of steel: Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2.
by Jon Favreau
Man 2 starts with the engaging premise that its protagonist,
former arms dealer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) turned
superhero title character, is giddily enjoying his notoriety,
admitting to an avid press that, yes, he sure is Iron Man!
Then he’s brought up short by the realization that the mechanical
devices that have allowed him to survive are filling his body
with poison, ultimately threatening his very existence. What’s
a guy to do but engage in a series of drunken escapades, each
one ratcheting up the tension between Stark and his erstwhile
gal Friday, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The appearance
of a new staffer, the darkly mysterious Natalie (Scarlett
Johansson), further ruffles Pepper’s feathers, while Tony
simmers over everytime he asks her where’s she from (“legal,”
a superhero sequel can’t rest solely on the idea of a man’s
fate, so cue the villain, here a Russian Tony, minus the savoir
faire and snazzy accessories, named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).
Seems that Vanko’s dad had defected to the United States and
worked with Tony’s dad, before the partnership went bad. Ivan
dutifully sets out to destroy Iron Man.
what’s best about Iron Man 2 is the breezy interplay
between its human characters. Downey could probably make Charlie
McCarthy spring to Cole Porter perfection, he’s so mesmerizing.
His back-and-forth with Army pal Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is the
stuff of great buddy movies, and his obvious interest in the
sphinxlike Natalie carries with it a lot of erotic portent.
Director Jon Favreau appears again as Stark’s chauffeur, which
allows for a sidesplitting scene in which he attempts to help
Natalie, aka Black Widow, thwart some bad guys. Samuel L.
Jackson has a small yet engaging role as Nick Fury, head of
the espionage agency SHIELD, and Sam Rockwell nearly steals
the show as an obnoxious arms dealer hell bent on besting
Tony in the ultimate corporate pissing match. Somehow, Paltrow’s
Potts fails to engage, as she did so winningly in the first
installment. Here her constant verbal fits and starts, meant
to be the underpinnings of a sort of screwball romance with
Stark, seem defensive and whiny. She spends a great deal of
the movie stalking off on 4 inch heels, her ponytail twitching
rhythmically in time with her hips and her lower lip quivering
under a ridiculously curled bang.
scenes, always the draw in such movies, are decidedly lacking
in oomph and pizzazz, being as they are momentary engagements
between the big-screen equivalents of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
About the best the movie can do is have Tony and Rhodes high-fiving
each other to create a human shish kabob of one nemesis—really,
it’s not that exciting. Rourke’s Vanko seems dirty and dangerous,
and you get the feeling the actor had a great time sounding
like Boris in the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Indeed, the way
Vanko talks is far scarier and threatening than any
of the special-effects moments. While the filmmakers try to
add some extra drama courtesy of Stark’s fear of dying, much
of this falls flat. Do we really want to see Iron Man disco
and then fall, dead drunk, on the dance floor, or illogically
alienate Rhodey in the process? Worse, do we really want to
learn that Tony has daddy issues that can only be resolved
by finding proof that the elder Stark really, really liked
him? Iron Man 2 is fun enough, but it’s a pale imitation
of its precursor.
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
by Niels Arden Oplev
cold-case crime drama, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
is one hell of a slow burner. This Swedish adaptation of the
international best sellers by the late Swedish journalist
Stieg Larsson (it covers the first half of his Millennium
trilogy) starts out intriguingly low-key and then builds in
complexity as it encompasses financial, sexual, religious,
and, finally, psychopathic wrongdoing. Though much of Dragon
Tattoo follows standard noir plotting, the film’s psychology
and characterization are as far from Hollywood clichés as
the forbiddingly beautiful Swedish countryside in which it’s
Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a business reporter for a left-leaning
magazine called Millennium. He’s sued by a powerful
financier, and is convicted of libel. Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil
Taube), the patriarch of a prominent financial group, still
obsesses over his niece’s disappearance 40 years ago. Lisabeth
Salander (Noomi Rapace) is a black-clad, biker-chick parolee
who works as a “researcher” (translation: hacker) for a respected
law firm. These three are brought together by strands of backstory
that unravel amid the fascist undercurrents in Scandinavian
society. Some of the older Vangers are former Nazis, and Lisabeth
is brutally raped by her court-appointed guardian, one of
several scenes of explicit—and wincingly realistic—violence.
hacking Mikael’s laptop, Lisabeth discovers bias in the libel
case. Later, after Mikael is hired by Henrik to investigate
his extended family, she anonymously assists him. Henrik suspects
that his beloved niece was victimized by a relative, and since
Mikael has nothing to lose—he’s bound for jail—he’s uniquely
qualified to devote himself to the case. But what makes the
film especially involving are the personalities. Mikael has
a rakish charm that he’s not entirely unaware of, but he’s
also surprisingly tender for someone in a cutthroat profession.
Stern and stoical Lisabeth—who toughens her sexiness to no
avail—is obviously troubled, but her cool professionalism
and sense of justice are admirable. Played with smoldering
intensity by Rapace (who won a Swedish Oscar for her performance),
Lisabeth is a memorable interpretation of the femme fatale
with a horrific past, and her uneasy teamwork with Mikael
gives the script’s casually expository style (a faithful and
effective reflection of Larsson’s writing style) more suspense
than a hard drive’s worth of red herrings. In the Vanger empire,
motivations are not what they seem.
adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in
the works, but don’t wait for David Fincher’s commercialized
version. See this chilling potboiler in all its original Swedishness
and unhurried suspensefulness.