Iron Man 2 (fight 4 of 4)

In which Iron Man teams up with his greatest ally.

Er, no.

4) Iron Man and War Machine vs Whiplash and Hammer drones

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our hero. Doing a lot better than before, since he’s not dying. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: The Mark VI Iron Man armor. It’s powered by a new element Tony invented (building off his father’s unfinished work), and in addition to powering his suit better it also overcomes the issue of the old arc reactor slowly giving Tony palladium poisoning even as it kept shrapnel out of his heart. (Iron Man 3 would later skunk this entire plot development with the casual revelation in the epilogue that Tony could have just had surgery to remove the shrapnel in the first place. Which… huh?) Along with the triangular chest plate that Joss Whedon hated, the Mark VI boasts a few modifications, though it’s not clear which are new.
  • War Machine, aka James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Stark’s reconciled pal and Air Force big shot. Played by Don “The Dragon” Cheadle.
    • Armed with: The same Mark II suit as before, but kitted out with tons of extra armaments courtesy of the DOD and Justin Hammer. Plus a new paint job, trading in the too-shiny silver for ominous grey.
  • Hammer drones, a couple dozen of them. Built by Vanko for Justin Hammer. There’s some slight variation amongst them depending on what function (land, sea, air) they’re built for, but they’re largely the same: arc reactor-powered, remote-controlled robots based loosely off the Iron Man designs. Outfitted mostly with automatic and missile weapons, and able to fly. They also go down very easy, whether it’s to a repulsor blast, a strong punch from the Mark VI, or a barrage of regular bullets; it’s strange because these are supposed to basically be Iron Man replacements, so they ought to be more durable. Perhaps Vanko deliberately built them to be inferior, or maybe they’re just prototypes.
  • Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko. Stark’s new nemesis, who escaped prison and built up some new toys thanks to Hammer. Played by Mickey Rourke.
    • Armed with: A much more sophisticated version of his last getup. The improved Whiplash armor covers Vanko’s entire body much like the Iron Man suit. It’s also huge, though not quite the size of the Iron Monger. It contains a couple neat tricks like retractable plates in the feet which are good for locking down an opponent, but its main offensive capability is the two extra long energy whips housed in its forearms. There are cycling mechanisms visible in the back which make the whips extendable and constantly charged with electricity. It’s an intimidating design, but oddly lacking the iconic look of the previous incarnation, with all its fearless & bare-chested simplicity.

But, you know, this works too.

The Setup: Vanko has baited Tony into a trap at the Stark Expo in New York. After Iron Man arrives there and greets War Machine (who’d been demonstrating his new look on stage along with the drones), Vanko takes remote control of all the drones, as well as War Machine, and sends them all against Iron Man.

This launches an amazing chase sequence where Tony draws his pursuers away from the Expo and out into the streets & skies of Queens, evading fire and even managing to take out several of them. Eventually Iron Man is able to isolate himself and War Machine inside a large garden dome. Tony contains its attacks without hurting the helpless pilot inside until, in the aftermath of glorious Fight #3, Black Widow gets into Hammer’s computer systems and restores control of War Machine back to Rhodey.

The two’s reconciliation quickly devolves into macho one-upsmanship as they squabble over whose suit is the best; it’s highly amusing to watch such a silly argument play out with both characters wearing super high-tech armor. They spend so much time bitching that they don’t quite get into tactical position before the drones land and, one by one, surround the pair.

“We have them RIGHT where we want them!”

“We’re surrounded.”
“Good, that means we have them RIGHT where we want them!”

Without saying a word, the two close their face plates and go to work.

The Fight: At first, there’s actually no music– Favreau lets the endless cacophony of battle provide all the noise he needs. And what a cacophony it is: staccato bursts of automatic fire from the drones and War Machine, occasionally punctuated by repulsor blasts from Iron Man.

So much is happening at once you barely know where to look at any given time. The camera pans around smoothly to show the carnage as the two heroes unload at and dodge fire from the iron platoon surrounding them. Rhodey fires from both wrist gauntets and his shoulder cannon simultaneously, while Stark mixes in repulsor rays with punches for those that get too close.

