These days, Marvel’s catalogue of caped content is expanding by the month, and it’s getting hard to tell what’s a sequel and what’s not with the growing connected universe that started with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008 and has continued most recently with Loki season two. And while the well of marvel movies never seems to dry up, there was a time where we were lucky to get one MCU project per year. Of course, with the box office explosion that Iron Man caused, and the healthy hundred million dollar profit that Edward Norton’s take on the Incredible Hulk saw- it was inevitable that Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel would be eager to follow up their original success with 2010’s Iron Man 2.
Robert Downey Jr.’s run as Tony Stark will go down in history as one of the single most inspired casting choices that Marvel has ever made. It was quite a gamble putting the MCU’s first film in the hands of a post-scandal Hollywood talent like Downey- and if you ask me, that gamble paid off in spades. Downey’s salary for the first film was only $500,000, but after the outstanding reception that Iron Man received, he was offered $10,000,000 to return for the highly anticipated sequel. And who knows how much he’s been paid to appear as the flying tinman since this movie… Jesus.
And also returning is the always reliable Jon Favreau as the film’s director, and Justin Theroux as the screenwriter. They’re kind of like the original Avengers behind the camera, no?
So, strap yourselves tight, true believers! Today, we’re going to revisit the very first MCU sequel and see how it stacks up against the standards of today’s superhero movies. So, let’s grab some donuts, or a couple of drinks, and hit play on Iron Man 2 on this episode of Marvel Revisited.
Iron Man 2 follows Tony Stark months after revealing his identity as Iron Man to the public. He’s been dodging responsibility and mostly avoiding the inevitable consequences of owning such a powerful suit- including being pursued by the government, slimy industry rivals, and an angry Russian named Ivan Vanko who has his sights set on destroying the Iron Man to avenge his father. Along the way, we get some new character introductions and some incredibly delicious performances as Tony battles the dark side of being a famous superhero.
For most of the MCU, having a secret identity is kind of a joke. Like, the world knows that Steve Rogers is Captain America, the world knows Thor is Thor and I’m sorry but we’re not buying that disguise bud, we know you’re still a jacked god under those glasses. I think one of the only main MCU characters to have a secret identity is Peter Parker. And even he had to learn the hard way why it’s important. But this movie really plays on the idea that Tony being out as Iron Man puts himself and everyone he loves in immediate danger. And how that idea can affect one’s ability to stay a hero.
The movie picks up almost right away after the events of the first movie and we’re first introduced to Ivan Vanko. Ivan is played by the legendary Mickey Rourke who’s portrays the character as an underground genius with the knowledge and intellectual prowess to rival even the brilliant Tony Stark. Ivan hates Tony, as we learn that Ivan’s father and Tony’s father were once partners before Howard Stark had Ivan’s father deported. Think of it as revenge, but with a more complex motive.
Rourke’s performance definitely is interesting in this movie. I remember being luke warm on it the first time I saw this film in 2010, but I’ve since grown to really appreciate the slightly goofy-yet-always intimidating performance that we got. It’s nice to see the villains of this movie really getting some thought. Vanko uses his scientific engineering know-how to build a weapon that is strong enough to incapacitate Tony- a set of whips powered by an arc reactor similar to Tony’s. This is a nice opening because when we check in with Tony- he’s living the high life as Iron Man doing appearances at his famed Stark Expo- which has since become the canonical first appearance of Peter Parker in the MCU- when Tom Holland pitched the idea that he be this kid and Feige decided to confirm it as cannon. Neat!
The Government is also after Tony as they want to have control over the Iron Man technology- a technology that we all know Tony built in a cave- WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS! And Tony is claiming that he’s the only person who knows how to make the technology, and therefore sees no need to hand over his suits. Although, we also learn that the arc reactor Tony is using to power his suit is also slowly killing him from the inside. It almost feels like there’s a lot of plot lines to follow in this movie but they all blend together so seamlessly that this movie’s 2-hour runtime is pretty snappy. I actually think story-wise this is a very interesting sequel. Speaking of improvements from the first film to the second one- The Iron Man action and suit design is absolutely wonderful here. We see the same level of impressive CGI effects, and still have that early MCU tangible looking Iron Man suit that we love so much. In fact, that extends to the War Machine suit as well which makes its official debut in this movie. Hey, wait a minute… That’s not Terrence Howard!
So, here’s the deal- Tony is denying the government access to his toys, and Rhody has been tasked with keeping a close eye on Tony to try to get his best friend to come around to signing over the Iron Man tech to the military. Tony’s not interested, but then again, he’s dying and slowly losing his ability to care about anything. The movie is laying some groundwork for the classic “Demon in a bottle” comic arch that is loosely adapted into the third film. The primary focus of that story in the comics is Tony battling his addiction to alcohol. In this movie, there’s definitely some of that brewing up as well-as Tony falling apart knowing that the suit that he created to keep him alive is slowly destroying his body.
When Vanko shows up at a racetrack to get the jump on Tony, we get introduced to one of my top 3 favorite moments in phase one of the MCU- Ivan almost gets the best of Tony, but he gets what he needs. He proves to the world, and Tony’s rival, that Tony isn’t the only one with the technology to build his weapons- and this is where I need to talk about the movie’s second villain- Justin Hammer.
