Lisa Marie’s Thoughts On Captain America: Civil War


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It was freaking awesome!

That, in a nutshell, is my main thought when it comes to Captain America: Civil War.  It’s a movie that we spent a year anticipating.  It’s a movie that we were continually assured would be great.  And it’s a movie that, unlike Batman v Superman, actually lived up to all the hype.  It’s also a movie that has already been reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Check out Arleigh’s review by clicking here and be sure to check out Gary’s review as well.

So, what’s really left for me to say about Captain America: Civil War?  Beyond, of course, that it was freaking awesome.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Captain America: Civil War without also talking about Batman v Superman.  Both films start with the same basic idea: the heroic activities of super heroes has led to cities being destroyed and innocent people dying.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman takes it open himself to avenge the destruction of Metropolis and expose Superman as being the biggest false God since Baal.  In Civil War, the United Nations announces that, from now on, all super hero activity has to be cleared with them.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman and Superman are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Captain America: Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Batman v Superman, Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic villain.  In Captain America: Civil War, Daniel Bruhl plays a neurotic villain.  Batman v Superman features more heroes than just Batman and Superman.  Civil War features more heroes than just Captain America and Iron Man.  Batman v Superman ends with a promise of more films to come.  So does Civil War.  Both films are huge and expensive star-filled spectacles and both of them are a part of a larger cinematic mythology.  They both even have roughly the same running time.  Of course, Batman v Superman seems even longer while Civil War is over far too quickly.

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And yet, Civil War is a thousand times better than Batman v Superman.  For all of its sound and fury, Batman v Superman is ultimately an empty shell.  I left the film feeling not at all emotionally moved but definitely deafened by all the explosions and the yelling and the ranting and the pounding score.  As I left the theater, the world sounded like it was underwater.  Batman v Superman opens with the world exploding and the explosion continues for another two and a half hours.  Civil War, on the other hand, takes its time.  After the initial battle scene (which features a nice cameo from the great Frank Grillo), Civil War slows down.  It explores its characters and their relationships and their motivations.  The first hour of Civil War may be dominated by people debating but its compelling to watch because, after 8 years, the MCU and the characters within feel as alive as the world outside the theater.

In Batman v Superman, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck appeared to be acting in separate films.  That’s not a problem in Civil War.  When you watch Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., you believe that they are friends and, when they fight, you don’t just thrill at the action.  You mourn the end of a friendship.  If Batman v Superman‘s battle ultimately felt hollow, the final battle in Civil War leaves you wincing in pain.

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Which is not to say that Civil War is not a fun movie.  It’s the most genuinely fun film that I’ve seen so far this year.  There’s a joy to the best films of the MCU, a joy that — with the exception of Gal Gadot’s cameo — was totally lacking from the somber and self-important mess that Batman v Superman.  I have never heard an audience applaud more than they did while watching Civil War.  The film may have been dominated by Evans and Downey but every citi of thzene MCU got a chance to shine.  Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, and Elizabeth Olsen all proved their worth to this new cinematic mythology.  After years of using Halloween to pay homage to Scarlett Johansson, I may have to go as Wanda Maximoff this year.  After seeing Hollywood waste her off-center and damaged talent in films like Godzilla, it was good to see Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda as if she could have been a cousin to her character from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.

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The audience saved their loudest and most enthusiastic cheers for Tom Holland, who claimed the role of Spiderman as his own and thankfully freed Andrew Garfield to go back to being the intriguing actor that we all remember from The Social Network and Never Let Me Go.  Holland doesn’t have a large role in Civil War but he’s still well-served by the film and the script makes great use of the character and Holland’s energetic performance.  As opposed to the super hero cameos in Batman v Superman, Spiderman’s appearance didn’t just feel like merely a teaser for a future film.  He belonged in the story.

