After leaving Iron Man 2, I think my friend Jim summed it up best when he said that you know you’re in trouble when the only scene in an Iron Man film (a movie filled, well, overwhelmed really, with big technical set pieces), the only one that really makes the audience sit up and take real notice, is a relatively small and contained fight scene in a hallway headed by Scarlet Johansson, a set up for her role in upcoming Nick Fury films. She changes her hair (into strands that look like whips, making her into a beautiful Medusa), puts on a body tight uniform and gets to quiet work taking out an army of men with more ease and style than even Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel did in The Avengers television show. No mean feat as fans of that series can tell you. It’s not that Iron Man 2 is without any pleasures. Robert Downey, Jr. is back and he’s still fun and his Nick and Nora Charles type banter with his assistant Gwyneth Paltrow still has some wit to it. But the biggest plus to this Marvel comic book brought to celluloid life is the villain, the snarling, sociopathic meany Ivan Vanko inhabited with tattooed viciousness by Mickey Rourke. Playing a Russian scientist who believes Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego) did his father a foul turn, Rourke marches down a race track in all his steroid glory throwing power driven whips that can slice metal in half with a flick of the wrist. Beyond this, though, there isn’t much to see. There is a rather frightening set piece where Stark’s arch nemesis Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) has stolen the Iron Man technology and has Iron Man like robots appear on stage to the theme songs of the four branches of the military, showing how easily fascism can worm its way inside the military industrial complex. But it’s also a movie where the robots start shooting up everything in sight and just never manage to hit a person (kind of makes you wonder why Hammer even bothered if they were such poor shots). The casting doesn’t always help. Though Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle (who took over for Terence Howard from the first movie in the role of Rhodey) are good actors, they never seem like they really belong. And the script is a bit clunky. Justin Theroux is the only one credited as screenwriter, but it feels a bit like it was written by committee. There’s a set piece where Cheadle dresses in an Iron Man suit and he and Downey, Jr., have it out at Stark’s palatial mansion for no apparent reason but to see a lot of things blow up and to set up a plot turn later on. The funniest moment probably has to be when Clark Gregg as Coulson (one of Nick Fury’s agents) tells Stark not to leave the premises or suffer dire consequences and they’ll be watching; Stark leaves the premises, comes back, and Coulson (who for some reason wasn’t watching), slaps him on the wrist like an ineffectual nun and says not to do it again (wow, when they mean dire, they mean dire). That’s probably how the studio is going to treat the next installment of the franchise.
I also went to Toy Story 3 with my friend Jim and Jim’s initial reaction was surprise at how dark it was. Yeah, it is, at least darker than the other two. I don’t know if that’s why I liked it the best of the three, but my friends probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear it (that there was only one Randy Neuman song certainly had to help). There does seem to be something here that is deeper, more richly emotional, and therefore, inevitably much darker than in the other two. Toy Story 3 begins when Andy, who when he was a child spoke as a child and played as a child, but now that he’s leaving for college, puts away childish things, planning to assign Buzz Lightyear, Jesse, the Potato Heads, etc. to the attic while taking Woody with him (after all, would you want to wake up every morning in college without your Woody with you). Through a series of misunderstandings, the toys end up at a daycare run like a prison from one of those chain gang movies in the 1960’s (I believe there is a specific reference to Cool Hand Luke). Not only must the toys escape their day care penitentiary, they must also escape the prison of disbelief—that Andy really wanted to get rid of them and never see them again. What would a Toy Story movie be without new toy characters and this one comes with a metrosexual Ken doll who likes to try on clothes, doesn’t understand why no one else does, and finds his perfect mate in Barbie. There’s also a psychotic teddy bear (hard to believe, huh?); a monstrous baby doll that becomes more sympathetically pathetic as the story continues; and perhaps most delightful of all, a Buzz Lightyear that gets stuck on Spanish mode and becomes a Latin lover straight out of a Ricardo Montalban film. The story itself (screenplay by Michael Little Miss Sunshine Arndt) is perhaps the most exciting of the three (one of the odd things is that nobody I know can even remember the plot of the second film) and it has one of these plots that paints everyone into an impossible corner, only to be saved, of course, at the last minute. Jim thought I probably saw the rescue coming since I’m a writer and usually do, but this time I had no idea, possibly because I was too caught up in the story to even think about it. My friends hate it when I deconstruct popular entertainment, but I can’t help it (you should hear my take on Air Force One). So one of the reasons I liked Toy Story 3 is because of what it had to say about how important toys are to a child’s development in the way that it encourages imagination and teaches them to create. I know. I have a bad habit of taking the fun out of fun, but still, it works for me.