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Iron Man encores in noisy sequel, and Elm Street is truly a nightmare

by Mark Burger

Filled with special effects and pyrotechnics, Iron Man 2 delivers plenty of bang for the buck. As for the story, well… that’s another story.

Much of the original film’s cast is back contributing columnist under the direction of Jon Favreau, including (of course) Robert Downey Jr., who brings his customary energy to the role of billionaire Tony Stark and his superhero alter-ego, Iron Man. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark’s able girl Friday, Pepper Potts; Samuel L. Jackson (eyepatch in place) plays Nick Fury; and Favreau himself plays Stark’s chauffer and bodyguard, Happy Hogan. Don Cheadle, looking slightly bewildered, replaces Terrence Howard as Stark’s best bud “Rhodey” Rhodes, who occasionally dons his own metal outfit as the subtly named “War Machine.”

This time around, Stark finds himself contending with both the US government, which insists that he share his technology with the military; new assistant and potential romantic interest Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson); and unscrupulous rival industrialist Justin Hammer (nicely essayed by Sam Rockwell), who’s in cahoots with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the Russian-born, megalomaniacal super-villain “Whiplash.”

Clearly, Stark has his hands full — as do the filmmakers themselves, who try (with only moderate of success) to keep all the characters and story elements aloft throughout. There’s plenty of well-choreographed mayhem through Iron Man 2, so much so that one can’t help but wonder if the barrage was designed to distract attention away from the narrative, which really doesn’t add up to much. Justin Theroux’s screenplay continues the story but doesn’t much expand it.

Individual set pieces are impressive, yet they never coalesce into a cohesive whole. It’s highly unlikely, however, that this will have any effect on the film’s box-office take, which will undoubtedly be one of the top grossers of the year. Rest assured, more sequels are in the works, but perhaps next time the filmmakers will make more of a concerted effort to improve upon the original film, rather than simply coast on its pre-ordained success. This isn’t the worst sequel ever made, but it is, in the end, just a sequel.

The new, not necessarily improved, version of A Nightmare on Elm Street is yet another remake that pales in the shadow of its cinematic predecessor. Aside from cashing in on the established horror franchise, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to re-do something that worked so well — and so many times — in the past.

Once again we find ourselves in a bucolic, all-American suburb where the resident teenagers are falling prey to their worst nightmares.

One by one, they are violently slaughtered, a form of supernatural revenge dating back to a dark secret they all share. Their tormentor is one Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), the ubiquitous dream demon who kills them while they sleep.

The new film marks the feature debut of director Samuel Bayer, a music-video veteran who (not surprisingly) brings a technical competence to the proceedings, but none of the mordant wit that Wes Craven brought to the original film. State-of-the-art CGI effects are no substitution for novelty or imagination, as this film proves. It’s not as if A Nightmare on Elm Street is a forgotten commodity. In point of fact, it’s just the opposite: The original film series is widely available on home video, and has been for the better part of 20 years. So not only is the original film a standard, but it’s a standard that nearly everyone knows.

In no regard does the new film surpass the original, nor does it appear to really try — despite what is undoubtedly a larger budget. The acting is weak, with leading lady Rooney Mara (as the moody heroine Nancy) giving a performance that is seemingly half-asleep from the get-go. She evinces little onscreen chemistry with Kyle Gallner, as the adoring friend and de-facto hero here, and if Gallner’s performance seems tolerable it’s primarily because Mara is so pallid in comparison.

The token adult characters include Connie Britton and Clancy Brown, neither in particularly good form.

Haley, the “new” Freddy, glowers and snarls under burned-face makeup, flexing his razored fingers and delivering his trademark threats. Yet he too will inevitably be compared to Robert Englund, who, quite simply, is Freddy to many (with good reason).

The screenplay, by Wesley Strick and first-timer Eric Heisserer, is substandard bogeyman rubbish. Producer

Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes shingle has thus far unleashed remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and a prequel) and Friday the 13th . None of those films were any good, either — although they did make one appreciate the originals all the more. A Nightmare on Elm Street is much the same. For shame, for shame….

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