Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on Lionel Wigram’s comic books, “Sherlock Holmes,” directed by Guy Ritchie, was an underwhelming experience because it was very confusing at its worst and only somewhat exciting at its best. Unlike most people, I didn’t mind the “upgrade” from the traditional Sherlock Holmes. Holmes in this film was a sleuth who was extremely observant, logical and knew martial arts. In fact, I welcomed such a change because I like watching different interpretations of characters embedded in our pop culture. In “Sherlock Holmes,” the popular detective (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) investigated the strange murders Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) promised would happen right before his death. Was something supernatural going on or was there a logical explanation to all of it? To make things more complicated, Holmes’ former love interest (Rachel McAdams) came into the picture with tricks up her sleeve and loyalties that were even harder to read. I didn’t like the fact that all the explanations were given to the audiences toward the end of the film. It would have been so much more engaging and less confusing if Holmes shared what he was thinking from time to time instead of just trying to be funny or getting under Watson’s nerves. After all, despite the modern interpretation, his core character should have been a detective first and perhaps a comedian second (or fifth). While Downey Jr. and Law did have good chemistry, it wasn’t enough for the movie to feel concrete as we headed toward the climax. I also didn’t feel like they had a really strong bond–like they complemented each other. The picture was too busy shaping the action sequences (which I found entertaining) that it neglected (or didn’t care about) character development. However, in a way, I kind of expected it because Ritchie’s films are usually heavy on style and light on substance (“RocknRolla,” “Snatch”). Still, I hoped that he would strive for something more as a filmmaker instead of resting on what he already knew. The picture also could have used another dimension by standing on the line between logic and magic throughout most of the film. When the answer is too obvious, it’s difficult to feel engaged. “Sherlock Holmes” isn’t a bad movie but it is a generic one. That’s my main problem with it. If you’re going to take a really popular character and change it drastically, you’re going to have to be willing to push the envelope all the way instead of just halfway through. Perhaps the sequel will do a better job with taking risks because the cast and crew will be more comfortable in their respective roles. (Or at least they should be because this installment was a success in the box office.) It needs to stop trying to be so amusing and focus on the detective work at hand without confusing and alienating their viewers.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the first in line to get his own spin-off from the highly popular “X-Men” franchise. Though I must admit that it could have been a lot stronger, I was entertained for more than half of the time so I’m ultimately giving it a recommendation. I thought the way that the film started off was solid: a sickly little boy named Logan (who will eventually be named Wolverine) stumbles upon a shocking revelation regarding his bloodline. From then on, the opening credits feature Logan and his brother Victor Creed (who will eventually be named Sabretooth played with intimidating ferociousness by Liev Schreiber) fighting side-by-side in several wars. The two soon team up with William Stryker (Danny Huston) in a government task force consisting of people with strange abilities (Will i Am as John Wraith, Kevin Durand as The Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Daniel Henney as Agent Zero and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool). A few years later after Wolverine leaves the special team, members of that team start getting murdered. With a little bit of (albeit morbid) motivation inflicted by Sabretooth, Wolverine goes on a journey of great measures to find the people responsible for taking away things that are important to him. While the action scenes are entertaining, I think the dialogue could have used several alterations. Some of it are so cliché, a friend who I was sitting next to started to voice out what a particular would say in a situation. With movies that are based on comic books, there’s a way to wink at the audience without resulting to painful clichés. Another negative that I have about the film is its significantly slowed down middle portion. Yes, characters such as Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) are fun to watch, but some could argue (such as another friend of mine who I saw the movie with) that they were truly unnecessary to the story. I did not read the comics so I don’t know how closely the movie followed it but I feel like if the film were to intergrate major characters such as Cyclops and Gambit, they should feel more important. One of my favorite characters in the “X-Men” universe is Gambit but, when I really think about it, I feel like he could’ve been used more in this picture. Still, I take consolation in the fact that Gambit is finally featured–a step above from his unfortunate absence from the other “X-Men” movies. Those are only somewhat minor complaints and I really enjoyed the picture when I look at it as a whole. For me, die-hard fans can either love it or hate it but casual fans should be pleased because it does have some eye-popping fighting scenes and visual effects, something one would typically expect from blockbuster films. I can only hope that the next spin-off will have stronger writing and pose deeper philosophical questions regarding special abilities and society, while at the same time still having that intense energy that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” possesses.