robert downey jr

[Movie Review] A Warm and Welcome Homecoming for Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

spidermanhome_posterWith great power, comes great responsibility, John Watts. It’s one thing to have Spidey somewhat back in the hands of Marvel Studios, it’s a whole other thing to deliver a portrayal of Peter Parker’s alter ego that can wipe the slate clean from sins passed. Watts has come from ultra low budget horror, Clown, to helming what is hands down the greatest Spider-Man film to date.

Sam Raimi and Marc Webb both tried and–to certain degrees–failed to deliver crowd pleasing adventures for everyone’s favorite web-slinger. While these were not the first efforts to bring the character to the screen in one way or another, of the most modern attempts it would seem the third time (third iteration anyway) was the charm. Tom Holland’s first appearance in Captain America: Civil War gave legions of fans hope for the impending reboot as it certainly appeared that finally the tone and personality of Peter Parker and his arachnid alias had been captured. Spider-Man: Homecoming extends that and more with nearly the entire high school setting.  (more…)

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Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

ageofultron_posterCan you ever really have too much of a good thing? Joss Whedon is back with everyone’s favorite group of heroes, more crowd pleasing comic humor, and even more expensive looking special effects. Avengers: Age of Ultron loses none of the momentum built up from previous Marvel movies, but isn’t nearly as polished as Whedon’s previous superhero team-up.

Avengers: Age of Ultron finds Cap, Tony, and the rest of the gang fighting an enemy of their own making- or at least Tony and Dr. Banner’s making. After a raid of a still standing Hydra headquarters Tony finds himself in possession of the missing piece of a peace keeping artificially intelligent program that he and Banner have been working on. Initial tests prove unsuccessful, but while the team is enjoying some R&R the program- named Ultron- becomes self aware and begins to construct himself from spare parts in Tony’s workshop. Using the internet to come to the conclusion that humanity is doomed and in need of extinction Ultron (voiced by James Spader) constructs an army of robots to carry out his plan.  (more…)

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)

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I must admit that as much as I loved IRON MAN I probably could have been done with the series after IRON MAN 2. I didn’t hate the sequel, but aside from the racing sequence it seemed like nothing more than a clone of the first film with an equally if less satisfying finale. It took nothing more than one trailer for IRON MAN 3 for me to change my tune completely, granted THE AVENGERS did soften the blow immensely. With all due respect to comic nerds, IRON MAN 3 delivered on almost every level for me and I dare say it could possibly end up being my favorite of the series thus far.

Following the events during the finale of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who we all know also as Iron Man, is struggling to sleep- in fact when he does he has terrible nightmares. A lack of sleep has also lead to a series of equally distressing panic attacks as he is terrified of the potential that he cannot match the power of his opponents and thus cannot protect the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). While Stark struggles the world is looking at a global terror threat in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who has been causing lots of tension with a series of mysterious bombings of which there is no evidence of an actual bomb at the scene. When Stark’s interest in the matter becomes personal he can’t resist the urge to call out terrorist which sparks an intense confrontation where Stark must alone face a threat unlike anything he’s seen.

It’s true that I have never read an Iron Man comic in my life and it’s been made abundantly clear that because of that I cannot comment on how a comic lover would enjoy IRON MAN 3, but as a fan of the first film and the character as portrayed by Downey Jr. I have to say this movie straight up rocks. I am aware of an Extremis plot within the comics, which this film explores and Shane Black’s film works for me in every way. It isn’t perfect by any means, but the personal conflict Stark faces along with the way it ties in with THE AVENGERS all hit me in a way that I enjoyed greatly.

I did have some questions with some of the logistics of certain scenes and the fact that this takes place in a post Avengers world how at some point none of them might have been called upon, but at some point I just was okay with brushing aside those thoughts and enjoying how fun and exciting the film is on its own. Shane Black’s script had enough surprises and flip flops to keep me on my toes and interested in the outcome of any given situation to almost make me forget how let down I felt after IRON MAN 2. I am not quite sure if it really stacks up with THE AVENGERS in terms of total enjoyment, but as an Iron Man film it delivered in every way for me.

The special effects are great and when integrated into some of the central action sequences they are easily the best the series has seen. The climactic battle is alone better than the first two film’s final fights put together. Aside from the finale there are two really epic action sequences that are equally impressive in terms of visuals and overall quality of filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong because I love THE AVENGERS, but the plane rescue in this film at times beats many of the action set pieces featured in Joss Whedon’s film.

