IRON MAN II
Compared to the brooding darkness of the Batman films or the commercial cynicism of the Transformers franchise, 2008’s Iron Man was a breezy joy of a blockbuster, and so is its sequel. It may lose the thread of its plot from time to time, and the final showdown is a bit of a let down, but the film has an awful lot of fun along the way and packs a good punch with it.
Now that billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is out and proud as Iron Man, the US government wants to get its hands on his shiny, kick-ass suit, as does rival weapons supremo Justin Hammer (a weaselly Sam Rockwell). Over in Russia, meanwhile, nut job physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is hell-bent on revenge for wrongs done to his dad by Stark’s old man, and has developed the means to bring down Iron Man. But Stark has discovered that the technology behind his Iron Man suit, upon which his life depends, is also slowly killing him. What to do?
Well, have a fight or three, obviously. The high point comes early with a spectacular set-piece as Vanko makes his move on Stark at the Monaco Grand Prix, causing the mother of all pile-ups. There’s plenty more effects-driven action of a highly entertaining order, but just as much enjoyment is to be had with the playful script and witty charisma of Downey Jr and Rockwell – and you get Scarlett Johansson in a cat-suit thrown into the bargain. Things do lose their way in the second half, but you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to mind.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED
I wasn’t expecting much from this low-budget British thriller, but was pleasantly surprised by a film in which taut, imaginative direction, claustrophobic atmosphere and terrific performances just about patch over the contrivances of the plot. The opening is particularly effective: a montage sequence in which two men get stuck into a major DIY job with silent, grim efficiency – gradually we become aware that they’re converting a flat into a cell to hold someone prisoner.
Almost all of the film takes place within these confines after the pair – scary hard man Vic (Eddie Marsan) and twitchy youth Danny (Martin Compston) – kidnap Alice Creed (star of the moment Gemma Arterton) and demand a ransom from her rich daddy. With Arterton tied to a bed and her kidnappers trying to keep it together as they await news, the relationships, allegiances and nerves of the three characters start to spin and unravel.
Shooting his own script, debutant director J Blakeson marks himself out as someone to watch with his assured, visually rich handling of the film, and Arterton rises above the nasty degradation her character suffers to prove her acting chops. However it’s Marsan, taking centre stage after years of putting his bug-eyed features to use playing evil weirdos, who is most creepily impressive.