Sam Rockwell plays basically the evil version of Tony, and this is one of the greatest villains that the MCU has ever introduced. I swear to God, this guy should be brought back immediately. Justin Hammer is one of those villains that desperately wants to be Tony’s rival. He tries as hard as possible to be a suitable nemesis and the only thing that makes him a villain is that he just wants to dethrone the Stark legacy and be the bigger figure for American defense. He and Mickey Rourke were great in their scenes together and I honestly think that Rockwell’s performance in this movie is all time for the MCU. It’s hilarious, believable-yet-hammy, it’s glorious. #HammerForever
So, the plan is that Hammer is going to fund and source Venko’s development of their own bootleg Iron Man suits. If Hammer can manufacture the tech, he’ll be able to sell it to the military and thus beat Tony at a game that Tony doesn’t want to play. There also is what I consider to be the best scene in the entire movie where Hammer is doing a weapons demo for the military and that has to say something. Rockwell absolutely steals the show with this one.
Now, while Whiplash and Hammer are tinkering with their toys, Tony and Stark industries are up against a wall. Tony handed the company over to Pepper after the media released the footage of Venko and his brawl at the racetrack, and now he’s just looking to find a cure for his worsening condition before it’s too late. If there’s one part of this movie that I didn’t appreciate enough the first time I saw this film- it’s the emotional arch that Tony has when Nick Fury gives Tony a locker filled with information that his late father left behind. Within that locker is the answer that Tony needs to cure himself. It is nice to see the sweet moment Tony has watching his dad’s tapes though. It adds a little something extra to the movie and the overall MCU.
There’s a solid amount of characters introduced in this movie as well. We get the intro to Black Widow with Scarlett Johanson making her debut as the character. She’s undercover for shield as one of Tony’s lawyers and it’s a pretty solid way to get another hero in the mix. We also get a good amount of Nick Fury in this movie, and I love how Samuel L. Jackson plays Fury in the early years. He’s so damn smooth in this movie and his acting chops are sharp as always. But wait! The most important character introduction comes in the form of the best avenger of all time- Phil Coleson.
We also get the co-opted Peter Parker introduction and a post credit scene teasing a new avenger- but we’ll get to that.
So, Tony is able to cure himself using the information that Fury and Howard provided him, and he’s running Iron Man 2.0 just in time to stop Justin Hammer from debuting his new Iron Man drones to the public. See, Ivan Vanko was working with Hammer to build the drones, but he had his own plans. He rigged these drones to attack on command and thanks to Tony and Rhody, it’s going to be a difficult night for our big baddies. The re-introduction to the official war machine suit is so good every time. I enjoy War Machine in the comics, and I was really looking forward to seeing the tease from the first film paid off in this movie- and I was not disappointed. I love Don Cheadle and I’m happy he’s war machine- but I think he’s never been more badass than he is in this final battle. Like, please make Iron Wars and just make him look like and do stuff like this.
Tony and Rhody defeat the drones and Whiplash and this is a really somber way to end it if you ask me. In a lot of ways, both villains were mirrored characters of Tony Stark. Justin Hammer was the mirror of Tony, and Venko was the mirror of Iron Man. And Vanko, like Tony, wanted to finish his father’s work, so there’s a very complicated and emotionally satisfying feeling that comes from seeing Ivan blow himself up. But also- the action and CGI look so beautiful in this final showdown that I quickly get over the sadness and go back to edge-of-my-seat excitement.
In the end, Hammer is arrested, Venko is dead, and justice prevailed. But just before we left the theater, the movie gave us one final scene. A scene that teased the introduction of Thor when agent Phil Coleson arrives to a dig site where Shield has just discovered Thor’s hammer.
In the end, I love this movie. I love the look of it, I love the analog sounding sound design, the rich color pallet, the performances, it’s all there and it’s all a fun time. I especially think the soundtrack and film score are great too. There’s a very light tone to this movie but the music beautifully creates moments of intense emotion with the music- weather it’s excitement when we hear ACDC in Tony’s intro, or the swelling score we hear when Tony finds out he’s dying. It’s thoughtful, and I love that.
The film opened in theaters on May 7th 2010 and was greeted by an amazing $624 million box office run. This movie was a certified hit in sales, and the same can be said for the movie’s critical reception. Critics agreed that the movie was a suitable sequel to the first film, with Roger Ebert saying:
“Iron Man 2 is a polished, high-octane sequel, not as good as the original but building once again on a quirky performance by Robert Downey Jr”
Reviews like this may not seem to be glowing- but with this movie’s release- Hollywood would officially be changed forever. See, after this movie, Marvel Studios was officially in talks to be acquired by none other than the house of mouse. That’s right, this is the movie that made Disney want to buy Marvel Studios and kick off the overwhelming rise of superhero cinema.
For me, Iron Man 2 is an entertaining movie with sharp writing, fun characters, and top-notch special effects that make for one of the MCU’s better sequel films. I think in general if you love Iron Man in the MCU you’re probably at least a little bit into this movie and if you ask me, it’s a movie well worth the rewatch if you’ve been considering it.