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Of course, Civil War is dominated by the battle between Iron Man and Captain America and it says something about how successful the MCU has been that the battle feels less like a marketing gimmick and more like the natural result of what happens when two differing worldviews come into conflict.  When Tony Stark sides with the UN, it makes sense.  Ever since the very first Iron Man, Tony has been motivated by both guilt over making weapons and a fear that he doesn’t deserve his success.  Of course Tony would side with the UN.  Doing so not only allows him to alleviate his guilt but it also frees him of responsibility for any future actions that the Avengers may take.  It makes just as much sense that Captain America would feel the exact opposite.  His name is Captain America, not Captain United Nations.  When the UN was founded, he was still frozen in a block of ice.

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(Also interesting to note: Civil War was the first MCU film that I could follow without once having to ask my boyfriend for any background info on who all the characters were.  The MCU has become such a part of our culture that we all know the characters, regardless of whether we have ever read a Marvel comic or not.)

There is a nominal villain.  Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo and his role is actually pretty small.  That said, Zemo is definitely more interesting than the typical MCU villain (he’s certainly more memorable than Corey Stoll was in Ant-Man) and Bruhl does a good job playing him.  (Watching Civil War, it was hard not to think about how much better SPECTRE would have been if Bruhl, as opposed to Christoph Waltz, had played Blofeld.)  But, for me, the real villain of the film was the U.S. Secretary of State (played by William Hurt).  The character represented everything that all good people hate about the power structure.  William Hurt turned him into the epitome of unthinking and unreasonable authority.

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After Civil War was released, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte (who, let’s just be honest, ceased to be interesting the minute that she sold out and briefly worked for John Edwards in 2007) complained that Captain America had become “a douchey Libertarian.”  I would argue that 1) Captain America is definitely not douchey and 2) it’s his “libertarian” stance that makes him a hero.  Captain America does not represent any institution or ideology and he doesn’t take orders from faceless bureaucrats.  Captain America doesn’t need permission to do the right thing.  As played by Chris Evans, there’s something undeniably poignant about Captain America attempting to cling onto his idealism and his belief in personal freedom in an increasingly complicated and totalitarian world.  When told that he has a duty to become an anonymous, order-taking drone, Captain America says, “NO!”

(As a sidenote: If you want to see what the world expects Captain America to become, check out William Klein‘s Mr. Freedom.)

I know that some are claiming that Civil War is the best MCU film so far.  I wouldn’t quite go that far.  The film never quite reaches the lunatic heights of Guardians of the Galaxy nor does it match the subversive glee of Winter Soldier revealing that smug old Robert Redford is an agent of HYDRA.  But, no matter!  Captain America: Civil War is pretty freaking great!

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Here are the other MCU reviews that have appeared here on the Shattered Lens:

  1. Arleigh on Iron Man 2
  2. Arleigh on Thor
  3. Arleigh on Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Leonard on The Avengers
  5. Viktor Von Glum on The Avengers
  6. Ryan on The Avengers
  7. Arleigh on Iron Man 3
  8. Leonard on Iron Man 3
  9. Ryan on Iron Man 3
  10. Ryan on Thor: The Dark World
  11. Ryan on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  12. Lisa on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  13. Ryan on Guardians of the Galaxy
  14. Lisa on Guardians of the Galaxy
  15. Lisa on Avengers: The Age of Ultron
  16. Leonard on Ant-Man
  17. Ryan on Ant-Man
  18. Lisa on Ant-Man
  19. Arleigh on Captain America: Civil War
  20. Gary Loggins on Captain America: Civil War

 

 

Captain America Civil War

Review: Captain America: Civil War (dir. by Anthony & Joe Russo)


Captain America Civil War

Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn’t just a surprise hit for Marvel Studios and parent company Disney in 2014, it also showed the general public that there was more to Captain America than just a flag-waving symbol of America’s past glory. Captain America was a character that wasn’t the hip, wisecracking Tony Stark. He wasn’t the tortured soul in a monster’s body like Bruce Banner as the Hulk. He didn’t have the Shakespearean gravitas that was always lurking behind Thor and his complicated Asgardian family. No, Captain America was considered too straight-laced, blonde and blue-eyed goody two-shoes.

