Iron Man 2 is a sequel that isn’t quite as polished as the original. As the third installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2 was mostly concerned with setting up future installments. After taking a brief break in 2009, a sequel to Iron Man was immediately on the way at Marvel Studios. In a lot of ways, Iron Man 2 feels like the true start to the MCU. Since actor contracts were worked out, Kevin Feige was the sole producer, and 2010 was the beginning of a new decade. I was 14 in 2010, so I started to follow Marvel movie productions a lot closer. I was definitely excited for Iron Man 2 and any reference to The Avengers.
The close production meant director Jon Favreau was still on board, but actor Justin Theroux was strangely chosen as writer. I could tell Iron Man 2 would be a blast the second I saw the action-packed trailer. The sense of fun and Robert Downey Jr.’s dedicated charisma was still present, but I knew something felt off about the sequel. Iron Man 2 utilizes parts of the infamous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline from The Invincible Iron Man #120-128. Tony Stark’s tragic battle with alcoholism is mostly played for laughs due to the family friendly tone. The action is awesome, but it can feel a bit too brief at times. Regardless of approach, Iron Man 2 is still an entertaining follow up that kept us Marvel fans busy…
Iron Man 2 came out when I didn’t play the tie-in video games or play with the merchandise as much as I used to. Since I was older, I knew more about the movie going in then I ever have before. I actually knew to stay for the after-credits scenes from here on out. Iron Man 2 picks up right at the end of the first movie with Tony declaring himself as Iron Man to the public. From the perspective of the impoverished Russian Vankos. Iron Man doesn’t have the most well known rogues gallery, but Whiplash seemed like an odd choice as soon I discovered he was the main villain. In the comics, Mark Scarlotti goes by Whiplash or Backlash and simply carries a powerful whip. To make him more dynamic, Whiplash was blended with the more well known Crimson Dynamo to create the original character Ivan Vanko. Son of Anton Vanko who dies after giving his son the knowledge to make his own arc reactor. It’s an interesting choice, but it does work for the sequel’s “sins of the father” theme. Much like Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke was hired in the middle of his own comeback. It was Rourke’s idea to make Ivan a more over-the-top Russian with gold teeth, tattoos, and a bird.
6 months later, Iron Man flies into the Flushing Meadows, New York Stark Expo to the tune of “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC. In the movie it’s just Tony jumping out of the plane, but the trailer had the memorable moment of Pepper kissing his helmet before throwing it out of the plane. Like The Incredible Hulk, a lot of scenes are missing from the trailers. The Mark IV armor is mostly for show and bares a similar design to his previous red & gold armor. Iron Man makes a superhero landing and removes his suit in front of a crowd surrounded by sexy Ironette dancers. Tony Stark is currently enjoying his celebrity status as Iron Man and bragging about maintaining peace without making weapons at Stark Industries. The Stark Expo is clearly their take on Disney’s Epcot center right down to Tony’s father Howard Stark representing Walt Disney in his old film reels. Ironic considering Disney had yet to buy Marvel Studios. Since his role is greatly expanded, John Slattery effectively plays the older Howard Stark.
Tony’s persistent heart problems from the comics are replaced by his arc reactor’s palladium core slowly poisoning him. The thought of dying causes Stark to make continually reckless decisions that affect him and his company. Iron Man 2 probably features more celebrity cameos than any other MCU movie. Future superheroes Olivia Munn and Kate Mara both play throwaway characters, real life CEO’s Larry Ellison and Elon Musk both appear, news personalities like Bill O’Reilly appear, and of course Stan Lee cameos as himself being mistaken for Larry King. Stark’s public identity also means the need for boring Government hearings, but at least Downey Jr. and Garry Shandling of all people make it entertaining. The hearing is all about the Government wanting Stark to hand over his Iron Man suits. It’s where we meet the other antagonist Justin Hammer. A rival weapons manufacturer who was originally an elderly Englishman in the comics. Sam Rockwell is always a scene stealer who brings a smug quality to a younger Hammer.
It’s also at this hearing that Terrence Howard transforms into Don Cheadle. Since Howard apparently wanted more money, Rhodey was recast instead. Giving Cheadle the honor of wearing the War Machine armor instead. Cheadle had the difficult job of recapturing Rhodey’s friendship with Tony, but he does a good job considering it was his first appearance. The rest of Iron Man’s supporting cast is similarly given more to do. J.A.R.V.I.S. is the only one who knows about Stark’s palladium poisoning and continues to assist him. Gwyneth Paltrow has much more screen time when Tony impulsively names Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries. Tony and Pepper’s will they or won’t they banter is just as good as before. Director Jon Favreau also gives himself a bigger role as Happy Hogan. He’s mostly around for comic relief and even shows off Happy’s comic accurate boxing abilities. Iron Man 2 was also the best place for the debut of Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Appropriate considering Black Widow made her comic book debut in an Iron Man comic.
