Thursday, May 13, 2010

‘Iron Man 2’ and the mechanics of complete domination


It’s pretty obvious that “Iron Man 2” is unstoppable at the old box office. Let’s see why:

“How long can you stay fresh in that can?” Thank you, Bert Lahr.

Only one other film opened in the mainstream last week – “Babies.” OK? It’s a documentary about four cute little babies. This is called counterprogramming. Don’t want smart-ass dialogue, action, thrills and special effects out the wazoo? Then go to “Babies.”

“Babies” is also bomb-proof. C’mon, try coming out against a movie called, and about, babies. My womb aches just thinking about it.

Now, with a hot property such as the “Iron Man” franchise, it’s important not to screw it up. So promotion for this expensive superhero spectacle and franchise entry was everywhere – on the Internet, on TV, in supermarkets, big-box stores and the like. Thousands upon thousands of Iron Man masks, gizmos and frippery stared at shoppers from every standalone display. The penetration of the collective consciousness was complete.

And of course, it’s not really the story that matters. It’s the sensory experience – being thrust into the Iron Man cosmos. This experience must conform to the template of the prior successful thrill ride, with enough variation to provide new interest . . . or at least MORE OF THE SAME. Not just Iron Man, but Iron Man and his buddy. Versus a worthy villain and, this time, a ton of Iron Man knockoffs? Pins to be knocked over. What will they do next time?

Anyway, the trailer’s mission is to show that we’re going to have a good time at this movie, and that we’d better not miss it. So we get a quick thumb through the faces – we’ve got Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle (who replaced Terrence Howard, who pissed someone off somewhere between “1” and “2”), along with Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson. Evidently we have gotten back to the Hollywood star system well enough so that we can identify these folks, and nudge each other over them, without titles.

Good actors all, and it looks like the dialogue is hammy and wise to itself. That’s the second part of the formula – we need to know we’re going to have some laughs.

Third, least important and most badly done are the action sequences. Chases, explosions, giant robots – run-of-the-mill stuff that really take the background here. “Spider-Man” proved to me at least that a faceless hero is no hero at all. No matter how wild that film series got, I never hooked in to it the way I did Superman or Batman. “Iron Man” forgets this, so the ostensibly cool parts will end up being the sections to fast-forward through in the end.

At least, that’s my guess.

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