Captain America: The First Avenger focused on those very qualities. Steve Rogers was just a skinny, asthmatic young man from Brooklyn who wanted to do his part during World War II. It would be thanks to an experimental super-soldier serum that Steve Rogers’ body finally matched the inherent goodness and will to defend the little guy. For some, this initial introduction to Captain America was too hokey, but was entertaining enough. His next appearance in 2012’s game-changing superhero team-up The Avengers saw him be part tactician for a burgeoning superhero team and part comedy relief.

It would be with The Winter Soldier that the rest of the general public finally got to what comic book fans have known for years. This is a badass man, out of his time but always fighting the good fight and staying true to his convictions and principles. What was seen as hokey idealism became something of a beacon of selflessness and the moral center in a modern world that was steeped in shades of grey. It helped that writing team of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (who wrote The First Avenger) finally found a pair of directors in the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe) who understood just what made Captain America relevant in this day and age of cynical anti-heroes.

It’s no surprise that the Russo Brothers were tasked with continuing the work they began in the Winter Soldier with McFeely and Markus with the film that would complete the Captain America trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would be quite a task in getting Captain America: Civil War off the ground and moving forward under all the weight of nearly every MCU superhero (minus Thor, Hulk and Nick Fury) in attendance and the introduction of two new ones to the universe.

Did the Anthony and Joe Russo pull off this massive undertaking? Or did they stumble to not just the huge cast and many storyline threads the way Joss Whedon did with the ambitious, but flawed The Avengers: Age of Ultron?

I’m happy to say that the Russo Brothers did better than succeed but may have just made the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and proved that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige was correct in placing the brothers as the new captain of the massive thing called the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it enters Phase 3.

Captain America: Civil War is set just a year after the events of Age of Ultron where the Avengers barely defeated Tony Stark’s mad A.I. Ultron and it’s decision to wipe humanity from the planet. While the team did save the world from global extinction they also didn’t save everyone. there were still hundreds, if not, thousands of Sokovians who died during the battle. The same could be said for all the battles since the alien invasion over New York. The Avengers, led by Captain America, have saved the world from invading aliens, world-dominating terrorist group and killer A.I robots. Yet, the collateral damage caused by these battles have begun to weigh not just on some of the Avengers, but has made the governments of the world see the team as a sort of super-powered private military group who don’t obey international laws and borders. Yes, they’ve saved humanity many times from destruction, but at what cost.

It’s during a battle early in the film as Captain America and his team stop the theft of a biological weapon in the city of Lagos, Nigeria that collateral damage and deaths rear it’s head once more as Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch) accidentally allows a suicide bomb vest explode too close to a nearby high-rise causing the deaths of several aide workers from Wakanda.

It’s from this event that the world finally have reached a tipping point and want to put the team under U.N. control with Tony Stark agreeing to the plan to help assuage his guilt over the deaths caused by him creating Ultron. Some of the team understands that government oversight that the Sokovian Accords puts on the team is the right thing to do. While others, especially Captain America, think it’s best to leave the team to continue to be their own masters instead of beholden to a bureaucracy whose agenda may not be conducive to saving lives.

It’s a subject matter that was explored in some fashion in an earlier superhero mash-up but one that failed to stick the landing. Yet, even this battle of differing ideologies between Captain America and Iron Man only becomes part of the foundation to the true narrative for Civil War. It’s the friendship between Captain America and Bucky aka the Winter Soldier and how the former must try to prove the latter innocent of another terrorist attack the world thinks he’s responsible for. Those Avengers who signed the Accords must now bring in Bucky dead or alive while Captain America with the help of those who didn’t sign try to prove his innocence and find the true architect of the terrorist bombing.

