I'm gonna start rolling around in *SPOILERY* mud here, so get thee to a big screen for a viewing and then return.
It's got the looks, the parts, the set pieces (gorgeous, but honestly, not very satisfying), but it just doesn't have the heart. I feel like a half hour or so of film was cut or missing. Scenes and segments that could have...
- ...given Scarlett's Natasha Romanov a connection to the Vanko vengeance storyline.
- ...built up (and/or torn down) the Howard Stark / Tony Stark father / son history and issues.
- ...laid a better (or any) foundation for Tony and Pepper to take their relationship to a next level.
- ...made for more satisfying fight scenes, both vs. War Machine and vs. Whiplash.
- ...made Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer a truly worthy opponent for Tony Stark.
There's a good villain in Mickey Rourke's Vanko, but he falls short of being a great nemesis. I mean, he starts VERY strong, attacking Stark in the open at the Monaco GP, using tech that appears to be Stark's. The brazen assault seems reckless and foolhardy, but when Tony visits his prison cell Ivan tells him what it was really about, what he really did. He kinda crowbars one too many metaphors in, but it's pretty damn good as far as evil nemesizing goes...
IVAN: If you can make god bleed, people will cease to believe in him... There will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit here and watch and the world will consume you...Unfortunately, this deep vengeful thinker doesn't sustain this level of menace. He ends up going iron toe-to-toe with Stark again, bankrolled by high-tech industrialist also-ran, Justin Hammer, well-enough played by Sam Rockwell.
I say "well-enough" because Rockwell's considerable abilities (MOON, GENTLEMEN BRONCOS) are wasted on the flat twit of a character. Much in the way I feel (and I just know that people will vehemently disagree) that Gary Oldman is wasted as the mincing minion of the evil star or whatever it is in FIFTH ELEMENT. IRON MAN is not one of my long-time regular comic book reads, so I'm a bit fuzzy on some of his storyline details, but I do not recollect Hammer as being anything close to a bumbler. My impression of him is of a shrewd if showboaty businessman with a sliding moral scale. I get that the movies have and take license to reimagine a superhero's mythology, but it's really a shame that the big screen Hammer, Sam Rockwell's Hammer, couldn't be written to be more of a match for Tony Stark. Instead, he's shown to come in distant second in every arena. His high-tech prosthetic development, his esteem with the ladies, his stage presence (his flop of a "press-ink" joke was great for what it was), and even his salesmanship (unfortunately, his pitch of War Machine armaments to Rhodey is pretty frickin weak in all ways).
There is a lot of buildup for action scenes and confrontations, but the actual battles are reckless and all too short-lived. Iron Man literally does not meet his match. That's okay in the first film, but this time around, we should have seen him on the ropes in combat a couple times. Or even soundly beaten once on his own, to return later with an upgrade and War Machine having his back.
Here's a delicious bit of IM2 genius: casting John Slattery as Howard Stark. He is PERFECT! And the old expo films he appears in are wonderfully shot and treated, evoking time-capsuled messages from both Walt Disney and Dr. Venture, Senior. This is where the heart of the story is for me. Unfortunately, it only beats for a few minutes. It could have and should have been resuscitated in dialogue with the likes of Nick Fury. Unfortunately, the film seems to interrupt an already progressing convo about Tony's father, assuming that Tony, and we ourselves, know all about Nick's relationship with Howard. A real missed opportunity there.
The idea of Howard being able to conceive of an element that would supercharge his arc reactor in a time before the tech to create it is available is very cool. Unfortunately, the way its encoded and passed down to Tony is not so much. The process SEEMS cool, LOOKS cool, but it doesn't make a lot of cool sense to the audience. How the heck do you map the expo buildings onto the world-o-sphere and come up with the model of an atom. A model, that when expanded/exploded, actually looks like a massive molecule. Or is that what we were looking at? I know we don't hafta know everything when it comes to faux-science in a superhero film, but if you're gonna pretend something, and act as if we're supposed to be able to follow along, please fake it well enough so that we can honestly feel our own little faux-eureka moment, rather than a big fat (super cool looking) question mark. Blerg.
I was actually hoping that Howard had left Tony a present built into/buried beneath the actual expo grounds, and not embedded in the scale model. Like, he'd go to the Expo, discover some hidden elevator, get taken down to a subterranean control room, plug himself and his arc reactor into the right spot, and up from the depths would rise an Iron Giant! Designed and built by his father with everything except the power source he couldn't yet build in the 60s.
Yeah, not really practical, given the threat of this movie's bad guys, but man, that would've been cool.
Wrapping up w some reminders/mentions to myself...
Clark Gregg returns as SHIELD Agent Coulson. He looks like he'll be a consistent liaison character that links the Avengers up before they actually assemble.
We get to see a development prototype of Captain America's shield. I *thought* it came from Howard Stark's storage bin, but it looks like Coulson removes it from a crate of Tony's hardware? That's kind of annoying. Still, I believe it's meant to tie Howard Stark to the creation of the one-of-a-kind Adamantium-Vibranium shield. It will be awesome to see Cap launch it at the baddies, taking out a dozen of them in succession, deactivate the bomb, and of course, return right to his hand, and in a way that looks fantastic and live action big screen real. Here's hoping!
If Cap's shield is created for him at the time that he becomes Captain America, than maybe he's gonna be a well-kept government secret agent, a super soldier sent into action in Vietnam, with a GI uniform and body armor, rather than the star-spangled kit of his comic book World War 2 debut.
Although, there's no reason the shield couldn't have been developed in the 60s, after his 40s debut with the old school shield. I wonder if Hollywood has time alotted in its AVENGERS rollout for an INVADERS movie. DAMN, that would be pretty frickin cool. Cap, Namor, and the original Human Torch against the Red Skull and Nazi minions and robotech! Nothing wrong with that.
You DID stay to the end of the credits, right? With all the "New Mexico" dropping in the film, I figured that the reveal would either be about Thor (from the newest THOR series) or the Hulk (skirmishing with the Leader, or being tracked by Hulkbusters, in the desert). We got Thor's hammer! I don't know what to expect from a first Thor movie. I feel like it would be a better/safer start to have his first story be Asgardian and Norse in nature and setting, y'know? Of the times when gods could have walked the earth and had worshippers. Maybe the last thing that happens to him in that first movie is that Loki blasts him w a contingency plan spell that sends him somewhere/somewhen he would have to fight alone—the future. Or maybe it's Odin's old school sentence for a son who has grown too confident in his powers, and it'll be the timesharing set-up with Dr. Donald Blake.
In any case, w the intro of Thor comes the intro of Loki, and he's the jerk what's classically responsible for the Avengers coming together in the first place. I can easily see Loki whispering into both Banner's and the Hulk's ears to get them to bring down the homeland security wrath of SHIELD and the incipient Avengers. Fun fun fun! =)
Keep on keepin on~