Friday, May 31, 2013

Top 5 Animal Kingdom Attractions

Animal Kingdom is Disney’s newest park, even at 15 years old now.  Similar to Busch Gardens Tampa, it combines a theme park with a zoo, although with more focus on being a zoo.  Here’s my favorite Animal Kingdom attractions.

Note: Attractions marked with * have a FastPass.

5. (tie) Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek: If you’re at the zoo, you definitely want to see some animals, and Animal Kingdom’s two walking trails will deliver on that.  Africa’s Pangani features gorillas, meerkats and hippos, while Asia’s Maharajah gets you a look at bats, tigers, and Komodo dragons.  And don’t miss some of the other animal viewing spots throughout the park, such as the monkey island in Asia.

4. Expedition Everest*: Florida’s tallest mountain (no, really) has a train-themed roller coaster that provides some big thrills.  In particular, there’s the fact that it goes backwards and the encounters with the Yeti that make this unique.  It may be stretching the Animal Kingdom theming, but it’s definitely a fun time.

3. Dinosaur*: Animal Kingdom’s other big thrill ride isn’t quite a roller coaster, isn’t quite a normal dark ride.  But it’s definitely in the dark, in one of the darkest attractions at Disney next to Space Mountain, and tosses you around as you come face-to-face with dinosaurs that range from the docile to the Carnotaur.  Loud, fast, and fun.

2. Finding Nemo: The Musical: Over at Hollywood, there’s a quick adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, my favorite Disney musical, but Finding Nemo wins out over it, and that wasn’t even a musical.  Instead, a group of catchy original songs were written for this, and the entire thing is given a Broadway-level production value, especially with the impressive puppet work that brings the fish to life.

1. Kilimanjaro Safaris*: Kilimanjaro is always my first destination at Animal Kingdom.  This is a lengthy ride (at least 15 minutes) that brings you up close to various animals, giving you a good look at giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and more.  It really transports you to the savannah as you go through the area.  And now that the goofy story has been eliminated, this can truly earn its top place here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top 5 Hollywood Studios Attractions

I don’t know what it is about Hollywood Studios, but it has long been my favorite park at Disney World.  Maybe it’s just the atmosphere, maybe it’s the restaurants, maybe it’s the rides, I just enjoy it most.  Here are my must-see attractions for it.

Note: Attractions with * have a FastPass.

5. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror*: Leave it to Disney to take what could be a basic freefall attraction, put it inside, and theme it as a haunted hotel.  The nicer ride vehicle means that this is probably the only freefall attraction I would ever do, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be terrifying, as it randomly launches you up and down at high speeds.

4. The Great Movie Ride: On the one hand, this could badly use some updating or just some polish, with the trailers in the queue looking particularly worn out.  But it does take you through great movie moments, some nice surprises as your vehicle gets taken over, and some fine animatronic work.

3. Muppet*Vision 3D: Even in 1991, the Muppets could already see the way this new 4D technology was going to be used.  Muppet*Vision hangs a lampshade on every gimmick it uses, parodying the “cheap 3D tricks” that so many other theme parks use (yes, even Disney—just look at It’s Tough to Be a Bug), while providing a great look at the Muppet personalities we know and love.  The movie has even had a recent refurbishment which makes it look better than ever.

2 (tie). Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show*: Hollywood Studios definitely has a focus on its shows (Beauty and the Beast and American Idol can also be fun), and it’s the stunt shows that come out as the real winners.  Indiana Jones goes through several sequences loosely based on Raiders of the Lost Ark, while LMA has its own fictional movie that’s being shot, but both of them feature good humor and plenty of awesome stunts.  It comes down to whether you prefer more physical stunts or car stunts.  Also note that LMA only has two shows a day, so it’s good to plan out when you want to see that one.

1. Star Tours: The Adventure Continues*: This can probably be marked as the best update to a ride that Disney has done.  The original ride was a fun simulator, if a bit standard.  The update adds in 3D and a “slot machine” ride system, which randomizes who you meet and where you go on your tour.  So you might end up flying under AT-ATs on Hoth, in the middle of a pod race on Tatooine, or even through the under-construction Death Star, all of which adds plenty of reasons to ride it again.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Top 5 EPCOT Attractions

EPCOT is in a weird transitory period.  On the one hand, there’s still enough to do (and, especially, eat) to make a visit there worthwhile.  On the other hand, there’s plenty of areas that still fall under the “too boring” side of edutainment or had a bad renovation and haven’t recovered.  Nevertheless, here’s my top 5 EPCOT attractions.