Captain America: Civil War succeeds where the earlier superhero film failed because of the groundwork laid down by the 12 previous films released to make up the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Iron Man all the way up to Age of Ultron, these twelve films flesh out the backstory and characters that make up these heroes. We’ve gotten to know what motivates them to risk their lives for the greater good, but we also see glimpses of the inter-personal conflicts that looks to tear the team apart from within.

There’s not enough that could be said about the masterful work done by the Russo Brothers in juggling the personalities of twelve superheroes (two getting their initial introduction to the MCU) and giving them enough to do in the film to make them relevant to the proceedings instead of just becoming glorified cameos. The actors playing these characters have had many films to own the roles and each and everyone hits it out of the park. The stand out from the veterans in the ensemble cast still remains Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr as Captain America and Iron Man, respectively. Yet, it would be the arrival of the two new heroes into the mix with Chadwick Boseman as the newly-crowned king of the technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda, T’Challa and Tom Holland as the teenage chatterbox and dumpster diving tech genius Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.

Boseman as the Black Panther adds a certain level of gravitas and regal fury to the proceedings which balances the edge between serious to comedic. His Black Panther has his own agenda in getting involved in this intra-familial squabble. He has his own agenda and if it means siding with Iron Man against Captain and his team then he would do so if it succeeds in helping him finish his mission. It helps that he looks damn cool in what has to be the best superhero costume thought up by the designers in Marvel Studios.

It would be Tom Holland as the young Peter Parker and Spider-Man who steals the show whenever he’s on-screen. This is the Peter Parker and Spider-Man that comic book fans have been waiting for. While Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield succeeded in portraying some of the character’s personality, they could never fully capture what made Spider-Man such a favorite amongst comic book readers. This Spider-Man is geeky and not at all hip and cool, but with a sense of right and wrong that comes having great power means shouldering the responsibility to use it for good.

Captain America: Civil War, with its exploration of many profound ideas and themes, is still a superhero film and a tentpole blockbuster at that and audiences still want to see the action up on the big screen. Boy, does this film have action and enough of them to spare. The action scenes range from the grounded hand-to-hand fighting the Russo Brothers used to great effect in The Winter Soldier (this time around with the help from Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, directors of John Wick to provide 2nd Unit Directing help) up to the superhero battle that raises the bar on such things set at an evacuated airport in Leipzig, Germany.

This 6-on-6 tête-à-tête between friends and colleagues takes the climactic battles in both Avengers films and does them better. With each hero using their abilities to great effect in conjunction with their allies and against those they are fighting. There was never a time during this near on 20-minute action scene did it ever get confusing. Many filmmakers doing superhero (or just plain old action films) could learn a thing or two from how the Russo Brothers and 2nd Unit directors Spiros Razatos, Stahelski and Leitch choreographed and filmed all the action sequences in Civil War. It was near-perfect with only wishful thinking that Gareth Evans from The Raid films could’ve been asked to help out to make things perfect.

As huge and bombastic the film gets with this airport fight, it would be the final throw down between Captain America and Iron Man at the end of the film that we get the emotional heft the film needs to keep itself from becoming just another loud and explosive superhero film. This fight becomes personal and shows how fights between close friends become the most brutal and heartbreaking. Neither combatants are wrong about their stances in the fight, but they’re also wrong in not being able to think things through. These two alpha males who have a  friendship full of respect but also combativeness throughout the years of the MCU that finally explodes into all-out war when a tragic secret from both Tony Stark’s and Bucky’s past come to light.

It’s a fight that has no winners and for a superhero film that is a major change from the usual narrative (especially within the MCU storytelling playbook). The film ends with the very team created to save the world from all threats even more unsure of their place in the ever-changing and ever-judging world. It’s a bold move by Marvel Studios to start their Phase 3 that would culminate in the battle to end all battles with the two Avengers: Infinity War films (soon to be retitled) which happen to be under the master-class guiding hands of the Russo Brothers in the directors’ chair and the writing duo Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus.