It was a breath of fresh air to see a new face behind the camera for the third IRON MAN, but I must say that Black’s script doesn’t always take full advantage of its characters in spite of some really fun surprises. I also don’t find the use of 3D to be necessary despite the fact that it works incredibly in the plane rescue and a few other moments, but felt wasted in many other scenes including the finale.

IRON MAN 3 is bound to have a crowd of detracts, but then again what movie doesn’t these days. Shane Black did more than enough to restore my faith in the franchise and in the process directed a film that could close it out in a satisfying way and be the most enjoyable of the series. Robert Downey Jr. continues to knock it out of the park as the wisecracking billionaire and eccentric genius while carrying everyone around him. IRON MAN 3 also shares some of the villain woes from its predecessors, but makes up for them in ways the previous films didn’t. This non-comic enthusiast may not have the knowledge that most nerds have, but I still give the film two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Rating: A-

Movie Review: The Avengers (2012)

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This movie is awesome! There you go that’s really all I have to say- but at the risk of wasting space with just a short sentence I’ll indulge further. THE AVENGERS isn’t just the best action movie of the year- so far- it’s better than all of the previous Marvel superhero movies released to date. So good in fact that it almost seems pointless to make any sequels to the previous films or spinoff hero films because people will probably just wish the rest of the Avengers showed up and wrecked shop. It’s also safe to say that I think Joss Whedon should be tapped to direct every superhero movie from here on out- maybe even every action movie from here on out. So hopefully his schedule is clear.

By now everyone is likely aware the film combines the heroes from previous Marvel films to form what are known as The Avengers. Thor’s brother Loki has conspired to bring an army, the Chitauri, to Earth in hopes of ruling the planet with the help of a cube of energy, the Tesseract, which opens a portal that summons the army from another world into ours. It’s up to S.H.I.E.L.D. to assemble a handful of heroes- Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America and The Hulk to stop the threat from taking over the world.

Enough of that though, I’d rather just take time to go on and on about how awesome it was to see each of these heroes working together in all their unique ways. Each character is introduced perfectly, with the exception of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who comes and goes here and there till the end when he has a bigger role. The film doesn’t lean on any one of the characters specifically and instead does something even better by showing them together as a group as much as possible. What’s even better than that is showing them at odds with each other which makes them uniting to fight Loki and the Chitauri even more satisfying.

THE AVENGERS is extremely action packed and when it’s not its laugh out loud funny. The script is incredibly smart and clever in the set up for action but also with very funny jokes. During the action there are also moments of snarky comments from none other than Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man while he’s taking out enemies or funny physical gags- the best involving The Hulk and his massive physical presence and brutal strength. The relationships between the characters build so well that their chemistry by the end is incredible which is remarkable in and of itself with the star power involved and the amount of screen time it takes to get each character time to shine.

The special effects are top notch- providing several money shots within the action scenes themselves and often blending seamlessly with the environments. Good special effects being key for a movie with such fantastic ideas and out of this world characters, but the entire movie plays out like what a child would vision in their head while playing with their action figures, except maybe even more imaginative. Even the more intimate of action set pieces have elements of pure adrenaline and excitement- which comes across in large part due to how connected we are to the characters which is just another way to praise Whedon and company for how well everything is fleshed out.

We couldn’t have asked for a better cast- even if most were obligated to reprise their roles based on their previous appearances. Downey is hysterical as always as the billionaire playboy, Tony Stark/Iron Man; Evans is phenomenal once again as the soldier with a heart of gold, Steve Rogers/Captain America. I guess the only real question mark for me was bringing in Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner/Hulk- but my worries were needless because his turn as the green beast with serious anger management issues was my favorite use of the character in film yet and his green Mr. Hyde side gets plenty of applause inducing moments.

I’d hate to sound overzealous, but the truth be told at the moment I can’t think of a single aspect of the film I didn’t like. I also hesitate to call it perfect because in all honesty I don’t believe in calling any film perfect. THE AVENGERS though is one of those exceptions I believe is rating proof as one I can give my full approval and not feel bad about it. Even as long as the film is it moves like a freight train and is always fun and exciting to watch. I fully expect the film to play extraordinarily well on multiple viewings even once it is released for home video consumption.

On spectacle alone THE AVENGERS would have my full recommendation, but as a whole the film is a smart, funny, exciting and even dramatically engaging summer blockbuster- and one of the best in recent years. Anchored by an all-star cast that turn in fantastic work, amazing special effects and a script that is paced perfectly allowing for a long but always exciting runtime t and when it was over I was ready to plant myself in my seat and watch again. THE AVENGERS is a midyear marvel that is one of the brightest shining stars of an already promising year of cinematic adventures.