Note: The * indicates rides that have a FastPass, which is generally worth getting.

5. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros: Tucked inside the pyramid in the Mexico section, it can be easy to miss the Gran Fiesta.  A boat ride in the style of It’s a Small World (including a section that seems like it wouldn’t be out of place there), it may not be the most informative tour of Mexico, but it’s fun with plenty of humor from Donald’s antics.

4. Mission: SPACE*: A simulator, Mission: Space takes four people and puts them in an experimental rocket, where everybody has their own roles to perform to make a successful trip to Mars.  Note that there are two versions of the ride, the Green Team and the Orange Team.  Orange Team is a centrifuge, while Green Team is more of a light simulator.  I’ve never done Orange, but on Green, there’s still some nice effects.  Green Team also has a lighter wait, making the FastPass only necessary for Orange Team.

3. Journey into Imagination with Figment: While it may not quite have the flair of the original ride and post-ride area, Figment is worth visiting, taking you through the Imagination labs which test your senses and, of course, your imagination.  After the renovation that completely removed Figment, having him back is welcome.  The post-ride here, ImageWorks, might be best skipped, though, not really having enough to entertain for long.

2. Test Track*: The new renovation of Test Track, which lets people design their own cars, is interesting but not really incredible.  More fun is the ride which combines actual information about how vehicles are tested before being sold, the new Tron-like visuals that the ride has, and the thrilling outdoor area.

1. The Seas with Nemo & Friends: The Seas starts with a nice ride through several of the movie’s great moments (including the incredible EAC and the jellyfish field), and then just expands as you leave the ride.  There’s a two-floor aquarium filled with fish, manatees, and sharks, all with Nemo-themed information about the species in there.  And there’s Turtle Talk with Crush, which leans more towards kids, letting them talk to Crush using the same technology that the Laugh Floor uses, but can still be entertaining for adults.   

Monday, May 27, 2013


Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

            Anybody who’s seen, read, or played anything with a time travel concept knows the one threat that’s always lurking in the background: overcomplication.  A normal plot can get significantly complicated when a character’s future self is running around, characters are hopping around time, and you’re never quite sure what happened.  Sadly, Comeback’s interesting premise and plot fall into this problem.
            Mark and Seth are both workers for Reconnect, a company that, when paid a couple million dollars by a client, goes back in time and saves a person from their death.  Unfortunately, time travel businesses like this also fall under the watch of the FBI, and things get worse when an internal manhunt starts for somebody in Reconnect who’s leaking information to the FBI.
            And yes, things do get complicated and convoluted.  And when things in this book are going well, it means that you’re glad when the pieces come together and you understand what’s happening.  When things aren’t going well…well, at one point, a character’s future self visits his past self, it’s difficult to tell them apart as they look almost exactly the same, and it’s difficult to tell what was even accomplished.  This happens a lot in Comeback.  A subplot will get brought up, there will be a big reveal in it, and then nothing.  It doesn’t affect the plot at all.  Reconnect has its own evil agenda, but ultimately, it’s hard to tell why they have this agenda or what the reader really gets out of knowing their agenda.  There was simply too much here for a 5-issue miniseries.  This should’ve been a full series.
            And yes, I do mean should’ve.  Because when Comeback isn’t falling to problems mainly related to its length, it’s an actually interesting premise.  There’s a whole world that’s built in here, there’s a collection of interesting characters, the way certain time travel tropes happen is done well.  Michael Walsh’s art brings it all together well.  His art style is sketchy, almost unfinished, but very definitive.  Besides the one instance of two versions of the same character talking to each other, the characters are very easily recognizable, and he brings the low-tech sci-fi to life.
            If there’s one thing this collection is not lacking, it’s extras.  There’s a collection of sketches of the cover which go into the process of how important a cohesive cover design across a miniseries can be.  There’s a design process of script-to-page, which is interesting.  Character profiles and sketches are shown that get into how the book was formed, and there’s even the original pitch for the series, with a note pointing out the changes that were made from pitch to the finished product.  If nothing else, if you want a good insight into the comics creation process, Comeback delivers on that.