In the end, Captain America: Civil War manages to capture not just what made comic books and films adapted from them fun and exhilarating, but also able to tackle some serious ideas and themes both existential and personal. It just goes to show that one doesn’t need to sacrifice one to have the other. One can have serious and dark but also be fun. It’s a balance that’s difficult to do, but when the people involved in creating such a story stick the landing then we a classic in the making. It bodes well for the rest of the films in Phase 3 to have such a great beginning, but also raises the bar for the other filmmakers following in the wake of what Anthony and Joe Russo have concocted. Let’s  hope they are all up to the task.

The Final Captain America: Civil War Swings By


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We are just two weeks away from the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and just a week from the premiere of Netflix’s Daredevil Season 2. What better way to remind people that there is another hero vs hero film coming out to start off the summer than with the final full trailer for Captain America: Civil War.

One things which distinguishes this latest and final trailer happens right at the very end. One could almost say that this was the trailer’s post-credit sequence.

Captain America: Civil War swings into action on May 6, 2016.

Captain America: Civil War Super Bowl TV Spot “Rivals”


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It’s that time of the year when the country (to some extent the world) witness a sporting event that’s become almost ritualistic in how it gathers it’s audience. I’m talking about the yearly Super Bowl pitting the NFC champions against the AFC champs. Even if one wasn’t a huge fan of football, the Super Bowl has become such an event day not just for the game, but the half-time show. Then there are the commercials which has become just as anticipated as the game itself.

It’s this day that we get major studios plying their upcoming films for the summer blockbuster season and Disney is not a studio to let this day pass without showing something new regarding one of their biggest films this summer.

The first Captain America: Civil War trailer a couple months ago got everyone anticipating the film. Now we have the Super Bowl TV spot to fan the flame of hype for the film that dared to go up against Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice when they both had the same release date: May 6, 2016. The latter film blinked and opted to dominate the film landscape a couple months earlier.

This tv spot emphasizes the fractured nature of Avengers that lends to the film’s title of civil war.

So, which team are you on? Are you on Team Captain America? Or are you more the Team Iron Man?

I guess, we’ll find out this May 6, 2016.

Captain America: Civil War Is Coming


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“A Titan against a Titan!”

Captain America: Civil War is the opening shot of Marvel’s Phase 3 for their cinematic universe. The huge success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both in the box-office and among critics, even convinced Marvel Studios and Disney to pit this upcoming sequel against DC’s own Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the two had to blink and move their release date and it ended up being DC.

In what many have called Avengers 2.5 due to the amount of Marvel superheroes involved in the story, Captain America: Civil War will look to explore the consequences of the collateral damage incurred by Captain America and his teammates in the Avengers whenever they fight it out in public. The destruction of Midtown Manhattan during the Battle of New York was the start. The wreckage of three advanced SHIELD Helicarriers in the Potomac was another. Yet, it looks like the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia during the team’s fight against Ultron may have been the straw that broke the global governments’ back.

So, will Tony Stark and his team of Pro-Registration win out over the out-gunned Team Captain America who do not want to be beholden to the agendas of any world government?

We shall find out when Captain America: Civil War drops on everyone on May 6, 2016.

Review: Iron Man 2 (dir. Jon Favreau)


In 2008 Marvel Comics released it’s very first in-house financed film through it’s Marvel Studios. That film was called Iron Man. It was a film that definitely was given buzz and hype by the comic book crowd, but wasn’t highly-anticipated by the general public. Even the prospect of Robert Downey, Jr. as the character of Tony Stark was received by the fanboys with trepidation and by the rest of the film-going public with apathy. When the film finally came out the reaction wasn’t what industry experts had expected. The film became a bonafide hit and it was all due to one man. That man happened to be the very person people thought was wrong for the part: Robert Downey, Jr. His performance as Tony Stark and as Iron Man was one of those which makes a franchise. Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play Tony Stark and it showed on the screen. The film was a major success not just for RDJ but for the fledgling Marvel Studios.

