Friday, May 28, 2010

Iron Man 2: the Russians Return

There are certain tropes in American cinema. One of which is the moment you have a Russian enemy - a counterpart on the other side of the world - they are tough - physically tough and usually so skilled at whatever they do [espionage, physics, etc.] that our American hero seems outclassed at first glance.

Enter Iron Man 2, where Mickey Rourke plays one Ivan Vanko, the son of a Russian physicist who had previously worked with Tony Stark's [our hero's] father. He did a bad thing, after getting asylum in the U.S. and got deported back to Mother Russia. This all happened in the 60s-70s, when the Soviet Union seemed an unstoppable juggernaut.

But you learn all this in backstory. Sorry. I jumped ahead.

The movie opens with the senior Vanko dying and Ivan, played wonderfully by Mickey Rourke, drinking and crying over his loss. He is thusly inspired to use the knowledge the old man gave him to build the same device that powers Iron Man's armor: a miniture arc reactor. From this, we learn that this physical hulk of a man, tattooed from head to foot while in a Russian prison, is Tony Stark's equal in intellect -and his superior in suffering.

Thus is born Whiplash - and soon he will make Tony Stark bleed.

"If you make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him!" Ivan tells Tony - who has definitely achieved demi-god status in fame and in the power of his Iron Man suit - which is also wanted desperately by the U.S. military.

So what we end up is a movie about the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union and how what will probably destroy America is her own hedonism, unless I miss my guess and Tony Stark/Iron Man is not a metaphor for the United States in general. At least, how the world views us.

And that's pretty much why I did not review this earlier. The themes are not universal - they are pretty much located and locked onto what we are doing to ourselves as a nation.

Tony hits crisis after crisis and manages to make it through. This is almost charming except he's got too much power and too little honest responsibility. He is a man-child revelling in his own glory. People die because of this, or are put in harm's way that should never have been.

What's great about the movie is that you still keep sympathy for Tony - he's not doing well health-wise and it leads to some regrettable behavior. Thankfully, Tony has enough good honest friends who intercede and save him from himself. Even Nick Fury shows up to intercede, straightening Tony out on the truth of his father's love for him. Again, Tony's self-focus has blinded him - he cannot see how much he is loved and respected.

This is a good movie - and a good sequel - but it is not as fulfilling to the soul as the first Iron Man was. That's just fine - Favreau's got to make more of these and he's opening doors for other parts of the Marvel franchise at the same time.

We are given plenty of action and dialogue and fascinating characters. The other 'tough Russian' I failed to mention earlier is Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow, played by Scarlet Johansson.

I'll say about her what I said about Michael Keaton being Batman: she did the best she could do.

Scarlet does some great moves and kicks tail and deserves much respect.

She is not the femme fatale I've waited 30 years to see, though.

Ah well. They re-cast Rhodey, maybe they will re-cast her.

On that sore point, I will say Don Cheadle did a great job. His leaner and darker demeanor nicely counter-balanced Tony's "'tude" without being oppressive.

Well, that's it. Just a normal review.

I have one caveat though.

Ivan was right about how humans want their "gods" to be invulnerable, untouchable.

But that would be a false god.

The real one did come among us, had no wealth or good looks that we'd desire Him. He did bleed. He was forsaken by all.

What made them believe in Him was the resurrection, not the sacrifice.

It was a hard thing to see, but God did bleed - on a cross, nearly 2000 years ago.

And maybe that the message for us all: if you want to change the world, you're going to have to bleed first.

Even if you are Iron Man.

Amen.