            On the one hand, Comeback is worth reading for the interesting time travel premise.  Unfortunately, it’s bogged down by pointless subplots that bloat and complicate a miniseries that could’ve stood to simplify itself down. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Top 10 Magic Kingdom Attractions

Magic Kingdom is the big park at Disney World.  Whether you think Disney World or Disneyland, this is where a lot of the icons are: Cinderella Castle, Dumbo, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Here’s a list of my 10 must-see attractions.

Note: I’ve marked attractions with a FastPass with an *.  This lets you skip the main line, and are normally worth using.

10. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad*: BTMR probably won’t impress the hardcore coaster enthusiasts.  However, it is an interesting ride in its own right.  Using 3 lift hills, Big Thunder is more of the family-friendly coaster that Walt Disney envisioned, and more of a ride experience than an actual roller coaster.  Perhaps not the ultimate winner, but a fun time.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: The upgrade to Pirates which added Jack Sparrow in to several places still comes off a bit awkward, and kills some of the ride’s original dialogue.  However, it’s the fun voyage through a town being pillaged, with memorable scenes, and set to the ever-catchy “A Pirates’s Life for Me”, that makes this one still worth riding.

8. Wishes (fireworks show): I believe that Wishes will be changing its name and theme soon, but you can bet that there will always be a fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom.  It’s a nice cap to the day, filled with impressive moments.  The view around the castle is the ideal spot to see it.  Just watch out for the huge crowd of people leaving the park afterwards.

7. Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor: The Laugh Floor uses a technology which lets the monsters actually interact with the audience.  This means that the show can change, and probably will change, depending on the people that they end up interacting with, and you can even send in jokes before the show.  No matter who they end up talking to, though, it always manages to live up to its promise of hilarity.

6. Jungle Cruise*: It can be hard to remember that the Jungle Cruise used to be taken seriously.  The dated animatronics certainly don’t impress much anymore.  Instead, the tour guides unleash a hurricane of puns about everything from waterfalls and cannibals to a family of lions “babysitting” a zebra.  This is also one of the longer attractions at Magic Kingdom, which means that, if you have to wait, you get a ride that’s worth it.

5. Splash Mountain*: I didn’t go on Splash Mountain for years until my last trip, and it ended up impressing me.  Splash Mountain is only half a log flume, with some huge drops and a warning that you may get wet, which might as well be a guarantee.  The other half is a great animatronics feature which sums up the Brer Rabbit sections of the infamous Song of the South, and for a movie that doesn’t get seen outside of bootleg DVD releases, it’s a nice voyage through funny moments and songs you don’t really get anywhere else.

4. Space Mountain*: The third mountain of Magic Kingdom definitely provides the biggest thrills.  With its unique coaster design that seats one person per row to its almost pitch-black darkness, Space Mountain isn’t really something you’ll see at many other places.  The darkness means that every drop and turn ends up as a surprise.  Beware, though: Space Mountain waits can easily go up to 90 minutes.  This is a FastPass that’s hard to avoid using.

3. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid*: Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction can already go into the must-see category.  Under the Sea goes through the four big musical segments of Little Mermaid (Les Poissons is, probably wisely, left out), and the animatronics are some of the best you’ll see in Disney World.  In fact, it might even be worth going through the regular line at least once, just to get a good view at Scuttle.

2. The Haunted Mansion: There’s not too many scares over at the Haunted Mansion.  Instead, there’s some of the best special effects, plenty of great moments, and a ride that’s constantly being enhanced.  The new graveyard section in the queue is worth walking through, and the enhanced sound system in the ride means that Grim Grinning Ghosts has never sounded better.

1. Mickey’s PhilharMagic: With 3D now a regular part of movie theaters, the appeal of 3D movies at theme parks should’ve gone down a bit.  PhilharMagic proves there’s still some things you can only do at theme parks.  Featuring the world’s largest seamless screen, PhilharMagic has a restrained use of effects, a medley of some of the best Disney songs, and perfect 3D. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Iron Man 3

Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, and based on the Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov

            Marvel Phase Two starts here.  And after Iron Man 2, it’s probably right to be wary of how exactly it would be starting.  Whereas most superhero movies peak in their second installment, Iron Man was one of the few to take a significant dip in its first sequel.  And with a change of directors rarely being beneficial, it was right to come in tenuously.  But Iron Man 3 comes in and blows all expectations away to make something incredible.
            Tony Stark (portrayed, as ever, by Robert Downey Jr.) is shaken up after the events of The Avengers.  He’s retreated into his garage, has upgraded the Iron Man suit all the way up to Mark 42, and he’s suffering from panic attacks.  But when a terrorist leader called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) threatens America with human bombs, he has to suit up again and stop him.
            What’s really striking about this movie is how, with a new director and new writers, it’s very tonally different from the first two.  The story is darker, as is some of the violence, and, notably, this movie does not feature another villain in another armor to match up against Iron Man.  In fact, while the first two villains had grudges against Tony Stark, The Mandarin is basically disinterested in Iron Man as opposed to getting his own plans done.  And the villain’s plan seems like nothing more than nonsense until Tony starts unraveling the mystery.  Just like Shane Black’s own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, this is almost more of a mystery, and takes Tony out of his armor and out of his element.  And also like that movie, Iron Man 3 is really funny.  There’s no doubt that the entire Marvelverse series has had plenty of comic moments, but IM3 brings the laughs constantly, mixing slapstick with witty dialogue.  Tony is always the likeable jerk, and man, he can be the jerk here, but the pure audacity of what he’s saying makes you laugh.  There is one scene, featuring an Iron Man fanboy, that could have been cut, but generally, nothing is sacrificed by the focus on comedy.
            Certainly not the action.  Yes, the biggest action scenes have been shown plenty in the trailer.  This makes them no less impressive.  There is definitely a feeling that things have to be stepped up to match The Avengers, and they have been.  CGI mixes with what appears to be practical effects.  When the movie blows things up, it does it well, and everything culminates in a great final battle scene.  If 2’s final battle against Whiplash felt like an anti-climax, 3’s does not stop until it knows damn well that everybody watching will be happy with the results.  This is a pure fight that pushes Tony and his suits of armor to the furthest level of their abilities.
            And finally, the biggest praise I can give Iron Man 3: it does not feel like a lead-up to Avengers 2.  It does not constantly wink and nod to comic book lore.  And best of all, it does not follow the same story points as the comic.  These are things we’ve become so used to.  Every comics fan knew that Bane was going to break Batman’s back, we knew that Bucky was going to die, hell, we even know that Gwen Stacy is going to die.  And suddenly in Iron Man 3, these feelings of comfort, of knowing what’s going to happen, of smiling when somebody says a name that means something in the comics, are ripped away.  For once, we’re on the same level as your average viewer, and it feels good.  I can walk out of the theater being genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the direction the movie took.
            If this is the direction Phase Two is going in, then I’m even more excited for what’s coming next.  A movie that challenges the Marvel formula, challenges what comic readers think they know, and most importantly of all, is independent from anything that might come in the future.  Even the after-credits scene (and yes, there is one) isn’t a teasing nod to what comes next but a humorous conclusion to the movie that feels far more worthwhile than seeing Nick Fury or Thor’s hammer.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Batman: The Black Mirror

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla

            Earlier, when I reviewed Severed, I explained that I wasn’t a Scott Snyder fan yet, that I just didn’t quite get it.  Reading another volume of American Vampire got me closer.  But The Black Mirror has made me understand, with one of the Batman tales that should end up on any fan’s bookshelf.
            Taking place during the time where Bruce Wayne is back from the dead but Dick Grayson is still Batman, The Black Mirror follows several Batman cases.  Dick has to deal with a black market dealer who specializes in items from Gotham’s villains, a killer whale that ends up in a bank lobby and the Joker escaping.  At the same time, Commissioner Gordon’s son, James, is in town—a son who may or may not be a psychotic killer.
            It is the latter story that’s truly the winner of the book.  Don’t get me wrong, the Batman cases are extremely well done.  The second story, Hungry City, shows just how well Snyder writes mystery.  Nobody is who they seem they are, you’re not sure who you can trust, and you’re not quite satisfied with the resolution, not because of any failure of the writer, but because that’s just how things turn out.  But the story of James Gordon, which also brings up Jim Gordon’s past cases, turns things up.  Nowhere is this better than a tense conversation between father and son in a diner.  Of all the Gotham setpieces possible, you wouldn’t think a random diner would be one of the showcases, but it’s very memorable and leaves you hanging on until the final page.
            In a way, Commissioner Gordon is really the star of this book.  Batman solves some big cases, and we get a look at the different between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne behind the cape and cowl.  But Gordon is one of those characters who’s become such a part of the Batman mythos that it’s easy to push him to the side, easy to have him do little besides tell Batman what the cops know.  Snyder does not go the easy route here.  Gordon is a man who’s been a police officer far too long, and yet, for the many, many points in his life where he should have finally hit his breaking point, he’s still around.  He’s still trying to solve cases that have been forgotten or trying to improve the worst city in America just a little bit.  And yet again, this book gets so close to hitting that breaking point, but it’s the decisions that Gordon is forced to make in the very end that show just the kind of man he is.
            Consider The Black Mirror to be an instant addition to the must-read Batman stories.  We have other stories to tell us about Batman or the relationship between Batman and the Joker.  We have this story to tell us about Commissioner Gordon.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan

Written by Mateus Santolouco and Erik Burnham
Art by Mateus Santolouco

            No TMNT villain is more notable than Oroku Saki, aka The Shredder.  And with IDW’s recent reboot of the Turtles re-introducing him, it only makes sense to dive into his history.
            Secret History of the Foot Clan takes place in two times.  In the present, a researcher has found vital information about the Foot Clan’s past, which is information that both Shredder and the Turtles want.  In Feudal Japan, an apparently immortal ninja leader is killed off, but a witch’s curse is placed on his assassins – a curse which causes the leader to be reincarnated in the body of a boy named Oroku Saki.
            Oh yes, I should point out a few things about this reboot and my information of it.  For one, I’ve only read the first two story arcs, neither of which introduced the Shredder.  This does mean that I am obviously missing a part of this book.  Although it’s possible to pick up and read, which I did, you’re still going to be missing a piece of the puzzle.  Most of the information you need is fairly obviously given, though.  And also, in this version, the Turtles are reincarnated versions of ninja warriors of the past.  Don’t give me that look.  It’s a comic, and if you’re willing to accept that a strange radioactive substance can turn ordinary turtles into human-sized, talking turtles, you can believe they could be reincarnated ninjas.
            With the formalities out of the way, I can talk about the book itself, and it is a hell of a ride.  The events in ancient Japan both start to reveal certain things about the new TMNT world that IDW is creating while also showing that this is not your ordinary “start of darkness” tale.  If you’re accepting a good person who somehow gets torn down into a villain, well, it’s not here.  The Shredder is the Shredder, he has always been the Shredder, he always will be the Shredder.  What’s more fascinating is to see a Shredder unleashed.  If you’re mainly familiar with the 90s cartoon, where Shredder was a comic lapdog to Krang, this isn’t him.  This is a brutal Shredder willing to do whatever he has to do to win.  And this also happens in the present day, which is filled with kinetic action sequences.  Everything is paced perfectly, making it a page-turner during the action and slowing it down just right when it gets to the exposition.  Not screeching it to a halt, but giving you a little relaxation before the next car chase or ninja battle.
            If you’re not already reading IDW’s TMNT series, you might not get everything you should out of Secret History of the Foot Clan.  On the other hand, if you read this, you’ll definitely be wanting to read their TMNT series afterwards.  Secret History is a great place to get on this new series.


Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, and Mark Protosevich
Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

            Thor is definitely a different kind of origin.  After all, there’s very little origin for Thor unless you want to go into the very silly Don Blake plotline (which gets an obligatory nod in this movie).  Instead, Thor is just the god of thunder, son of Odin, and the origin here is more about Thor turning from a headstrong, arrogant prince into a hero worthy of the Avengers, along with starting his romance with Jane Foster.
            It’s rather a disappointment that Chris Hemsworth has not gotten more action/fantasy work, because he very naturally takes to the role here.  Given Thor’s sometimes silly dialogue, it can be a tough thing for anybody to pull off, and yet every scene he is just naturally Thor.  He says every line with conviction, he brings the hammer down like he means it, and when the script calls for pratfalls, well, he gives a nice pratfall.  And he’s perfectly matched against Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.  Loki is definitely an interesting villain among the Avengers movies simply because he has his sympathetic side.  All he really wants is Odin’s approval, and he just doesn’t know quite how to get it.  Maybe destroying a small New Mexico town is not quite the best way to do it.
            Thor is a movie with two worlds, and in a sense, this kind of splits the movie.  On the one side, you have Asgard, with its incredible CGI landscape and its high drama.  Branagh is probably most famous for his Shakespeare adaptations, and you can feel the hints of Shakespearean drama here.  The Asgard scenes are battles of royalty, sons trying to find their place in the world, a father who is becoming weak, and an enemy that threatens to attack, with three people having three different opinions on how the enemy should be dealt with.  In the other world, you have New Mexico, land of Kat Dennings’ Darcy making silly quips, Thor getting tasered, and product placement.  I’m sure there is product placement in the other Marvel movies, but nothing is quite as notable as the 7/11 and Dr. Pepper vending machine in this movie.  Yes, Asgard is definitely the real star of the movie, but that doesn’t mean that New Mexico doesn’t have its charms.  After Iron Man was in California, this shows that Marvel movies can really take place anywhere, not just in New York City.  And there is nowhere as opposite to NYC as a small town where a hammer that nobody can move is the biggest event ever, with people tying it to a pickup truck to try to get it out, and laughing when they fail.  It’s a different atmosphere from any other Marvel movie, Avengersverse or not, and even with its roughness, you can’t help but appreciate it.
            And this is a rough movie.  The slapstick and the high drama don’t meld.  The early action scenes are too visually dark and too frenetic, making the comprehension of what’s going on difficult.  And the romance plot between Thor and Jane Foster is missing a step.  It’s not fractured, it’s just missing a single piece that you notice is missing.  But for these problems, Thor still comes out enjoyable.  It meshes action, comedy, romance, and fantasy all together, and you can hear the gears grind from time to time, but it’s still funny and still exciting.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 2

Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Theroux

            It makes a lot of sense that Iron Man 2 was the only sequel before Avengers.  Iron Man had been a huge success, the hype for Thor and Captain America still needed to be built, so put their hammer and shield in Iron Man 2 and get people even more familiarized with the world of Tony Stark.  As a movie, however, Iron Man 2 is mixed.  I think it’s good, but, well, it has some significant flaws.
            But let’s start with those good parts.  First off, again, we have some fine acting.  As usual, everybody who was good in the first Iron Man is still good here.  The replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle is something I’m indecisive on.  Before re-watching, I thought that Cheadle was more over-the-top than Howard.  But really, Cheadle is just as subdued, he just has a little more screen presence, and it helps that he gets to put on the War Machine armor.  Rhodey is far more memorable when his big scene isn’t in a control room, but in fights against Tony Stark and a group of villain-controlled Stark armor.  Mickey Rourke as Whiplash gives a very subtle and quiet performance.  Later interviews had him saying that he was angry that much of his role was cut when he did so much for it, such as learning Russian, and you can’t help but feel that there is more here that’s not being seen.  The first appearance of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow is great, and provides one of the best action scenes of the movie.  But they all end up getting overshadowed by Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer.  He isn’t just over-the-top, he’s somewhere a thousand miles above the top.  It’s ultimately rather funny that his character has very little effect on the plot, but I wouldn’t dare remove him from the movie.
            And again, we have some great action scenes, particularly in meshing the action with comedy.  We’re getting more towards that Marvel-style of having something really awesome followed by something that makes the audience laugh.  Black Widow defeats a bunch of guards while Happy struggles with just one.  The sequence of Tony being chased by a troop of rip-offs of his tech gets the tension lightened when their flying causes a parking garage full of car alarms to go off.  And in-between the action, Iron Man 2 does tackle some serious themes.  The idea of what would happen if somebody like Iron Man existed in the real world, and how the military would react to that, is explored, and leads to some realism aspects that show up in the future Marvel films.  And Tony’s dying also flirts with his comic book alcoholism, but sadly doesn’t quite follow through on it.
            And that’s one of the big flaws of Iron Man 2.  For its serious themes, the movie can’t quite handle them, probably because it’s focused on being a summer blockbuster.  When Tony gets drunk at a party, it’s played for laughs, and there’s very little threat for the audience that Tony will actually die when his armor starts killing him.  And the solution to the problem is done in a second act that just slows the movie down too much.  There’s nothing particularly interesting about having Tony sit in a lab, and the solution ends up getting found and made too easily.  And we have some major Avengers foreshadowing that doesn’t work.  It’s not so much nodding towards the bigger universe Marvel’s developing as pointing at it with big glowing signs.  And finally, there’s the final battle with Whiplash.  After the fight against the drones manages to wow, you expect big things when Whiplash drops down, only to have him defeated in the span of a few seconds with a blatantly obvious Chekhov’s gun.  It leaves you with a “That was it?” feeling.
            Still, Iron Man 2 isn’t bad.  It’s quite enjoyable and good.  It’s just not as good as it could’ve been.  You can feel it wanting to be that good, it just stumbles in several key places.