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This week:
Iron Man 2

Filthy says:
"I've had the runs with better stories."

I'm not sure what the point of Iron Man 2 is in the same way I don't understand teenagers. Both make a shitload of noise without having much to say. Both are very proud of how loudly and insistently they can say nothing. The makers of Iron Man 2 don't seem to have a point either, other than giving a safe have for Gwyneth Paltrow to demonstrate how fucking dull she is.

In the original Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. played a self-absorbed asshole military-supply-company owner who builds himself a steel supersuit so he can fly around and blow shit up. In Iron Man 2, Downey, Jr. is still a self-absorbed asshole, but now he has perfected his suit, and continues to fly around and blow shit up. There are a ton of subplots, none of which are rewarding or well integrated. I bet the grassfuckers put so many of them in there because they knew none of them added up to a cube of frozen piss. It's sort of like when you're a kid trading baseball cards with a jerk: he thinks volume makes up for quality when all can offer are shitty, worthless cards. With this movie, director Jon Favreau is saying, "I'll give you a hundred Ozzie Cansecos for your Tony Gwynn rookie."

The central plot of Iron Man 2 is about, as all superhero sequels are, a jealous arch-nemesis. In this case, it's Mickey Rourke, doing a fine job of reminding us why Hollywood had left him for dead. Rourke gives a rough approximation of a taciturn Russian physicist, covered in tattoos, far more beefy and greasy than the average egghead. His vaguely described motivation is something about his dead father believing Downey Jr.'s father stole his invention. That's a pretty fucking weird motivation. If I had to avenge every perceived slight of my father I'd have already cut the nuts off a dozen boys who threw newspapers into the bushes, scalped five or six postmen who delivered the mail late in the day and at beat at least one grocery clerk with a tire iron because he bagged the bananas roughly.

Iron Man 2 spends moment trying to explain what really happened between the two men's fathers but never presents it reliably or definitively, so it isn't resolved. The upshot, though, is that a bitter Rourke builds his own supersuit, this time with whips made of high voltage that he uses to slash cars and people in half. He first tries to kill Downey, Jr. at a Monaco Grand Prix but fails. That only makes him madder, of course, and his Russian accent increasingly inscrutable. I fucking hate movies where every line out of a character's mouth is so heavily fake-accented that some other character has to repeat it for the sake of the audience. It feels stagey and a waste of screen time.

Beyond Rourke's Russian, Scarlett Johannson has a role as a personal assistant who is really a super-secret, ass-kicking spy. In Iron Man 2, this role amounts to almost nothing, and that pisses me off. Of all the actresses to waste, why Johannson? Fuck, she's both hot and talented. You should use at least one of those attributes. Her ass-kicking ability is pretty fucking improbable and sadly underutilized. Meanwhile, Paltrow, the human scarecrow with the brittle straw hair, gets a crapload of screentime yelping variations of "Caw! Caw!" Downey, Jr. is secretly dying and hands his company's control over to her. She goes from executive assistant to CEO, and I think we're supposed to perceive her as tough and sharp. Really, though, she's just grim, brisk ad as dull as Seen-on-TV steak knives.

Downey, Jr.'s Iron Man suit is slowly killing him. I have read stories about this in the newspaper before. Recently, a man in Arizona died of auto-asphyxiation while wearing nothing but a Power Ranger mask and some Bakugan Underoos. Iron Man 2 romanticizes its superhero-related death a bit more than that, something about the power core Downey, Jr. uses poisoning his blood, and if he can't find a suitable replacement he will die.

His dying means Iron Man 2 can add a subplot about finding a suitable power replacement to the growing list. And it's another subplot that is easily resolved, but takes up time and is boring. It also means the movie expects us to give a shit about whether a fabulously wealthy, narcissistic asshole who fancies himself the Oscar Wilde of heteros lives or dies. I sure as fuck didn't.

There are other subplots to lard up Iron Man 2. One is about Sam Rockwell--the poor man's Greg Kinnear--as an even smugger industrial military competitor who wants to steal the supersuit, or build his own. The movie can't exactly decide so it chooses both. Rockwell hires Rourke to build a suit for him at the same time he gets his hands on a real one and gums it up with all sorts of weaponry. Late in the action, the movie makes a powerfully feeble attempt to reconcile these two tracks. Don Cheadle replaces Terence Howardas the series' token black person. Only, where Howard seemed relatively independent and smart in the original, they have written Cheadle as rubbery and compliant as tub caulk. He's supposed to be smart but makes decisions the audience can see as idiotic from a mile away. He does them without moral pang and even less contemplation.

Toward the end of the movie, Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance and I kept hoping he'd yell "Where's. My. Supersuit!" He doesn't. Instead, he introduces another subplot late in the game that adds no value other than to set up another sequel and a shitload of other Marvel comics spinoffs. Fuck, McDonald's commercials for Happy Meals are more subtle in what they're pimping.

Iron Man 2 is a grueling two-hour-plus movie with big action up front and a half-hour climax that is perfunctory and predictable. The middle, though, is where it sucks most, and sucks hardest. Almost nothing happens for that hour except a lot of people looking concerned or arguing. Very little action, very little humor. Just a death march to the big showdown. This is where most of the subplots play out, but nobody tells us why they are necessary or how they make the last half hour any good.

Because the last half hour isn't. Downey, Jr. and Rourke finally fight. A lot of shit blows up. Lots of robots get chopped up, and much more easily than we are led to expect. It's louder than a death metal show. It has more fireworks than Fourth of July at a self-loathing Texan's. It also offers nothing new or exciting. Actually, when you get right down to the Rourke-Downey, Jr. fight, it's pretty lame. Rourke's high-voltage whips get short shrift. There is very little hand-to-hand battle. And, we keep getting drawn away to let Favreau make a weak stab at wrapping up all the other squishy subplots.

Iron Man 2 looks expensive as fuck. And I mean fuck with a billion-dollar prostitute. It's just too bad they went ahead and spent all that money without any idea of what to do with it. Two Fingers.

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The fictitious Jeff Craig of Sixty Second Preview

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Filthy's Reading
Philip Roth - The Anatomy Lesson

Listening to
CSS - Donkey

The Cat Returns