Phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe really kicks into high gear with our next entry in the Stryker’s Cinema Series, Iron Man 2. For a little context, I am re-watching and re-reviewing all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in preparation for the release of Captain Marvel. Links to the previous entries can be found here.
After a two-year hiatus, Tony Stark returns to the big screen for the first film in this series that actually feels like it’s a part of a bigger universe than just the isolated and solo adventure that the two previous films had. The two-year gap really helped focus the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creates the building blocks for the main story and lore, while simultaneously cementing Tony Stark as the main character of the greater MCU storyline.
Iron Man 2 was released May 7th, 2010, directed by the returning Jon Favreau and produced by Kevin Feige. The budget of the film was $200 Million, and pulled in $623 Million at the box office. Iron Man 2 saw Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow reprising their roles as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, respectively. Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard who played the role of James Rhodes in the first film. The role of SHIELD was increased dramatically from the first film as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) are more integral parts of this film, Simultaneously pushing the plot forward as well as hinting to the post credit scene and the larger MCU. We are also introduced to Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. Black Widow becomes a key member of the Avengers and a major character in the whole MCU story arch. Mickey Rourke steps in as one of the main antagonists, alongside the always spectacular Sam Rockwell. Together they play two villains that I think don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve for their roles.
Mickey Rourke plays Ivan Vanko, the son of a disgraced business partner of Howard Stark, who seeks revenge on Tony for the life he thinks that he stole from both he and his father. While he talks far less than Obidia and his fight sequence is minimal towards the end of the film, his manipulation of Justin Hammer throughout the film is far more entertaining than I remembered. Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell is executed perfectly and I do hope he returns in a later film. Hammer is a bit of a bumbling idiot with somewhat evil intentions, but is ultimately manipulated into being a bigger villain than he sets out to be at the beginning of the film. Driven mostly by professional jealousy of Tony Stark, he only seeks out the help of Vanko when he thinks he’d be able to help him surpass Tony. The only downside to this villain team-up is the fact that Vanko dies in the end, ending any potential of a return in a future sequel. I would have really liked to have seen more of a fully-suited Ivan Vanko take on a more knowledgeable Tony Stark.
When we are re-introduced back to Tony Stark, who is is in a very different place than he was at the end of the first Iron Man film. Tony is dying, due to the Palatium that powers his chest piece that has begun to slowly poison him. This has made Tony begin to reflect a lot more on his legacy, something that was touched on the first film. This has become a central motivation for Tony since becoming Iron Man. This characterization of Tony Stark, while not a huge shift from the one we got in the first film, is a lot closer to the one we get going forward in the rest of the MCU films. This Tony starts the film with a death wish, engaging in reckless behavior, like flying through the fireworks at the beginning of the film, to driving a formula one car with zero experience. His relationship with Pepper Potts also becomes more dynamic, as he tries to tell her he’s dying while also revealing his true feelings for her. At the end of the film the two become much closer. Tony’s relationship with Rhodes in this film is much better, as the two have a far more playful banter back and forth than the antagonistic one in the previous film, even with the situations in the sequel having far higher stakes.
The super spy organization takes more of a role in this film, as Nick Fury tries to pull Tony out of his doom spiral. We get a more in-depth look into the lore of the MCU through Nick Fury, as he hints at several events and certain people that we’ll end up meeting later. Nick Fury also talks about Howard Stark, Tony’s father, someone who seems to be more important in the overall MCU story than most people realize. Tony’s relationship with his father drives a lot of the conflict with Captain America later in the Marvel Universe, and the dynamic between their relationships with Howard seems to dictate a lot of that.
Iron Man 2 is a solid sequel, it building a lot on the overall lore of the MCU, and really feels more like the start of this bigger universe that Fury talks about in the first post credit scene. The casual references to different Marvel characters and events really make this film feel like one of the Marvel comic books coming to life. With references to A.I.M. and Captain America that might be missed if you don’t realize what you’re looking for, this world starts to feel far more fleshed out than the solo film that preceded it.
This film also kicks off the beginning of the build to ‘Avengers.’ It’s absolutely worth the watch and still holds up as a quality movie. This really kicks the whole MCU into a solo vision as this is the first of the films where Kevin Feige takes the solo helm as the producer. The scope of this movie is exciting, and re-watching gets me pumped up, knowing what’s to come. As said previously, I highly recommend skipping ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and moving right from Iron Man, to Iron Man 2. There are two things I wanted to mention that don’t really fit into the rest of the article but are worth mentioning. It’s pretty awesome that Elon Musk is in the film as a cameo, and that they basically made Howard Stark into super smart Walt Disney. The Stark Expo reels are so well done and make it look like Walt announcing EPCOT.
Stan Lee Cameo: Larry King during the opening Stark Expo montage.
Post Credit Scene: Agent Coulson finding Thor’s Hammer in New Mexico.
Next Up: Thor