Although actresses like Emily Blunt were considered, the 24 year old Scarlett Johansson was the best possible choice to play the mysterious Russian spy. Despite the fact that this Black Widow doesn’t have a Russian accent. What she lacks in an accurate accent, Johansson makes up for with wavy red hair, sex appeal, and one of many scissor kicks. She just hides her identity by posing undercover as Stark’s new assistant Natalie Rushman. Eventually Tony and company end up at the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco. Where Stark unfortunately bumps into Hammer and former flame reporter Christine Everhart. Tony makes another rash decision by deciding to drive his own race car in the Grand Prix. The action finally kicks in when Ivan Vanko suddenly shows up to take revenge on Stark. This Whiplash uses a set of deadly electrical whips powered by his own arc reactor. Happy and Pepper very comedically drive into Vanko in order to give Tony his suitcase suit. New armor is the highlight of any Iron Man movie and the awesome red & silver suitcase suit up is no exception. The Mark V armor sustains heavy damage, but Tony quickly puts an end to his mysterious new foe.
Ivan is imprisoned in a Monaco prison where Tony tries to get some answers. Turns out Russian arc reactor co-creator Anton Vanko was screwed over by Howard Stark and became bitter despite also selling secrets on the black market. Vanko is left out of a lot of the action while being recruited by fellow antagonist Justin Hammer. He tasks Vanko with perfecting the armor that he chooses to turn into high tech military drones. Their banter mostly contains a lot of bird talk. As Hammer and Vanko plot against Stark, he makes another reckless decision to get drunk at his birthday party. Although Tony is more of a silly drunk who puts his guests in danger while wearing his Mark IV armor. The only response is for Rhodey to finally don the Iron Man armor the way he does in the comics. Fortunately Tony keeps his Mark I-IV armor set up in his lab. Rhodey is somehow able to suit up in the silver Mark II armor and engage in a fight with his best friend. The Iron Man vs. Iron Man fight should have been more emotional, but they undermine it by playing “It Takes Two.” Things only get serious when the song cuts out and they fire their repulsor rays on eachother. Rhodey takes the armor to the Air Force where Hammer soups it up with a variety of weapons.
All this reckless behavior was finally enough to bring Nick Fury out of the shadows. This was my first time seeing Samuel L. Jackson on the big screen as the famous S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Since I foolishly left the theater before seeing his cameo in the after-credits scene for Iron Man. Although caucasian in the original comics, Jackson took the role due to the Ultimate version being modeled after him. This Nick Fury has his eye patch and black trench coat. His role is mostly talk heavy as he finds Tony atop Randy’s Donuts. Avenger matters are discussed, but Fury’s main concern is bringing Stark back to health. Agent Romanoff finally makes her grand entrance in her iconic catsuit. It was kind of a reunion for Jackson and Johansson in a much better superhero movie. They give Tony a temporary cure, but order him to work on finding a suitable replacement for palladium. Fury deepens S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history with talk of Howard Stark’s involvement in how it was founded. He also appoints Agent Phil Coulson to look after Tony. Clark Gregg earned a bit more screen time and a much more blatant scene with Captain America’s prototype shield.
Through a series of complex and very convoluted scientific mumbo jumbo, Howard left a message for Tony in one of his reels that indicated a new element that Tony maps out using his father’s world of tomorrow model town. Long story short, Tony wrecks his house in order to synthesize the element for his arc reactor. Hammer unveils his military drones at the Stark Expo along with Rhodey in his souped up War Machine armor. It was great to see one of the earliest black superheroes in his bulky weaponized armor. Even better to see Tony arrive in his new armor to team up with his best friend. The Mark VI armor is mostly the same as his other red & gold armor apart from the triangular arc reactor. The night time climax at the Stark Expo is full of awesome moments like all the drones and War Machine attacking Iron Man, Tony saving a kid in an Iron Man mask, and flying through Flushing Meadows in order to destroy them. It’s also at this time that Black Widow shows off her expert fighting skills while Happy fights one guard. Hammer is arrested and Vanko leaves his computer, allowing Romanoff to reprogram the War Machine armor.
The CGI used on the armor is especially impressive in the epic fight where Iron Man and War Machine tear through a horde of drones. Quickly ending when Tony uses a laser to cut through the rest. Vanko finally gets back in the fight when he shows up in a Mark II Whiplash suit with giant electrical whips. Tony and Rhodey use their repulsors on Vanko and he’s killed in a timed explosion that forces Tony to rescue Pepper. Although understandably frustrated by the constant danger, Tony and Pepper finally share their first kiss. Further Avenger stuff is shown at a compound where we see the news report from The Incredible Hulk. Tony is confusingly named a consultant in order to explain his cameo there. Ending with Shandling’s Senator begrudgingly awarding Rhodey and Tony the Medal of Honor. The after-credit scene more seriously sets up the MCU with Coulson finding Thor’s hammer in New Mexico. Iron Man 2 may feel like an extended commercial, but that’s just fine for now.
Preceded by: Iron Man & Followed by: Iron Man 3