Picture1

After the initial shot just showcasing all-purpose chaos, Favreau goes on to highlight a couple moments of particular badassery. War Machine grabs a drone that had gotten close and delivers a point-blank spray of machine gun fire that cuts it in half down the middle. Iron Man reprises a hit move from the first movie when he leans back casually to dodge an incoming missile (in a subtle detail, we hear a beeping sound from his HUD to indicate the computer has detected a lock), then returns fire in the form of small missiles from a hidden compartment on his wrist, which take down three drones at once; it’s so neat Tony even happily calls it out, and his friend compliments it.

It’s about 45 seconds of perfectly exhilarating CGI chaos– intense, glorious, undiluted. And it doesn’t outstay its welcome, either: when Stark realizes that there’s just too many bad guys to deal with, he orders his friend to duck and then activates two extremely powerful laser beams, which cut down all remaining drones as he pivots in a circle.

Picture2

Tony responds to Rhodey’s quite reasonable suggestion that he should lead with such an attack next time by pointing out that the beams are a one-time thing; they burn for a few seconds and then they’re done. Which is too bad, because what they initially think is just the last drone coming in is actually Vanko himself, big as life and twice as ugly.

After some talk, Rhodes launches what he assumes will be his secret weapon, the “Ex-Wife,” but it fails terribly, bouncing harmlessly off Whiplash’s armor and falling to the ground with a pathetic little fart noise. It doesn’t really make sense (would Vanko really know it wouldn’t work? Shouldn’t Rhodey have gotten farther away if HE thought it was going to work? etc) but it’s a fun excuse for just one more joke at Hammer’s expense.

Tony fires his own opening salvo– in another callback to the first film, it’s all those little smart dart-rockets he used against the terrorist hostage-takers in his Mark III debut) at Vanko’s exposed face, but his helmet comes back instantly and deflects them. Now it’s Ivan’s turn.

Picture3

From then on, it’s really mostly Ivan’s fight. The new Whiplash armor provides a seemingly perfect mix of durability, speed, and offensive capability. War Machine’s more conventional weapons can’t put too much of a dent in Vanko before he’s able to evade or fight back, and Iron Man’s quick maneuvers are canceled out by the long reach of those unpredictable whips. In what turns out to be a fairly brief struggle, both heroes are repeatedly knocked around, seized by the whips and slammed to the ground. Poor Rhodey even gets his shoulder cannon cut right off.

Stark gives Vanko the best run for his money when he comes in hard with a flying punch as Vanko is distracted by beating up on Rhodes, but a few blows later Ivan comes back even harder with a headbutt. Soon, Whiplash lassos a hero in each whip, holding them on opposite sides of him. It seems pretty bad at first, but at Tony’s suggestion, the two re-visit the idea of “crossing the streams”– having their two repulsor blasts meet in mid-air and creating an enormous energy feedback, this time with Whiplash in the middle.

Whaddya know, it works.

Whaddya know, it works.

The irony is, at that point the heroes didn’t necessarily have to resort to such a crazy tactic, because the very nature of Ivan’s double-hold meant that he left himself wide open to any attack. They were free to shoot at him in more direct ways as well.

After the smoke clears, a dying Vanko reprises his words from the race track, telling Stark “you lose.” Pulling a Metroid, Vanko starts the timer on bombs built into his suit as well as those of all the fallen drones, hoping for a Pyrrhic victory. Unfortunately for the villain, it would have been, in the words of comedian Doug Benson, more accurate for him to say “you lose… unless you happen to be wearing a suit of armor that flies really fast,” because the bombs have a long enough fuse for Stark & Rhodes to not just fly out of the blast zone but also for one of them to swing by and get Pepper to safety. Whoops.

For all Iron Man 2’s faults, where it really improves on the original is in its climax. The first film ended on a sort of limp note as it had the hero hobbled from the beginning and only barely limping to the finish line. The sequel, on the other hand, is a three-part roller coaster ride that starts with an extended chase scene, segues quickly into the chaotic destruction of the drones, and ends with not one but two fully-powered heroes up against a seemingly implacable boss.