Rating: 10/10

Strip To Script: Comic Book Heroes On The Big Screen

The summer of 2011 marks a big time of year for the superhero movies that will be bursting through theater speakers to fans all over the world. Each of these superhero characters were born on the pages of comic books and not with the camera. Each year the superhero movies draw large crowds and I’ve always wondered if every single person in the theater is turning out because they read the comics as kids or adults, they were dragged by a fan or if they like me are mostly associated out of context and have a natural curiosity. I didn’t take a poll on this subject, my curiosity is the inner workings of my mind as I’m a product of a sole interest in the visual are of movies, even though I’ve enjoyed the occasional comic here and there.

I’ve sat and thought about all the comics I’ve read in my life and I can really only think of a few. Yet, I find myself liking if not loving a lot of the comic based movies that get released. I love Batman and I get asked all the time what my thoughts on who the villains should be in the upcoming movies when they get made and I’m always going back to the ones I grew up with in the original Batman movies like Catwoman, Bane, Two Face, The Riddler and of course The Joker. Everyone once in a while I absorb information from articles I read or videogames where characters I was previously unfamiliar with are discussed and my memory bank grows a little bit. I often wonder if not being well versed in the source material makes me a less discerning viewer of the films and I would agree if someone said my opinion isn’t fully valid, but only to a small extent. I may not know all the characters and backgrounds but I am able to learn and can make distinctions of their ability to work on film, even if that distinction is not always going to be gospel. I am a member of a specific audience demographic that will see just about anything if it looks agreeable enough up to and including superhero movies that I may not have a thorough frame of reference on. Comic book aficionados may face palm whenever someone like me tries to talk about a comic book universe, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valuable to someone who might have the same mindset as me.

As I mentioned, I’ve read only a few comic books in my life that include Batman, maybe one or two Spiderman stories and the entire series that makes up the Watchmen graphic novel. I would never even pretend to come off as knowing even slightly more than any random fan about any comic book character. The information I’ve retained over the years comes almost entirely from pop culture information that includes movies, video games and just random information I’ve picked up from friends and people I’ve had conversations with; none of this qualifies me as an expert in anything comic book related. So why is it that these comic book movies appeal to someone like me?

When directors approach the comic book stories they always begin with the origin story. If they were looking to appeal ONLY to the comic book lovers there would be nearly no point in pandering to the uninitiated. As a fan of movies and the possibility of grand special effects along with a hero’s journey, these superhero movies appeal to me a great deal. The opposite end of the spectrum is if the movies appeal to me, why don’t I feel the need to seek out the comic books that they originate from? I wish the answer was complex and controversial, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t actively avoid comic books; the plain boring truth is I just don’t rush out to get them. Movies have always been my escape and the most attractive form of entertainment. Reading always stimulated my imagination, being able to visualize the words on paper, but movies push things a little further by showing you the potential of one’s imagination. All forms of entertainment that includes books, movies and even radio serve as outlets of imagination and have always inspired me to explore my own thoughts and ideas; the choice from there is the medium that fits my personality.

As a kid movies completely captured my imagination. The technology involved and the way they made me feel when one connected with me emotionally or perfectly portrayed how fun going to the movies could be. My allegiance to movies is traced back to those days as a kid, cherishing those moments in the movie theater and waiting in excitement for the next trip to the theater. Reading also has a special place in my heart since I can create the printed world in my own head and in a sense direct the events with my own visual style. Comic books combine the print aspect with the visuals the book represents, giving one a little less control over the images your imagination would conjure up. Movies being my first love (entertainment wise that is) has remained so over the years, because I can connect with it more than I can in the time it takes me to read a book. I am not a fast reader; therefore, it takes me a little longer than most to read a book from cover to cover. Time consumption also factors into my love for movies over books; I can absorb the story told in a movie in the span of an hour and a half or more where a book could take me day, weeks or even a month to find the time to finish from beginning to end. In a world where most people are strapped for time between work, family and any other hobbies that take up time, sometimes finding hours of spare time to read is scarce. I do read books; it just takes a very determined mindset in order to do so.