It is now 2010 and the follow-up to Iron Man has finally come out. The road to this second film wasn’t as difficult and mired in trepidation as the first, but now people wondered whether the first film was just a fluke and would lightning be caught once again in the proverbial bottle. The complaints this time around prior to the film’s release was that there were too many new characters both villains and allies being introduced. Would the action scenes be as average and all-too-brief as they were in the first film? Would Robert Downey, Jr. be able to handle the pressure of being the foundation of a world Marvel Studios was building with not just the Iron Man franchise but the other films coming down the pipeline like Thor and Captain America then the big boy in the room: The Avengers. These were all credible worries, but in the end this sequel made a great leap forward into calming down these fears. Iron Man 2 definitely lives up to the first film and improves on certain weaknesses of the first film, but not all which just keeps this sequel from being on the same level as past Marvel superhero sequels like Spider-Man 2 and X2.

The film opens up literally just as the first film ends as we see a Russian TV rebroadcasting Tony Stark declaring himself as Iron Man in front of a crowd of reporters. It’s who is watching this broadcast that moves the story along from start to finish. We meet Ivan Vanko (played with inherent menace by Mickey Rourke) who finds out from his dying father that Tony stark and Iron Man was to blame for their family’s hardship and lost legacy. That very theme of patriarchal and familial legacy becomes a running theme throughout the film. This opening intro sequence shows the audience that Tony Stark wasn’t the only one capable of creating the very power source keeping him alive and powering up the Iron Man suit. The extended intro also does a good job of introducing a main character right from the start and giving us his background, motivations and skill set and why he makes a credible opponent for a one-man army which Iron Man truly has become. But Ivan Vanko, or Whiplash as the credits have dubbed him, won’t be the only problem Tony Stark has to face throughout the film. All the problems he’s having to deal with since becoming Iron Man and publicly declaring himself as such comes from that very declaration.

The U.S. government now sees Iron Man as a problem, despite having stabilized the world by his very existence, and has been trying to force Tony Stark to relinquish the suit and the technology necessary to operate and replicate the Iron Man suit/weapon. Whether it’s his self-inflated and fame-fed ego or his new-found ideals to rewrite his family’s warmongering and war-profiteering past, Tony Stark refuses to give up the suit and even embarrasses the senator (played by Garry Shandling) heading up the subcommittee trying to get Stark to relinquish the suit. The other more immediate and personal problem Stark now has to find a solution for happens to be the very thing keeping him alive. The minituarized ARC Reactor in his chest is gradually poisoning him due to it’s palladium core. While the poison levels slowly builds as he continue to wear the reactor it jumps up in levels whenever he uses the suit. Without a suitable replacement to the toxic palladium all the good work Tony Stark thinks he has done will be for naught as death was something he couldn’t fight against.

Right in the middle of both Vanko and the US government sits one Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries. Hammer (played with weasly and loser aplomb by Sam Rockwell) runs a competing arms manufacturer to Stark Industries. A company who took the opportunity of Stark ending all arms manufacturing and sales to become the government’s newest primary defense contractor. Hammer also looks to replicate the Iron Man suit and arc reactor technology either in-house or through less reputable means. Hammer is instrumental in giving Vanko and the government the resources needed to take on Tony Stark. Most of the comedic aspect of the film involves Hammer trying to help out these two competing antagonists with hilarious and, in the end, lethal results.

Not everything about the film centers on Stark’s problems. The film also works in further building up and rounding out the cast of characters supporting Tony Stark. Pepper Potts has now turned from being Tony’s personal aide and secretary to actually becoming Chairman and CEO of his company by his choice. His military liaison and best friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle replacing Terence Howard for this sequel in the role) returns with conflicted agendas as he’s caught between his friendship to Stark and his commitment as an Air Force officer to the military and this to the U.S. government. We get more screentime with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury as he appears in the middle and very end of the film. Another ally to join this core group is Natasha Romanoff as the Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johannson). These people try their best to keep Tony Stark grounded and focused throughout the film.