The final fight is, unfortunately, a little too one-sided, but this is balanced out somewhat by just how one-sided (in the other direction) the showdown with the drones was. Also, while “believability” is a relative term when it comes to things like this, Whiplash’s dominance comes not from objective superiority but from a mix of quick-thinking tactics, technology, and surprise– exactly the kind of thing that would let you prevail in such an encounter. Just as in a real-life fight, you don’t win by gradually wearing down the other guy’s “hit points” or some such, it’s all a matter of acting decisively and applying just the right amount of pressure at the right place & time.

Well done.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Stop.

Hammer Time.

Advertisements

Iron Man 2 (fight 3 of 4)

Redheads. Am I right, fellas?

Yes, unfortunately.

Yes, unfortunately.

3) Black Widow Cuts Loose

The Fighters:

  • Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff. A former Russian spy & assassin who’s become one of SHIELD’s greatest assets. Supremely skilled at infiltration, interrogation and various forms of combat, Natasha is the ideal agent. The comics have all sorts of wild stuff about how she got her abilities but so far the movies have wisely avoided that. But one element is that she’s a former ballet dancer, which definitely shows up in her gracefulness here. The Widow has gone undercover in Tony’s organization as “Natalie Rushman” in order to… it’s not really clear. Monitor him for SHIELD and help out just in case any supervillains show up, I think? Anyway, it’s fortunate she’s around for this. Played with understated gusto by Scarlett Johansson.
    • Armed with: Like, half a James Bond movie’s worth of little toys and weapons, all secreted in her various belt and wrist pouches. A pity the Avengers movie eschewed most of these in favor of simple if effective guns.
  • Security guards, about six or seven of them, working at the offices of Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s corporate rival. Played by stunt men.
  • Also present is Happy Hogan, Tony’s loyal bodyguard, but he’s sort of a humorous non-factor here. Played by director Jon Favreau, who’s so money, baby.

The Setup: Hammer has secretly been conspiring with Ivan Vanko, our friend from Fight #1, to utilize arc reactor technology to make his own set of weaponized Iron Man-style drones. When said drones, along with a manually overriden War Machine, run amok at the Stark Expo, Romanoff and Hogan drive off to the Hammer building to investigate. On the way over, Natasha changes in the backseat into her special ass-kicking outfit.

When they arrive, Happy insists on coming in to “help.” Tee hee.

The Fight: It is so cool, you guys.

The first guard accosts them and Hogan immediately engages him in a fistfight. Black Widow just keeps right on moving, and when a second guard approaches, she nonchalantly slides right past him and, still moving, turns around and tosses two little discs towards the guard which paralyze him with a slight electrical charge.

Picture2Picture3

This pretty much sets the tone for the entire sequence. Johansson’s Romanoff is graceful, smoothly unpredictable, and frighteningly competent. She’s not always moving forward but she definitely never stops moving— she slides, jumps, runs, dodges, ducks, dips, dives, and all the rest with purposeful swagger. Every move and decision just flows seamlessly into the next. It’s glorious to watch.

The other little technological tricks Natasha employs are two small gas pellets she throws around the corner to stun another pair of guns so she can lay them out, and later she hooks one guard’s neck with an extendable cord (not a wire, those are for killing) to hold him in place while she takes down his buddy.

Picture4Picture5

But occasion permitting she often goes the physical-0nly route, as well. She rides a push-cart and jumps off it to double-kick one guard in the chest. She slides (again!) in-between another foe’s legs and attacks them as she does so, then jumps off his double-over body to land on the shoulders of another.

Picture6Picture7

The best is the penultimate takedown, when she tackles a guard and does this crazy thing where she spins all over his body while he’s still standing, raining blows on him the whole time. Then as she strides calmly away she uses his chemical spray to do a no-look neutralization of the last straggler just as he tries to sneak up on her.

Picture8

This is all over in a minute or so, and the action keeps cutting back to the progress of Happy’s brawl with the very first guy. It takes some doing, but Hogan finally knocks him out with a strong uppercut, and jubilantly looks up with “I got him!” only to find this:

Picture9

Between the red hair and this, are we sure she’s actually Russian and not Irish?

