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Review: Iron Man 2, Home by Christmas and Dear John

By January 1, 2011No Comments

Iron Man 2 posterOh dear, what a dis­ap­point­ment 90% of Iron Man 2 is. Rushed into pro­duc­tion after the ori­gin­al became the sur­prise run­away hit of 2008, rely­ing far too heav­ily on the dead­pan cha­risma of a coast­ing Robert Downey Jr. – the first time I’ve ever seen him this dis­en­gaged – and with a story that does no more than tread water until the arrival of the inev­it­able epis­ode 3, IM2 offers very little in the way of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and not enough action to compensate.

Downey Jr is Tony Stark once again, milk­ing his fame as saviour of the free world while the secret power source in his chaest that fuels Iron Man (and keeps him alive) slowly pois­ons him from with­in. Just when he doesn’t need an adversary, along comes a crazy Russian physicist/wrestler named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) look­ing for revenge on the Stark fam­ily who stole his father’s research. Vanko’s tech­no­logy is co-opted by Stark’s greatest busi­ness com­pet­it­or, weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and between them they attempt to des­troy Stark and corner the mar­ket in high-tech mil­it­ary gadgetry.

I said 90% dis­ap­point­ment at the begin­ning and that’s because dir­ect­or Jon Favreau has man­aged to at least cast some great act­ors in sup­port­ing roles – and let them off the leash. With Rourke (amaz­ing, demen­ted) it works, with Rockwell (just un-focused) it’s less suc­cess­ful. The great comedi­an Garry Shandling plays a sen­at­or determ­ined to nation­al­ise our hero and Samuel L. Jackson ploughs his own icon­o­clast­ic fur­row as Nick Fury, set­ting up the future Avengers movie along with Clark Gregg and Scarlett Johansson. It’s not as hor­rif­ic a fiasco as Transformers 2 but it is tough to recom­mend at cur­rent cinema prices.

Home By Christmas posterMade with the budget from Iron Man 2’s honey wag­on, Gaylene Preston’s Home by Christmas is a much more coher­ent and sat­is­fy­ing piece of work: deeply per­son­al (recre­at­ing some emo­tion­al inter­views she did with her own fath­er Ed nearly 20 years ago) and yet, for a New Zealand audi­ence, quietly uni­ver­sal. In 1995 Preston’s doc­u­ment­ary War Stories told us what it was like for the women left behind while their men went to fight in WWII. Home by Christmas redresses the bal­ance some­what as Ed (superbly and effort­lessly inhab­ited by Kiwi screen legend Tony Barry) tells us what it was like for the blokes over­seas. And yet, Preston’s moth­er Tui remains an import­ant pres­ence through­out the film (played in the recre­ations by Preston’s daugh­ter Chelsie) and we’re nev­er allowed to for­get that the impetu­ous hero­ism of the men had deep impacts back home.

It turns out that Ed had a rel­at­ively benign war (no Bridge on the River Kwai for him; three weeks fight­ing then farm­ing in an Italian POW camp and a year in Switzerland) but the pain of being away from his fam­ily and the loss of mates is palp­able. There’s nice work, too, from Martin Henderson in the rel­at­ively undemand­ing role of the young Ed.

Dear John posterI wanted to see Lasse Hallström’s Dear John this week as I was hop­ing there would be some par­al­lels with Home by Christmas and, on that score, I wasn’t dis­ap­poin­ted. On leave in North Carolina from his gig in the US Special Forces, quiet hunk Channing Tatum (Fighting) meets Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia) at the beach and a two week hol­i­day romance turns into some­thing more. They con­tin­ue roman­cing long dis­tance until, just before his final tour comes to an end, 9/11 prompts him to re-enlist threat­en­ing their fra­gile relationship.

Like Preston’s film, let­ters fly back and forth, but it nev­er quite rises above the clin­ic­al emo­tion­al manip­u­la­tion that you’d expect from a nov­el by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook). Lunk-head Tatum gets to expand his range about a nano­met­er but both the kids get well and truly schooled by the great Richard Jenkins in his few scenes as Tatum’s bor­der­line aut­ist­ic fath­er. Truly, a geni­us at work.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 5 May, 2010.