Opening this weekend at a theatre near you, . stars as Mr. Tony Stark in 2; and in the documentary Babies, a filmmaker follows the lives of four newborns in four very different countries.

Iron Man 2
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., , , , , , , ,
Director:

Summer might still be over a month away, but the summer blockbuster season has officially arrived with the release of Jon Favreau’s popcorn actioner, Iron Man 2.

Dubbed by most entertainment writers as one of the year’s most hotly anticipated , the big budget action sequel stars Robert Downey Jr. as our mega-billionaire hero, Tony Stark. During the first Stark built a high-tech suit of armour to do a little good in the world, and by the end of that revealed his true identity to the world.

As the second film kicks off, Stark is now being urged by the military to turn over the Iron Man technology for the good of the nation, but Stark is afraid that in the wrong hands the armour could be a terrible thing, and refuses to give them any information.

Meanwhile, Stark also finds out that the technology that is keeping him alive is also poisoning him, and so he appoints his former assistant Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, as CEO of the company. At the same time he takes on Natalie Rushman, played by Scarlett Johansson, as his new assistant.

He also has to contend with a new villain, played by Mickey Rourke, who has created technology of his own to take Iron Man down.

All of this happens as a whole side-plot unfolds around Stark’s many powerful friends, including James Rhodes, who is played by Don Cheadle in the sequel, and a new project known as the Avengers.

Looking at the list of stars, and knowing how much Pararmount and Marvel Studios want this film to feed into a whole franchise of super hero films, it’s easy to see how the whole project could have collapsed under its own weight. There is simply too much to fit in, and like many sequels before it, there’s a motivation to pack it full of characters.

Lead-ins are also a tough thing in movies. As much as it’s fun to have one film set up others, it’s quite often just a frustrating tactic. In the comic books, all you had to do was wait a month for some more action, but a comic book movie requires more patience than most people are willing to trust to , especially when it’s never really certain who will direct a sequel, or how far away that next film might be.

There’s also a lot expectations for the producers and Favreau to deliver on. Iron Man is one of my personal top five comic book adaptations, and it scored 93% fresh on RottenTomatoes.com, so it’s almost hard to imagine how the film could live up to all the expectations.

As far as the ratings go, the film is not everything we may have hoped, with most of the reviewers offering a mix of complaints with praise for what the film ends up getting right.

“There are too many new characters, too many crossing story lines, not enough romance and our hero’s a smug jerk for the first half hour,” Tom Long wrote for the Detroit News. But as he added, “Who cares? Iron Man 2 still rocks.”

And as Nick Pinkerton of the Village Voice, “The idea is that we learn to trust that any extraneous-seeming thread will connect to something in another couple of summers and pay off, assuming the movie does.”

The bottom line is that Downey, Rourke and crew are getting decent reviews, and while the film may be a bit messy, it’s still pretty much a must-see for Iron Man fans.

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Babies
Director:

Also opening this weekend is the only other film willing to take on Iron Man 2: filmmaker Thomas Balmes’ documentary Babies.

Following four newborns through their first year, Babies is an unscripted look at life for Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, and Hattie, who were born in four very different places: Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and California.

Without any subtitles explaining what any adults might be saying in the various languages, Babies is a honest and simple film that shows us the differences between cultures, rather than trying to explain them.

“Hardwired as we are to respond to infants,” Sheri Linden wrote for the Hollywood Reporter, “it’s difficult not to be drawn in to the innate cuteness. The filmmaker’s emotional connection to his subjects is clear, and even when Babies loses steam, it casts the human story in a fresh light.”

While Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, “Did I like the movie? Aw, yeah, I did. How could I not? Did I feel I needed to see it? Not really.”