It’s a gag that works all the more effectively because the movie treats Happy’s artless tumble with just one guy with the same gravitas as it does a super ninja-spy methodically destroying half a platoon; whenever the camera cut back to Hogan, there weren’t any overtly comedic signifiers like a change in music or something. You get caught up in all of it equally and, like Happy, don’t realize how much she accomplished while he was toiling away. Very clever.

This scene does cheat a little. On close examination (ever the bane of the summer blockbuster), a good number of Widow’s attacks really should not have incapacitated her targets. There are times we merely see her punch someone’s leg, shoulder or what-have-you, and then boom, the guy’s down for the count. Doesn’t matter how hard she’s hitting, unless she’s packing knockout darts or doing some kind of crazy nerve strikes (neither of which is visually apparent or brought up in the dialogue at some point in the film), they simply shouldn’t be getting knocked out.

However, no amount of rewinding and freeze-framing can get around the fact that this is ridiculously fun. Again, it’s brief, but the scene just glides with the same effortless charm as the Widow herself does, possessed of a too-cool-for-school cockiness that’s just on the right side of the endearing/pandering balance. In a movie that’s about high-tech armored superheroes blasting and whipping each other, a quick sequence starring a 5’3 jumpsuited girl in a running around in a hallway comes perilously close to being the best fight of the bunch.

The scene’s not perfect but it’s breezily, joyfully confident, and just like all those sleazy pick-up artists book tell you: confidence goes a long way.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Take down Iron Man?? Ha, you and what Army?

… oh.

Iron Man 2 (fight 2 of 4)

Time for the real Real Steel.

Picture1

Iron Bros

2) Iron Man vs War Machine

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark. You know the drill. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: the Iron Man Mark IV armor– he’s made some unknown improvements to the Mark III he finished the last film in.
  • War Machine, aka Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes, the U.S. military’s liaison to Stark Industries and Tony’s BFF. Rhodey has an inner playfulness that helps him bond with Stark, but most of the time he’s very much the no-nonsense type and has to play frustrated straight man to his friend’s antics. Note that while Tony uses the term “war machine” in this scene, it’s an offhand remark and he’s never formally called that in the movie, though by Iron Man 3 it’s acknowledged he did officially go by his comic book alias for a while before switching to (sigh) Iron Patriot. Played by Don Cheadle, who is not Terence Howard.
    • Armed with: One of Tony’s Mark II prototype suits, unpainted and plain, but still quite formidable. It’s unstated in the film but between the fact that the suit has an external power source and also how well Rhodes handles himself in it, Stark has clearly built this suit FOR his friend to use and has already let him practice in it.

The Setup: At the peak of his dying-induced nihilism, Stark is holding a birthday bash at his house, and is entertaining a legion of phony “friends” by hosting in his Iron Man armor and engaging in reckless entertainment. (If anything, this element is probably the biggest contributor to Iron Man 2 leaving a sour taste in many fans’ mouths: narratively necessary and ultimately redeemed such antics might be, it’s just not that fun to see Tony Stark act like a self-destructive dick for such a chunk of the movie.)

Rhodes heads out to not only stop this behavior, but as a last-ditch effort to get Tony to comply with the US government’s demand to turn over his Iron Man technology. Unfortunately Rhodey’s pleas fall on deaf ears, so he has to go downstairs and hop into something that’ll help him be heard.

Picture2

“I’m the party pooper.”

Ordering everyone out (you only have to ask once with a giant suit of advanced armor), Rhodes tells Stark he doesn’t deserve to have such amazing technology. Remarkably, the DJ has stuck around, and Tony orders him to play some music for them to fight to. The DJ picks “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen, so it’s good to know Tony got his money’s worth when he hired the guy.

The Fight: They grapple a bit and Tony rockets the pair through a wall. They land in Tony’s personal gym which, fittingly enough, has its own boxing ring. Iron Man tries to dismissively walk away, but Rhodey starts throwing weight plates at him. Stark retaliates by grabbing a barbell, shaking the bottom weights off, and whacking Rhodey with it like a baseball bat, sending him right through the arena.

Rhodes seizes another pole (hard to see, probably one of the boxing ring’s corners) and knocks his friend through the ceiling, which takes the fight into a foyer where most of the guests had fled (are they waiting for their valets or something?). Here the two exchange in some extended fisticuffs.

