Friday, May 7, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

The Secret of Kells
It isn't very often that an Academy Award nominated film flies under the radar of mainstream movie audiences, but that's exactly what 'The Secret of Kells' accomplished, and it has turned into the little movie that could.

The story centers on Brendan, a curious and bright young man. He assists an ailing old man with the completion of the Book of Kells, an illustrated Gospel book. The film weaves in elements of fantasy, religion, and maturation in a way that few films produced today even attempt. A traditional 2-D animation, the film is fluid and graceful, with great color and a vivid imagination. The pace isn't for traditional animated fans and the subject matter turn some folks away, but Kells is an intriguing story that doesn't take the audience for granted - in fact, it expects quite a bit out of it.

While the film was nominated for an Oscar, it was forgotten behind the hysteria of 'Up' (which wasn't even the second best film nominated). This is a great opportunity to catch a film that doesn't follow a generic Hollywood outline. See it.

The most hotly anticipated film of 2010 arrives with a repulsor blast and goes out with a rat-a-tat-tat. Robert Downey, Jr. is back as the man in the iron suit and delivers quips and cocked eyebrows at a rate that makes Scarlett Johansson's delivery look like - well, she can't act, so let's just get that out of the way right now. RDJ, as Tony Stark, is living the high life as the world's favorite superhero - near invincible and almost untouchable. But the high price of fame is taking its toll on Tony - his 'power source' is also poisoning his blood stream at a rate that only makes sense in a movie. Soon, rivals pop up on the scene to challenge both Stark and Iron Man to pry loose the mantle of both American defender and American heart throb.

'Iron Man 2' is a fun film, but a comic book film just the same. It's laced with one-liners that liven up the action, but, as most comic book films are prone to attempt nowadays, it takes a dark turn to prove how serious superhero warfare really is. Iron Man meets his match in Mickey Rourke's Whiplash - the scorned son of a former Howard Stark collaborator. For revenge, Rourke plans to topple Stark and 'make God bleed.' What this results in is an Iron Man 1 redux: armor-suited men slugging it out in darkened cinematography.

This sequel doesn't come close to topping the original. The first film was a breath of fresh air in the comic book film landscape: funny, action packed, and smart. While 'Iron Man 2' may not top the predecessor, it is perfectly serviceable as a continuation of that story. Stark is soaking up the fame Iron Man has thrust him into, while at the same time dealing with the corruption the suit has brought him, in more ways than one. As much as I disliked the rehashing of an armored slugfest (though much better this time around), there were several aspects of the film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The special effects were phenomenal. Not that it was lacking in 'Iron Man,' but the FX team did astounding work on this project. Explosions, super advanced iPhones, and digital interface manipulation are not easy to pull off and it was done so seamlessly. There are sequences in this film (the race track and the climatic fight, among others) that I found myself marveling at the nearly imperceptible difference between real and created. The landscape for digital rendering has been completely altered.

For as bad as Scarlett Johansson is (this film didn't need eye candy and doesn't anyone buy her as an action performer?), Sam Rockwell was infinitely better. He played Stark's industrial competitor with a quirky, convincing smarm balanced with devilish, conniving greed. There was a buzz when he was on screen and the film was decidedly better with his addition.

Through the flaws (Johansson, redundancy, AC/DC soundtrack), 'Iron Man 2' is a good film. It may seem like a bit of a letdown because of how surprisingly awesome the original was, but that isn't meant to discredit the impact this film has. It's fun, exciting, and surprisingly touching. Stark has as much difficulty facing the impending doom brought about by his life support system as he does discovering that his distant, long-dead father actually cared for him. Fan-favorite Iron Man moments are touched upon, including the now-legendary 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline. The introduction of War Machine is welcome and Don Cheadle fills the role serviceably. Rourke is menacing and creepy looking. The two-hour plus running time rolls along smoothly.

As I said, 'Iron Man 2' is a good film and will assuredly rake in money by the whale load at the box office paving the way for a third installment. As this film showed, the Avengers Initiative is still being planned as the groundwork was laid for Iron Man's role on the team, as well as hints at one or two other potential members. The special effects are spectacular and elevate the film above its peers. The performances are solid, even if Samuel L. Jackson is a hambone. Above all, the story does a great job of showing how vulnerable and targeted Tony Stark is - alone in the world with a target all over him. While not a breakthrough sequel, 'Iron Man 2' does a better job than most at continuing a story, fleshing out characters, and further developing a world - which is very important as Iron Man has served as the launching pad for several future Marvel film projects. See it.

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