Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 doesn’t have quite the freshness that the first Iron Man film had, but it offers an interesting villain combination in Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke and the set pieces are mighty fine. The character of Tony Stark continues to be far more than meets the eye and the acting and deceptive light-heartedness of these films really sets them apart.

Plus, Don Cheadle.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released May 7, 2010

Written by Justin Theroux. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Samuel Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, and Clark Gregg

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

After revealing that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is immediately targeted by the US government, who wants to confiscate his technology, aided by Justin Hammer (Rockwell), a rival weapons manufacturer who has no ethics and a chip on his shoulder. At the same time, a vengeful genius Russian inventor, Vanko (Rourke) targets Tony and hatches a plan to kill him.

When the plan fails, Hammer and Vanko team up, while at the same time, Tony’s friend Rhodey (Cheadle) grows increasingly concerned about Tony’s mental stability and becomes torn between his loyalty to his friend and his nation. While all of this is happening, we learn that Tony is being steadily poisoned by his arc reactor and that Tony needs to find a way to make the reactor safer– but this requires the use of an element that doesn’t exist.

Add to all of this the presence of Agent Coulson (Gregg) and Nick Fury (Jackson), who seem to want Stark to get involved in some kind of heroic initiative. Supporting Tony through all of this and running Tony’s company is Pepper Potts (Paltrow in one of her only palatable roles), who is also Tony’s love interest.

These tensions result in lots of explosions, snappy dialogue, and a heroic arc that takes Stark to a showdown with some seriously nasty weapons created by Vanko and Hammer.

Critique

Downey Jr. seems to have been made for this role– or maybe it’s the other way around. The edgy snark that is laid over the top of kindness, fear of hurting those he cares about, and honor, is once again deftly handled by probably the only actor who could pull this off. His performance is very well complemented by Cheadle playing a conflicted Rhodey and Rockwell doing his characteristically great job playing a layered slimeball.

The story is well-crafted also, with conflicts and tension arising from high stakes personal issues as well as global issues. Favreau keeps the pace moving along at an engaging clip, leaving time for characters to have moments that help them grow, but leaving no lag whatsoever.

As a sequel, Iron Man 2 is one of the few, such as Empire Strikes Back, that takes the original story and satisfyingly adds to it, despite not having quite the level of fresh wonder of the first. This film bursts with charm, humanity, humor, and action. It’s hard to enjoy Mickey Rourke, but he is quite convincing as a vengeful thug– although his ability as an inventor strains credulity.

If you liked the first Iron Man, you’ll like this one.

Content warnings: some salty language, plenty of explosive violence, a little blood, some suggestiveness.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5           Overall: 4.5

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We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo is deeply felt, engaging, well acted, and that’s about it. It’s really good pizza without the crust. In other words, there’s not a lot of substance there, possibly because it tries to be and do so much.

How about a preview:

The deets:

Released December 23, 2011

Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe (Based on the book by Benjamin Mee)

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins, Carla Gallo, and lots of animals

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

We Bought a Zoo is about how Benjamin Mee (Damon) and his children, Dylan (Ford) and Rosie (Jones), lose their wife/mother and can’t seem to move on, so they go looking for a way to start over and end up buying a zoo/animal park. Rosie’s dreams essentially come true early in the movie, since she gets to live in a zoo, so she spends the rest of the film adding some nice heart and kid-honesty to the experience.

Dylan is very resistant to the change and to pretty much any interaction with people. He is an artist who has taken to drawing very bleak, grim images as he tries to cope with the loss of his mother. He has also become distant and easily angered. He’s also a teenager, so.. there’s that.

These three become the new owners of Rosemoor Animal Park, with all the animals and what is left of the staff. The staff is headed by Kelly (Johansson) and is composed of the types of characters who would very likely work at a run-down zoo– they do it out of love of the animals. One of the staff is Lilly (Fanning), Kelly’s niece who is homeschooled. Interestingly, she plays an older character in We Bought a Zoo than she did in Super 8, but the character is emotionally much younger and she hits it out of the park.

What ensues are the plot twists that you would expect. Money is an issue. Will they pass the inspection and open on time? Will Benjamin give up? Will people show up on opening day? Will Benjamin and Kelly fall in love? Will Dylan and Lilly fall for each other? Will Dylan and Benjamin be able to repair their relationship?

It’s a Disney family film that is rated PG. What do you think the answers are?

Critique

The thing about We Bought a Zoo is that it’s  a feel-good movie for all the right reasons. It’s got a family dealing with issues of emotional distance, loss, and grief. It’s got a spunky and cute little girl who represents the heart of the film. It’s got a fine actor in the lead role, a fine actress in the role of the possible love interest, real teenagers acting like real teenagers, and it’s also got animals and an underdog story.

How could it go wrong?

It doesn’t really. We Bought a Zoo is an entertaining film. It’s diverting and very enjoyable to watch. There’s genuine humor, often delivered with excellent timing and tone by Thomas Haden Church, and some real moments of human emotional gold.

Number one, you have some very good actors doing a very good job. Matt Damon, the professional underplayer of emotion, actually gets demonstrative in this movie, and the film really needed that from him. Scarlett Johansson plays the awkward-and-aware-of-it role of Kelly with heart and pretty good nuance. Colin Ford and Elle Fanning are the standouts, though, along with great comedic timing from Thomas Haden Church. Ford is excellent as the heartbroken, wrecked teen and Fanning nails the sweet, incredibly kind, very awkwardly forward homeschooled near-teen role of Lilly.

Number two, the relationship between Benjamin and Dylan, and this relationship’s evolution, unfolds very authentically, with excellent dialogue. This relationship, all things considered, is the emotional heart of the film.

Number three, the animals and their care are well dealt with. The realities of the undertaking of owning and running a zoo are nicely revealed.

The issue, really, is that there’s not a lot to We Bought a Zoo and we’ve seen things like it before. Mainly, we watch a very simple story line unfold, see conflicts arise, and find that those conflicts get solved without too much effort or struggle or challenge. That’s the main problem: the film throws conflict at the characters, but the characters only rarely have to dig deep to overcome the conflicts. So there’s not as much emotional punch as you would expect.

Why don’t the conflicts press the people too hard? Because there’s no time. There’s too much other story to tell, and the movie already goes on for over 2 hours. Two very pleasant hours, to be sure, but you have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. Honestly, Cameron Crowe might be getting a little verbose as he gets older. Almost Famous felt like concentrated rock angst and awkwardness. We Bought a Zoo felt like a long, enjoyable drink of pretty good lemonade.

Hey, at least the thirst for a feel-good movie was quenched.

Content warnings: Some teen-to-parent disrespect, some grim pictures drawn by Dylan, a surprising amount of mid-level swearing for a PG film. 

Writing: 3.5 (take out a plot line)          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

Don’t believe me? Whatever, man. Check out the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see!

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