Picture3

“Jarvis, execute file RockemSockem.exe”

It’s amusing to watch them go back & forth, punching and throwing. Each blow lands with a distinctive clang that is both exciting and funny. Eventually Rhodey goes down pretty hard, leaving Tony to face a crowd of frightened onlookers. After a pause he leans in and angrily roars at them until they run away. It’s right about here that the music dies down, signaling that, like many parties hosted by an narcissistic drunk we’ve all been to, we’ve shifted from fun & games to self-hating anger. Hopped up on booze and adrenaline, Tony is disgusted with himself and everyone around him.

War Machine gets back up and brains his friend with the DJ’s turntable (that’s why the music stopped!), sending him into the fireplace. Rhodes just want to de-escalate the situation, but Tony points his repulsor-charged hand at Rhodey and goads him into doing the same. After a quick exchange of frantic dialogue, they blast at nearly the same time and the beams hit each other in the middle, creating a huge explosion which separates them and dazes Tony.

What did we say about crossing the streams?

What did we say about crossing the streams?

Rhodes flies off with the armor, leaving Stark to stew in self-pity and a wrecked house.

Like most of Favreau’s action sequences, this is short but packed with so much rapid-fire goodness, if not greatness (the movie’s still saving all of its best cards for later). It plays out exactly like such a thing should play out. Yes, that seems like an obvious thing to say/expect, but that really is so much more difficult to pull off than it sounds, when it comes to a mix of CGI and live-action depicting two Iron Men (one of whom is drunk) having a contained brawl inside a mansion, so hats off to the special effects guys, sound team, storyboarders, etc. Downey and Cheadle do great work as well, albeit mostly as voices and occasional disembodied faces, their dialogue a perfect mix of genuine frustration and macho taunts.

In addition to injecting a much-needed burst of action into the film, this fight serves its purpose well in kicking off the final plummet to Tony’s personal nadir. The fact that it’s quite a bit of snappy fun at first makes it go down easier, but when it turns harsh at the end, the movie doesn’t shy away from the genuine ugliness of what the hero’s going through. Favreau pulls off the neat trick of making you want to see Tony take a good beating here, but still feel bad for him when it’s all over.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Justin Hammer’s guards have 99 problems, and they are ALL this lady.

She’ll send you to ghost world

Iron Man 2 (fight 1 of 4)

Hey, remember that big superhero movie we covered, like, a year ago?

Let's have more of that.

Let’s have more of that.

Jon Favreau’s sequel to his 2008 smash hit gets a bit of a bad rap. Sure, it makes some questionable decisions– many apparently the result of a rushed schedule and studio meddling to “build the universe”– but it doesn’t deserve its fanboy scorn as the black sheep of Marvel’s Phase One films. It’s quite entertaining and even improves on some of its predeccsor’s shortcomings.

One of those improvements is action. While the novelty is indeed gone, there are places that Iron Man 2 delivers where Iron Man didn’t. Let’s see if we can’t whip up a few examples.

Get it, ‘cuz whips… okay, I’m sorry.

1) Iron Man vs Whiplash

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our returning hero. In the time since the first film he has “privatized peace” by effectively serving as a deterrent to tyrants, terrorists and other geopolitical bad actors. (This sounds unlikely.) Meanwhile, he’s been secretly dying of radiation poisoning from the miniature arc reactor that saved his life, and has been acting increasingly reckless as a result. Played by the one and only Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: Here, the Iron Man Mark V armor, a new variant of the suit which can be folded up into a briefcase– likely a reference to the comics equivalent which Tony often carried around, disassembled, in a briefcase. It’s also distinguished by silver coloring rather than gold, and a thinner, more stripped-down appearance. Presumably the armor sacrifices some features for its portability– we never see Tony fly in it, for instance– but that’s not explored.
  • Ivan Vanko, the film’s main villain and a twisted, Russian version of Tony. Vanko is an incredibly muscled, taciturn and brilliant scientist whose recently deceased father was a former colleague of Tony’s dad, and feels he was cheated out of his share of the Stark fortune. Working off stolen blueprints, Vanko builds his own arc reactor, and tracks Tony down for revenge. The character is a combination of the comic villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, though he isn’t called by either name in the movie. Played by Mickey Rourke, enjoying his career revival.
    • Armed with: Unlike Tony, Vanko didn’t have the resources to make a fully-functioning titanium suit, so his arc reactor merely supports a thin exoskeleton and powers two highly charged whips he holds in each hand. The whips have incredible destructive capability, able to slice through just about anything and even deflect Iron Man’s repulsor beams.
Jeff Gordon's worst enemy.