Comic books are tricky for me. Comic books tend to be much shorter than a full on book, therefore take far less of a time commitment, yet I’ve read far more books than I’ve taken for comic books. If I were to be handed a comic book, I would easily sit down and read it and not feel guilty about what I could have gotten done in that amount of time. Over the years the comic book community to me is a very small but dedicated group of people that are very passionate and loyal to the work they read on a regular basis. In my opinion they are the people that have migrated to that medium in the same way that I migrated primarily to movies. However, more often than not the comic book readers probably love going to the movies just as much as any other person, which mirrors my attitude where if I’m given a comic book I’ll read it and I’ll either enjoy it or not. I’ve never felt the pressure that I must like a movie because that’s the popular consensus or hate a movie because people say that I should. Yet when it comes to comic books, because I am so out of my element in that community I wouldn’t be able to decipher quality from complete crap and the comic book fans would tear any opinion I had either way apart with due precision. Do people that enjoy movies as a secondary source of entertainment feel the same kind of scrutiny if they love or hate a movie?

This argument merges into the point of this piece because of the sheer amount of superhero movies exploding into theaters this summer. Each of them being heroes that I have not read a single comic of, yet will likely see and weigh an opinion on once I do, but without the comic book reference. This is topical because comic book lovers often read movie reviews like anyone else and will weigh their opinions of people’s knowledge of the character to their enjoyment of a movie about a character they were not previously connected to. If I liked a movie like THOR but didn’t read the comic and had critiques of something that a comic lover might have really enjoyed, does that mean that I might have liked it if I had read the comic, or had more bad things to say if it didn’t live up to a comic I might love and then hate how the movie represents it. I won’t lie, the argument I am presenting even gives me a headache.

The first movie I ever saw that was based on a comic book character was Tim Burton’s BATMAN. For the longest time that was one of my all time favorite superhero movies. Nowadays, superhero movies are frequent and thus audiences have much more to choose from. BATMAN BEGINS stole the thrown from BATMAN for me when it was released and then THE DARK KNIGHT came along and the changing of the guard continued. I’ve also enjoyed the likes of films like SPIDERMAN, IRON MAN, KICK ASS, THOR and most recently loved X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Many of the universes certain characters inhabit have not clicked with me and I had no previous knowledge of, even just listening to friends talk about them. With THOR, the name and the hammer were the only recognizable characteristics and I know absolutely nothing regarding the mythology behind GREEN LANTERN. The upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA film is another character I have little back story on beyond name and look of the costume. So for me the business behind comic book movies relies heavily on appealing to non-comic book readers and possible even converting those people in order to get them to KEEP coming back for sequels and/or prequels.

The question studios face with these movies is how do they make these superheroes appeal to people that may be looking for more realism than fantasy in their theater escapades. When I see a trailer for a superhero movie I do not always worry if the character’s background will connect with me; I can make the distinction of rather or not I like the mythology once I watch the movie. What I look for is a movie that at least looks like it will be fun, interesting and with enough substance that I will feel the need to see it opening weekend. If it goes down a path that resembles darker grittier tones like THE DARK KNIGHT it has more chances of getting that opening day ticket, but fun absurd superhero movies are not a deal breaker. I am a lover of gorgeous special effects, so when I see a trailer that shows me great special effects, I may not always see it with urgency, but I WILL see it at some point or another. Non-stop action is not always a must, and with the first film in a superhero franchise I expect that there will be a certain amount of character development, but that’s not a free pass to skimp on decent action here and there and a satisfying finale. People that read the comics already have the benefit of all the different character development stories and variety of action beats; the initiated don’t and studios know this so they can’t always please both the readers and the people going in blind.

My biggest problem with some transitions from the illustrated pages to the big screen is dialogue that doesn’t find my ears well. This is a personal preference and in no way reflects all moviegoers, but certain cheesy dialogue just doesn’t appeal to me. I love cheesy dialogue in certain movies, but it has a penchant for making me cringe as well. One example is a line from SPIDERMAN in which the Green Goblin is flying off after a battle with Spiderman and shouts “I’ll get you next time Spiderman,” followed by an over-the-top villainous laugh. In the right movie I’d be ok with that type of delivery, in that one though, I cringed; I can already hear the keyboards furiously typing to refute and berate my dismissal of such a line.

Comic book movies don’t always have to be superheroes though; SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT for example. Of course, we’ve seen what ended up happening with the minimal theatrical success Edgar Wright enjoyed with his effort. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD was a film I really loved but for whatever reason the idea just didn’t click with mainstream audiences. Was it because of the marketing? Was it because it wasn’t a superhero movie? Whatever the reason, it was a film that I feel had a wider appeal than any sales numbers reflected. The ratio of heroic movies to not so heroic movies is generally lopsided as is the box office.

