Movie Catch-Up for the Marvel Cinematic Universe
#3: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Click here to view MCU for the MCU: Iron Man!
Welcome back to Movie Catch Up for the MCU! The weekly series where I recap every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to catch up in time for Avengers: Infinity War! Last week we covered one of the more controversial movies in the MCU: The Incredible Hulk. This week we’ll be going over the first sequel in the MCU: Iron Man 2! I’ll also be messing with the format a little, so you may notice a few kinks. Just know that I’m praying very hard to Mormon Jesus to have myself cured. Let’s get started.
So what the heck is this movie about?
Iron Man 2 takes place 6 months after the events of Iron Man 1, where everybody knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man. The public has Stark fever and it’s inflated Tony’s ego to astronomical proportions. You know what hasn’t been inflated though? Tony Stark’s lifespan. The Palladium metal that powers the arc reactor in Tony’s chest is poisoning his blood at an alarming rate and the sense of imminent death has been causing him to behave erratically
At the same time, Tony is being stalked and attacked by Ivan Vanko, a Russian physicist, engineer, and criminal who’s made it his life’s mission to ruin Tony’s life for the sins of Tony’s father Howard Stark. You see, Howard originally developed the prototype arc reactor (seen in Iron Man 1) with the help of Ivan’s dad Anton, but Howard did what scientist at the time called “a dick move” and completely erased Anton from the history books. So Ivan, with the help of his pet cockatoo Elvis, builds his own arc reactor and becomes the villain Whiplash.
To make matters even worse, Tony is also fighting a government who are trying to take the Iron Man suit because they believe it’s too dangerous to be controlled by one man and should instead be controlled by the military. They believe they could duplicate the suit as a deterrent to copy-cat builders. Leading the charge for this government panel is California Raisin Senator Stern and rival weapons dealer screw-up Justin Hammer, who together forms the heavy weight tag team of incompetence. However, thanks to Tony’s self-destructive drinking, his buddy Rhodey decides Stark is no longer fit to be Iron Man and takes a suit, via excessive force, for the military and Hammer to work on. In other words, Tony’s drinking habits got him Hammered. Yes, I surprise myself too sometimes. Did I forget to mention that Hammer and Ivan Vanko are working together to destroy Tony as well?
Thankfully SHIELD friends, Nick Fury, Phil Coulson and new character Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), arrive to keep Tony in check. In the process, they give him the information he needs to discover a new element to power his arc reactor and cure his palladium poisoning! Meanwhile, Hammer and Vanko create a new suit for Rhodey called the “War Machine” and a whole fleet of remote controlled drone robot soldiers. Vanko betrays Hammer (who saw that coming?) and uses the drones + War Machine (with Rhodey inside) to attack Tony’s ego festival the Stark Expo. BUT with Tony’s new lease on life, Iron Man, with the help of Black Widow, take control of War Machine, destroy the drones, stop Hammer/Vanko and save the day!
Cool! But how does that relate to Avengers Infinity War?
One of the goals of Iron Man 2 was to introduce more concepts and characters that would be relevant in the first Avengers movie, since this was the first movie to be released after Marvel truly committed to the shared universe that is the MCU. So, not only does it spend more time with Phil Coulson and Nick Fury (2 characters that are central to the first Avengers movie), but it introduces us to Black Widow (one of the deadliest spies in the world and a key member of the Avengers going forward).
In terms of big events in the movie that have to be remembered, the biggest is Rhodey becoming War Machine because not only is he super cool, but he shows up these movies a lot and has been confirmed to be a character in Infinity War. By the end of the movie Pepper is dating Tony and she has a lot more control over Stark Industries. It is up in the air how much control (she was appointed CEO, then very quickly resigned because Tony’s life is a pain in the ass to deal with), but she’s definitely a bigger player. We also find out that Howard Stark was one of the founding members of SHIELD. Other than that, this movie just puts in a lot of details to further connect the movies. The film includes the first appearance of Thor’s Hammer, briefly acknowledges the existence of the Tesseract (which will be VERY important later), AND implies the existence of Captain America, by using a prototype of his iconic shield as a way to hold up Tony’s experiment.
Great! But what did you think of the movie?
I genuinely love the MCU to death (or else I wouldn’t be writing about it right now) and there are a lot of great moments in this film, but I find it very flawed. It’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. It pains me to say that even more because I saw SO MUCH potential while watching it. If CinemaBlend is to be believed, Jon Favreau wanted to make a different movie than the one we got and you can see hints of it throughout the film. In my honest opinion, I think the two main issues are 1) forcing the SHIELD story into the movie to set up Avengers and 2) kind of mishandling the antagonist of the movie.
The first point is fairly self-explanatory. After an exciting first half and a fight scene where Rhodey hits Tony with everything in his house INCLUDING the kitchen sink, the story cuts to Tony talking to SHIELD (aka Squad of Highly Inconvenient Expository Lore Dumps). I acknowledge that Fury, Black Widow and Coulson are there for world building, but it really slows the movie down and takes focus away from the main plot of the movie. What also makes it worse is that to give the characters more to do, SHIELD basically solves a bunch of Tony’s problems for him, making the film a little less personal.
This leads to my final point, the mishandled antagonist. And that point may be cheating a little based on how I phrased it. Sure the villains of the movie can be a little one note; even though Elvis the bird can sing a few notes (PSYCH. Another bird joke). However, I’d say the main antagonist of the movie was (or should have been) Tony himself. For much of the movie, Iron Man 2 clearly implies that Tony is someone who’s dying and has resigned himself to death. His suit is killing him faster, but he’s designed a suit that Rhodey can use without his own arc reactor. He’s drinking and racing, even though it may kill him. He claims to have tried everything to find a replacement for the deadly palladium, but with all his intellect and resources he never thought of using Lithium Oxide to reduce symptoms, or to try and explore new elements.
All of his actions scream “I’m not someone who thinks they deserve to survive after what I’ve done with my life.” Even the villains of the movie play into this. Hammer is a constant reminder of Stark’s former lifestyle. Ivan’s father loves him and Ivan carry’s on his legacy, while Tony was neglected by his father, doesn’t feel he lived up to his legacy, and Howard was even the reason Anton Vanko’s legacy was erased. There is so much good material here to have a very intimate/personal movie exploring Tony’s guilt over his life’s work, survivor’s guilt over being the only one left alive in Afghanistan, and what it’s like to deal with those feelings while having a terminal illness, but nope. Half way through the movie SHIELD comes in with the answers to everything. Tony just happened to not think of the solution. Justin Hammer, Ivan + Anton Vanko are just evil dudes. The government is bad and one man SHOULD be allowed to have a super powerful weapon to himself, despite the technology being used by someone else against him. Everyone’s fine and no one brings up any of that again.
Believe it or not, after all that, I do still enjoy the movie. It’s not a bad film. It’s a very entertaining action comedy that’s unfortunately thematically at arms with itself. It can just be frustrating when you see the makings of an amazing movie inside one that’s simply fine. Lucky for me though, Marvel did eventually make the deconstructionist movies I wanted from this one… but that’s for another time.
Thanks for reading! Next time we cover THOR!