Chapter Two: Jon Favreau & Kristen Stewart
New Moon, Iron Man 2 and Zathura
By Brett Beach
January 20, 2011
New Moon feels like a placeholder film in the series more than anything. Nothing is resolved and there is no building towards a climax, just a steady progression of goofy plot incidents and an assortment of indie rock music on the soundtrack, which divides the film into a stream of would-be music videos. This results in the most hallucinatory sequence in the film, as the werewolf pack chases vampire Victoria and Bella prepares to cliff dive in order to fuel an adrenaline rush, all I kept thinking was “Why the fuck is Radiohead playing right now?” (Actually, it’s a Thom Yorke solo number.) The impact of its arrival via the sound of Yorke’s voice is jarring and unexpected, but the film springs to life for those five minutes and the payoff image of an unconscious Bella floating underwater and imagining Edward bobbing just out of reach past her swoons with Hardwickian intensity. For all his attempts to expand the world of the Swans, Cullens, and Blacks beyond Forks, Weitz’s only real accomplishment is to underscore exactly how small their universe really is.
Iron Man was Robert Downey Jr.’s ticket to the world of blockbuster success and I felt, as with Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, that he did more for the film than it did for him and any lasting sense of enjoyment from a quirky performance in a big-budget spectacle would be categorically drowned through repeated attempts to go back to the well. It is with a small but pleasant satisfaction, then, that I found Iron Man 2 to be more enjoyable overall than its predecessor.
The two teams of writers from the first film have been replaced by Justin Theroux, who got his start acting in the mid-'90s just as Favreau did, has also segued into writing and directing, and is most likely the only actor currently alive who can list David Lynch films, Sex and the City episodes, and videogame voiceover work on his resume. His prior credit on Tropic Thunder led me to think this might be wackier or snarkier than Iron Man, but that proves not to be the case.
Even though it doggedly sticks to the same formula as Iron Man (not remarkable at all), Iron Man 2 makes no efforts to outdo and upstage its predecessor (quite remarkable for a first sequel). I credit Favreau with the restraint to avoid reaching for bigger and splashier simply because a jaw-dropping budget once again found its way into his lap ($200 million vs. $140 million on the first one). I also am amazed at how he has found a way to put CGI-laced sights and fights front and center in what seem to be natural environments (I am thinking of the outdoor battle royale against several waves of robot soldiers that caps the film).
And yet the film never overcomes some significant problems, the biggest of which is that the villains don’t make much of an impression. When Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell play your film’s villains, it takes some skill to allow them to slip into the wallpaper. It may seem like an uncommon complaint, but neither of them (even Rourke’s Ivan Vanko with his tattoos, fondness for rare birds, and Russian accent) makes the leap to become larger than life. Ivan wants revenge and Rockwell’s shady defense contractor just wants to make a fast buck.