Iron Man 2 pretty much equals what the first film did in providing the audience with some very good performances from all the actors. Great performances despite another script which definitely needed some help in tightening up the story and it’s many converging subplots. While the screenplay done up by screenwriter Justin Theroux is not bad it does fail to capitalize on the very good origin story of the first. The dialogue was pretty average with some lines bordering on uninspired. The adage of great actors making even the worst script sound great definitely stands with the one for this film.

Robert Downey, Jr. returns to elevate the script and dialogue with his very presence and personality. RDJ is Tony Stark and once again proves that he was born for to play the character and personify it on-screen. Every screentime he has with the rest of the film’s actors pop and sizzle especially those with the two female support of Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Scarlett Johannson as the Black Widow. The chemistry between RDJ and Paltrow has improved even though it was already one of the strongest positives of the first film. We see their relationship evolve beyond the mutual attraction from the first film to something much stronger this second time around. Paltrow’s performance was more defined as she goes from being just Stark’s gal Friday to one in a position of power. She becomes the everyman/woman who bears witness to the fantastic going-ons of a world suddenly becoming full of superheroes and the subsequent villains and enemies.

While the two leads in RDJ and Paltrow continue to do a great job in their roles, and the rest of those returning and even the newest faces keeping up with their own performances, the one actor who almost steals the film has to be Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. Some have called his performance as being too campy and over-the-top. I think his work as Justin Hammer was actually one of the best in the whole film. It’s right up there with RDJ’s work as Tony Stark. Where people saw a character that seemed over-the-top was actually an actor playing the role exactly how it should be played. Hammer was a character always in the shadow of the more popular, charismatic and confident Tony Stark. Hammer thought himself equal to Stark in every way when in truth his mannerisms and affectations only made him seem more the loser each and every time he was on-screen.

One thing which the film improved on over the first was the staging of it’s action sequences and the length with which they lasted. In the first film, the action was quite minimum to say the least as the film really focused on Iron Man’s origin. While the action in the first film wasn’t bad in any way the fact that they didn’t last long was a sore point for even the ardest fan of that film. This time around the action had better staging and a much improved choreography. The visual effects work by Legacy Effects Studio (formerly known as Stan Winston Studios) improved on the original with the different Marks of Iron Man suits looking distinct whether it was the newest Mark VI worn by Stark in the climactic battle or the “pimped-out” War Machine worn by Rhodes.

One thing which should excite comic book fans, and especially those who fanatically follow the Marvel line of titles, is the many little references to future Marvel Studios titles. While the script itself could be seen as average with some above-average moments it still was coherent enough that all the little easter eggs about Thor, Captain America and The Avengers didn’t seem out of place. This sequel played less like a sequel to a stand-alone franchise, but more like another piece to the world Marvel was building and adding to with each new film. It is for this very reason that I’m more than willing to give some of the deficiencies in the story and dearth of new characters a break.

I think it would be difficult to look at any Marvel Studio film as a stand-alone or even for a franchise to be self-contained. Both Iron Man films belong in a world where other characters with their own films will inhabit and interact with each other. Thus we get all these little references even though it may bloat up the particular film they appear in. The final judgement will come once all the films planned have been released and the overall effect and payoff has been met or not.

In the end, Iron Man 2 was a sequel which more than matched it’s predecessor but still had problems in its screenplay work to keep it from being great. The performances were excellent from everyone involved with some even elevating their roles to higher levels. The action was better than the original with some great work from the visual effects studios whose task was to keep the action coherent and easy to follow (unlike Michael Bay’s action work). For those who follow the comics this film should definitely be a must-see and shouldn’t disappoint. For the casual viewer the film should be a fun and action-filled two-hours that also happens to have some very great actors doing good to great work. I must also recommend that people not leave the theater once the end credits begin to roll. Like the previous film in the franchise there is a suprise scene at the very end of the credits which should be seen as it hints at a future Marvel superhero film and one that will tie in with this particular franchise.