It might seem pointless to state at this juncture but the point of this isn’t merely to force my views on anyone or even to make an overall point to begin with but just as a means to spark the debate. A debate as to rather or not reading the comic book of a character in a movie we are going to see heightens the experience hinders it or has no effect. My personal belief is that as long as the filmmakers deliver a fun well rounded movie, the source material is inconsequential. The argument then is that in the process filmmakers can betray the source material and alienate the comic fans. As I’m not a comic book reader I cannot comment on any film that has stayed true and complimented its source material, but I have heard opinions of movies that actually improved the source material (i.e. KICK ASS).

Over the next few years as these films continue to vary in quality and ticket sales it’s likely we will continue to see more and more hit theaters especially with THE AVENGERS being set up with a series of films (IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR etc.). It will be interesting to see if attendance increases or decreases with the barrage of films as audiences either embrace or shun the efforts of Hollywood. With the sheer number over the course of the last few years the Hollywood machine appears focused on an unending assault of films based on previous works, board games and comics. On principle alone it is quite disheartening to see such a lack in creativity with the films begin churned out to make a quick buck instead of throwing money behind high concept original works, even if they don’t all succeed. Realistically the gamble would be equal on both sides since original movies like AVATAR and INCEPTION broke bank at the box office. Not everything is going to be a homerun, but at least with original movies the pitches are random enough to surprise us instead of hurling fastball after fastball till it becomes predictable and boring until one comes along every once in a while with a little extra zip to it.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What are your favorite comic book movies? Least favorite? What are some you’d like to see get made? What are ones that should never get adapted?

Movie Review: Due Date (2010)

A year ago Todd Phillips was the director of what would become the top grossing R rated comedy, THE HANGOVER. Fast forward to now, Phillips is back with an all new R rated comedy, DUE DATE, which feels pretty similar to his previous film. DUE DATE is consistently funny at least for the first hour and is carried almost entirely on the capable shoulders of Robert Downey Jr.

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful architect in Atlanta for business and looking to get home to his pregnant wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), in time for the birth of their first baby. Peter arrives at the airport where a traffic incident introduces him for the first time to Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor who claims to have glaucoma and is obsessed with TWO AND A HALF MEN. Once on the plane a seat belt mishap sends Ethan to first class with Peter and an increasingly heated argument gets them ejected from the plane and put on a no fly list. Peter’s wallet and I’d are left on the plane and he is unable to rent a car, until Ethan pulls up and offers him a ride to LA. Peter reluctantly agrees and the two begin a wild and crazy jaunt across the country.

I’d like to start by saying that I believe that DUE DATE is just as funny as THE HANGOVER, but the formula of both films are so similar that many times DUE DATE hits been there done that territory. That’s not to say that I think it is a vastly inferior film, because I found myself laughing out loud several times. I really believe that Phillips is a very talented comedic director, but his last two films contain a first hour of film that are consistently hilarious, but what plagues the films is a third act that starts to fall flat.

The best thing going for DUE DATE was the casting of the ticking time bomb of rage that is Robert Downey Jr. What I love about Downey’s character is that he says all the things I wish I could say to people and does all the things I wish I could do when I get overwhelmingly mad. Some of the best moments are when he is an erupting volcano and lashes out verbally and physically. He also embodies the type of person I can be that when he says or does these mean things he almost immediately feels bad and tries to reach out and apologize for what he’s done. There is something inherently real and human about that type of behavior and is something I can relate to. Galifianakis on the other hand is very much a caricature and his character should just as well had been named Alan as from THE HANGOVER. Ethan is essentially the exact same character except with an expanded role and SLIGHTLY less crazy. I say only slightly because there are some pretty cool moments where a Galifianakis shows a more level side and shows even in a goofball comedy he can show a range of emotion. However, the majority of his role is him being weird and crazy and in an ensemble piece like THE HANGOVER it works in small doses, but grows tiresome with only two main characters. Downey and Galifianakis do have a certain amount of chemistry as a comedic team but it’s pretty clear to me that Galifianakis is no match for Downey’s talent, and it should be mentioned that I enjoyed Downey as Peter Highman in DUE DATE more than his performance as Tony Stark in the IRON MAN films, which is significant because I loved his performance as Stark.