He’s Jeff Gordon’s worst enemy.

The Setup: Part of Tony’s thrill-seeking behavior has led him to participate in an F1 race in Monaco. (One would think driving a fast car would be a little underwhelming after you’ve worn a suit of advanced armor that not only goes faster but also FLIES and blows up bad guys, but okay.) It’s here that Vanko has decided to make his very public, and likely suicidal, attack on Stark.

The villain has infiltrated the proceedings dressed as a mechanic, but as Tony’s car comes around the corner where he’s chosen the confrontation to be, Vanko opts for the direct route, and marches right onto the track. In a neat little detail, as he activates the arc reactor, the machinery it powers heats up enough to burn through his jumpsuit.

Strangely, it doesn't seem to bother his skin.

Strangely, it doesn’t seem to bother his skin.

Vanko whips one approaching car in half, and does the same thing to Tony’s shortly after, causing a magnificent wreck that leaves him mostly unscathed. Still, he’s at a distinct disadvantage.

The Fight: Once he frees himself from the car, Stark has to rely on pretty much just his wits to survive against a superior opponent. He disappears from Vanko’s sight when he can, he lures Vanko into sparking an explosion in some loose gasoline, he flings some car wreckage at him, and he employs some surprising agility when those whips get too close.

Fortunately for him, Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan shows up and rams an SUV into Crazy Ivan, pinning him against a wall. Before Tony can get in to escape, Vanko comes to and attacks the vehicle, preventing the trio (Pepper’s along too, of course) from getting away. Fortunately for Happy and Pepper, Tony is able to find enough time to get the briefcase and don the Mark V armor, which unfolds automatically over his body and evens the odds.

Picture4

“Now I have an arc reactor-powered suit. Ho, ho, ho.”

The fight seems like it’s going to take a turn for the better here, but oddly, it doesn’t. Iron Man does kick the car to safety, but every blast he fires at Vanko, the villain parries with well-timed swings of his whips. Immediately after that, Ivan is able to wrap Tony up in his whips and fling him around a bit. The pulsing electricity from the weapon damages Stark’s armor somewhat, making him falter and his viewscreen flicker.

Down but not out, Iron Man decides to use the whips’ now-stationary (because they’re holding him down) position to his advantage, and seizes one by the hand.

Picture5

Pulling himself forward one step at a time, Stark gets to Ivan pretty quickly, and subdues him with a few punches. When he falls, the hero leans in and plucks the bootleg arc reactor right off his chest, neutralizing him for good.

Iron Man and the other good guys are all more or less okay, but Ivan gets the last laugh as police drag him off, telling Tony “you lose!” repeatedly. Because while the villain had indeed wanted to follow through with killing Stark here, he already accomplished his baseline goal: proving very publicly that Iron Man is not invincible, and the technology to make him can be replicated.

Not a bad opening bit of action, though it’s unfortunate the movie takes so long to get to it. Despite being over quickly it includes some variety: Tony in the car, Tony struggling outside of it without his armor, the comedically tense bits as Happy distracts Vanko, and then finally Tony’s frantic struggle even after he gets the suit on. Once Iron Man finally gets to lay a hand on his foe, it’s pretty much over, but then of course it would be: Vanko’s apparatus provides him no real defense. In a way this is what the confrontation between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus should have been like, logically.

Also, note that in contrast to the first film’s first big action sequence, Tony Stark experiences not an empowering moment as he frees himself from captivity, but an upsetting & humbling one as he gets knocked from his arrogant perch. Origin movies build the hero up, sequels gotta bring him down.

Grade: B-

Recommended Links: Mood music.

Coming Attractions: Think you’ve had some regrettable fights when you need to rein in your drunken buddy?

At least your drunk buddy wasn’t a superhero.