The MCU Ranked: ‘Iron Man 2’
Movie: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Director: Jon Favreau
Heroes: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Col. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
Villains: Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke)
Support Cast: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), JARVIS (Paul Bettany), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), Howard Stark (John Slattery)
Cameos: Stan Lee as ‘Larry King’, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, Christiane Amanpour and professional creepstain Bill O’Reilly appear as themselves. Max Favreau, son of director Jon, appears as a young boy wearing an Iron Man mask at Stark Expo – this character was recently retconned to be Peter Parker making his first appearance.
Plot: In the months following Tony Stark introducing Iron Man to the world his public stock has only increased. He’s now viewed as a hero and protector of America and the face of global innovation. The US government feels differently and wants him to hand over his technology. Meanwhile, rival weapons designers and companies are looking to usurp his new monopoly.
Review: There’s something that often happens with sequels to unexpected blockbusters. They get rushed. While the original is born of innovation, passion, problem solving and time the sequels are hurried out to capitalise of the newfound hit and instead are born out of urgency, marketing and high expectations. This absolutely occurs with Iron Man 2, but not to the degree that it sinks the whole movie.
On the contrary there is plenty that works here, it’s just interspaced with things that do not. It’s as though the bricks are high quality but the mortar holding them together was thinned out and ineffectual.
Here’s what works. Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark will go down in history as one of the most perfect and natural casting choices in Hollywood history. He is the bedrock on which the most ambitious and successful movie franchise ever seen was built. He is never not fun to watch in the role. Terrance Howard, a weak link in the original film, has been replaced with the exceptionally talented Don Cheadle. Howard played Rhodes as a whinging sibling not allowed in the clubhouse. Cheadle plays him as a strong and disciplined character who has built a military career and is equal parts frustrated and in admiration of his charge.
War Machine is a welcome sight in Iron Man 2, but we also see the introduction of a more pivotal figure in the developing MCU with Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. We learn very little about the character as she spends the bulk of the movie undercover to keep an eye of Stark, making the absolutely bad-ass action sequence of her dispatching a corridor of goons all the better. If the goal was to establish Black Widow as the most effective, seductive, professional and dangerous secret agent under SHIELD command then mission accomplished. It’s only a shame that she’s been left playing sidekick to the other Avengers since then. It’s a great character with a fantastic actor, a proven fan favourite and yet lacking a solo film or series. Boo.
Where the movie starts to come apart is with the development of Stark’s character. Before we get into that, we need to look at who he’s up against. First out the gate is Ivan Vanko (Rourke), the son of a Russian physicist who helped develop the arc-reactor technology with Howard Stark who views Tony as having built an empire of lies and stolen ideas. Utilising the same tech he turns himself into Whiplash and publicly attacks Stark. Also on the docket is Justin Hammer (Rockwell), a smarmy rival weapons manufacturer who is often embarrassed by Stark’s effortless success is all areas they compete in. After Whiplash takes chunks out of Iron Man at the Monaco Formula One, Hammer recruits Vanko to build a rival suit system.
This on it’s own would be enough to carry the story. The immediate repercussions of Stark creating the next step with weapons technology creates personal and global conflict. We could look at Stark struggling with the ethics of starting a new arms race with Vanko and Hammer representing the agencies who would seek to take advantage of it, namely terrorist groups and weapon designers seeking government contracts. Iron Man taking on the ethical responsibility of stopping his armour being utilised by corrupt governments and cleaning up Black Market trade would work well, and would build on the themes of the first film. The implications of introducing Iron Man to the global stage and the subsequent ‘Armour Wars’ would lead neatly into the popular ‘Demon in a Bottle’ character arc where Stark confronts his alcoholism.
What creates problems in this film is the inclusion of an addition plot thread which makes Stark’s character arc feel detached from the actions of the villains. This very much shoe-horned in plot sees Stark suffering from blood poisoning from his arc reactor implant, leading him into a downward spiral where he pushes Pepper (Paltrow) and his business away from him, becomes alcoholic for one scene and then Nick Fury turns up with an absolutely bonkers deus ex-machina to resolve it. Whilst Vanko and Hammer are chilling on the bench we get an extended sequence of Stark discovering (mostly by accident) that his father had left secret plans for a new element that Stark creates with lasers and uses to power the arc reactor just in time for a massive showdown with Hammer and Vanko.
The result of this additional plot is Pepper being regulated to an eye-rolling nanny role and the villains being sorely underdeveloped. The whole arc is forced and awkward and has no long-term ramifications for the character or the series. Excising it would have little impact on the rest of the film if they instead focused on the Armour Wars story, and laid the groundwork for Stark’s fall into depression and alcoholism to be explored in future instalments rather than resolve it in five minutes. It could’ve taken the place of the PTSD plot in Iron Man 3 and felt as though it had been given a proper run.
At least the action is awesome. There are three major sequences during the film which keep the story afloat and make repeat viewings worthwhile. Whiplash destroying F1 racers on the track is a spectacle, and the briefcase suit is fantastic (although we have trouble putting aside the perception that it must’ve been a bit flimsy). War Machine making his first appearance by putting the smack down on Iron Man is a super fun rumble, and seeing them team-up for the final showdown with Vanko’s team of drones set the standard for action in the MCU. Mixing in the aforementioned Black Widow corridor fight is the icing on the cake.
Credits Scene: After abruptly bailing on Stark partway through the film we rejoin Agent Coulson driving through the New Mexico desert, reporting back to Fury when he arrives at a giant crater. Sitting in the middle of the crater is none other than Mjölnir, the fabled hammer of Thor – the next major player to enter the MCU. It’s the perfect tease of what’s next.
Most Notable Easter Egg: There’s a number of clues setting up the next couple of steps in the MCU. During Stark’s meeting with Fury at the end of the film we see news reports covering Hulk’s attack at a college campus and map with spots marked on New Mexico, alluding to Thor, one on Africa, possibly the location of Wakanda, and one on New York, the Marvel hub for superhero shenanigans. A mark on Norway could be related to where the Red Skulls found the Tesseract or Thor related business, and the mark on Greenland could relate to Captain America’s whereabouts. In the middle of the ocean we could have Atlantis, which has not yet come up.
Coolest Moment: It’s a tough call between Iron Man and War Machine teaming up for the first time and Black Widow clearing the room without blinking.
THE MCU MASTER LIST
Here’s where we rank the film under discussion against the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man 2 has got some serious good stuff under its belt but over all it feels rushed and sloppy. They’d hit the ground running and almost hit their stride…this was just a small stumble. It’s heading in just below The Punisher.
Click those numbers if you want to see what we said about the others.
1. THOR: RAGNAROK
2. IRON MAN
3. THE PUNISHER
4. IRON MAN 2
5. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Now it’s time to join Team Asgard for their introduction to the series.