Aside from a few different song selections the music cues seemed to be pasted directly from Phillips’ hit from last year. In fact, there are several gags and jokes that feel like they could have fit right in with THE HANGOVER, but for me they worked slightly better with Robert Downey Jr. spouting the lines and performing the physical comedy, but they still don’t feel as fresh as they might have if this was released first. Another weak aspect of the film is the goofier and over the top moments of the film which include a scene with Danny McBride that starts off very funny then gets extremely ridiculous. There’s also a point towards the end involving a car chase that becomes more and more unbelievable as there doesn’t seem to be any real consequences to the most heinous things the characters are involved in.

There are a few scenes and implied character traits that never really amount to much of anything. When Peter and Ethan arrive in Dallas they meet up with one of Peter’s friends, Daryl (Jamie Foxx), who is apparently a football player with a previous relationship with Sarah, and is a source of contention and jealousy for Peter; but blink and you’ll miss it, because his character is gone almost as soon as he appears, but with a mention at the climax. Also, the film seems to imply that Ethan gay; it is never explicitly said, but with the way that he walks, talks and a conversation towards the end between him and Peter just about spells it out.

For what it is, DUE DATE succeeds in providing a healthy dose of laughs. It’s an easy movie to enjoy if you just sit back shut your brain off and not take too seriously. At times it evokes several déjà vu moments but is different enough from Phillips’ previous films to justify its existence. DUE DATE in the end is two thirds of a laugh out loud road trip comedy that loses steam once the third act kicks in. Phillips though, proves that he can show us a hilarious and fun time out at the movies.

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Going in to see the continued antics of Tony Stark and his powerful alter ego Iron Man, I was hoping for a superhero sequel that I enjoyed leaps and bounds over the first, much like I did with Spiderman 2. However, I was aware it wasn’t likely to hit that level since I enjoyed the first Iron Man far more than the first Spiderman, so it seemed my expectations for Iron Man 2 would be far too high. I am here to tell you that this is a sequel that, like many, just couldn’t surpass the same level of splendor as the first.

Iron Man 2 starts with a world that supposedly is enjoying a time of peace with Iron Man patrolling the world, disposing of threats wherever they appear, or so we assume. We never get to see Iron Man laying waste to groups of bad guys looking for trouble, or intervening in any kind of world conflict that would explain his stranglehold on terrorism and crime. Instead we see excess of Tony Stark’s inflated ego and sarcastic personality we were able to get to know very well in the first installment. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of a figure from the Stark family’s past is gearing up to teach Tony a lesson he won’t forget.

Along with Rourke we have a handful of new faces fighting for screen time. Sam Rockwell plays rival arms dealer Justin Hammer, Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, as well as expanded roles for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (we miss you Terrence Howard), and even director Jon Favreau as Tony’s driver Happy Hogan.

I enjoyed Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man the first time around, and while he’s still very much in tact here it borders on excessive at times. I had hoped that since the origin and set up were out of the way, there would be more balls to the wall action in store this time. Sadly action is obviously a second or even third thought here. We get even more character work with all the new faces, many of which seem unnecessary, and forced in due to the whole Avengers side plot they are working in. Much of that side plot and the sequence at the end of the credits are not there for an audience member like me, who doesn’t read comic books. They are there to service the comic book fans, and I understand that, so I just enjoyed what I could of it.

My complaints about the lack of action, fan service, and lackluster character work aside, I enjoyed the film overall. I love Downey as Tony and Rourke as Ivan (though he’s not used nearly enough). Ivan could have been a very compelling and intimidating presence in Tony Stark’s world, but instead we get just enough to make us salivate for an epic ending, only to fizzle out like Justin Hammer’s Bunker Buster aka “the Ex Wife.” I really would have loved more scenes like the fight on the Monaco racetrack.

The action is enjoyable, but abbreviated and never reaches a real level of tension and danger. You never get the sense that the characters are in danger. The effects are very good and give us a decent payoff with the absence of tension. Downey is likable as ever, even if he seems more like a caricature at moments, but just as charismatic as in the first movie. We get to see him struggle with his responsibilities as Iron Man a little which I always enjoy in superhero films.

The standout performances aside from Downey are what we get to see of Rourke, and Rockwell. Hopefully, Justin Hammer’s role is expanded more if we get another sequel. Also, we should hope for some more epic action sequences since we now have two character development movies out of the way.

If not for a few compelling new characters, serviceable action when actually presented on screen, and a very humorous script, Iron Man 2 may have been a huge disappoint. Luckily the final product has a lot of entertainment value despite its abbreviated ending.