: Downey Jr's second performance was never going to be as revelatory as the first, but he's still magnificently engaging. If anything it's Sam Rockwell who will stand out this time, but only for those who haven't followed his career and know he's been standing out in virtually every film he's appeared in. He gives his squirming, envy-drowned Justin Hammer a cruel streak behind the insecurities that go some way to explaining how he achieved his riches, even if the script sometimes undermines that credibility in favour of cheap gags (see the 'ex-wife'). In terms of spectacle, the aerial dogfight as Iron Man is pursued by Ivan Vanko's weaponised drones moves at phenomenal pace with enough pyrotechnics and zinging incendiaries to send even the most hardened action film vets into ecstatic convulsions.
But though everything has been turned up to eleven and much of the good stuff from the first Iron Man
remains in place, unaddressed problems from that film cause deep cracks in the foundations the sequel is trying to build on. The constant need to make ironic gags kills entire scenes on their feet. Stark's personal drama is as crippling to the film's pace as his poisoned bloodstream is to him, any potential dramatic weight lost as we never see it taking any affect on his performance as Iron Man or changing his narcissistic outlook on life. Favreau obviously wants to keep his film fairly fluffy and fun, but extended scenes of Stark moping around his mansion feel like leaden filler material, while the drunken birthday party heavily dilutes the Iron Man suit's value as a symbol of Stark's ability to take responsibility where it counts. If this was an intentional attempt on Favreau's part to show how Stark was falling apart, it only succeeds in compromising the suit's value as an heroic icon and fails to back up its dramatic intentions with the unflinching conviction that made The Dark Knight
a powerful drama as well as a superb action movie.
The many sub-plots go equally malnourished: it's hard to take Nick Fury and his Avengers project seriously when his first appearance is shouting Stark down from a giant doughnut, with the Bond villain eye-patch and phoned-in line recital from Sam Jackson only making more conspicuous the ludicrousness of comic book costume design. Scarlett Johansson wearing a catsuit is a fine piece of eye candy, but looks idiotic placed in the middle of a scene aspiring to represent even semi-believeable people. Her appearance as Black Widow might tick a box on a fan's checklist, but her relevance to the film is limited to one fight scene of dramtic pose kung-fu, accompanied by a comic relief chauffeur.
All of that can be repeated for the involvement of Don Cheadle's Jim Rhodes, essentially a plot device for adding another fan-pleasing appearance to the finale, during which Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko/Whiplash is dispatched in record time. Not that it particularly matters: the villainous credentials of Vanko and Hammer (sounds like a bad '80s TV detective show) aren't backed up by much, nor is there any concrete evil scheme in place other than to slap Tony Stark around a bit. When they both meet their undesirable fates at the film's conclusion, there's consequently not much satisfaction in the victory for anyone watching other than Stark.
At this point it's only fair to mention that many of my problems with this film I also had with the Spider-Man
franchise, where I was a lone voice protesting into a gale of adoration (the third film from my perspective only made existing problems considerably worse). So if you loved those films, perhaps you'll enjoy this one too. Downey Jr remains terrific, Sam Rockwell is a great addition (even getting in his trademark dance moves) and the action scenes are generally more exciting than those from the first film. But with a piecemeal plot and extra characters adding new faces to the climax but nothing to what little of a story there is (wasting a strong cast, although Mad Men
's John Slattery knocks it out of the park in a brief '70s pastiche cameo that doesn't deserve the worth he gives it), the mishandled drama that should be giving weight to the action sequences ends up turning the middle act into a slow slog to the next explosion. Iron Man 2
has all the components to build a formidable blockbuster machine, but ends up falling apart faster than an Ikea CD rack.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED Dir: J Blakeson Stars: Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan
Heaven knows if it'll ever come out in the States, but I thought I'd write a few lines about this new British thriller that came out here recently as it's one worth paying attention to. If Iron Man 2
sinks under its unnecessary flab, Alice Creed
is as taut as filmmaking gets. A low-budget thriller solely starring the three actors above and featuring an equally small number of locations (two-thirds of the film take place in a single flat), it keeps the twists coming at well-timed intervals and makes a superb showcase for its leads, especially Gemma Arterton's fearless display as the eponymous Alice. The upcoming Prince of Persia
and thankfully disappeared Clash of the Titans
will raise her global profile and draw attention to her incontestable beauty, but all fingers should be crossed that it won't overshadow her immense skill as a dramatic actress, established as the lead in the BBC's otherwise very ordinary adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles
and reinforced here as a kidnap victim as mentally cunning as she is physically helpless. Anyone planning on seeing the film solely for her usually radiant countenance might be in for a shock, as on the occasions when her head isn't covered with a bag, the only traces of make-up are the streaks of tear-torn mascara down her face. Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan are also superb, both conveying the cold strength that allow their characters to pull off such a heinous kidnap but expressing it in very different ways. To give away any spoilers would be heinous, as the film is fuelled by a series of revelations and about-turns that slowly build to not only give a clearer understanding of why certain things happened the way they did, but also show how easily the situation could break down into chaos and violence. Director Blakeson never shies away from showing the kind of mental and physical cruelty eschewed in higher budget releases, but keeps a tight rein on any potential for needless exploitation. The tautness of the rules and structure by which Blakeson (writer and director) unwaveringly abides give the film a lot of credit, allowing moments of uncertainty (characters sometimes ignore obvious solutions to problems in favour of ones with more potential for suspense) to pass without too much damage. While the last act tragically loses its nerve and resorts to contrivances just too great to forgive, abandoning long-term consequential logic in favour of reaching an easy immediate conclusion, the eighty minutes preceding it are easily worth the ticket price as both a demonstration of why Gemma Arterton deserves every success she's on her way to achieving, and an intense, tightly-plotted relief from blockbuster season exhaustion.
3/5 PREVIOUS NON-GAMING REVIEWS Clash of the Titans (Film) Doctor Who: 'The Eleventh Hour' (TV) Kick-Ass (Film) A Curious Thing: Amy MacDonald (Music)