Confession time: I’ve never hated Iron Man 2 as much as most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe do. I fully acknowledge its flaws, and there are many that I will talk about in here. But coming off the low of Hulk and the high of Iron Man, this one was always going to be a weird film.
I can’t really remember what I was expecting going in to the movie, which I watched in the theaters (I’ve watched all of the MCU movies in the theaters, actually… something I can say of few other series not called Star Wars). While Iron Man was popular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t the zeitgeist that it has become quite yet… that really came about with Avengers when it all suddenly made sense.
This movie is daring, given that it opens on two characters we don’t know, one of them dies within 30 seconds of the start, and then it goes directly into a montage. This movie is just lousy with montages… Gutter from PCU must really love the things. Watching this in a more critical eye, it really hits on just about every bad action movie trope of the era. I mean, I really like Jon Favraeu, but I’m starting to realize his move from director to producer was probably for the best, given the movies that came after this.
Iron Man 2 is where Pepper Potts started to stop being a character and started just being Gwyneth Paltrow in real life, I think. Compared to other characters, it feels like she kind of took a step back in this compared to the first movie at times. It comes off as so disjointed and I’m not sure if it’s in the writing or in Patrow’s acting for Pepper, or maybe scenes that put a lot of it into context were cut from the movie.
The animosity around her relationship with Tony is weirdly placed in the movie. I mean, I get it from him… he’s always been like that and is notoriously bad at communication. Pepper was the counter-balance to that in the first movie, but here, she’s just as bad at it. She’s sniping at tony, dismissive of him at times, or downright angry for reasons that weren’t made clear.
On the other hand, you get to see her take charge and kick butt as a CEO (despite being dismissed by seemingly everyone), and that part is great. The same strange conflict is there with her an Natalie/Natasha… she’s blaming her for something at the party when she had been standing there, and they are perfectly professional later (and the only person who seemed confused was Tony). Maybe there’s something there that would have made it make sense, but how it comes off here is like there were two different Pepper Potts characters in the story and they forgot to get the writing consistent between them.
The strange way that characters are brought into the story and develop isn’t limited just ot Pepper. The initial reveal of Whiplash is bad. The slow motion walk, the explosions in the background while he’s walking away… it’s like all the worst action movie tropes. Slow motion slow motion action. The fight is actually kind of cool, but it mostly highlights that both of them are seemingly lousy at tactics. Whiplash has a weapon and plan that requires him being within ten feet of his enemies… and Tony is being dumb and staying within ten feet for the whole fight. Again… the Iron Man suit can fly. Go up, hover, and blast him.
We continue to see this disjointed Whiplash throughout the movie. He loves his bird and his father, he’s a gifted scientist and engineer… but also tattooed like he had a metal band in the 90s that just couldn’t quite get their break and able to escape from prison like a trained soldier and assassin. He can hack into a computer through movie magic while also apparently programming a computer system and building an advanced suit without anyone noticing.
That’s the problem with him as a villain… they establish that he hates Tony Stark, he was convicted of selling plutonium, and that he spent 15 years in prison. How did he have time to learn to be a dangerous hand to hand killer when most of his time was spent getting tattooed? And why did the hatred that they have for Howard Stark transfer so hard on to Tony. I get that irrational revenge can be a motivating factor in things, but there’s such a level of planning and calculation here that doesn’t fit him being a crazed fanatic.
The big problem with this movie is that it skips on the important thing of actually providing us background. It’s more concerned with setting up Black Widow and the relationship between Pepper and Tony than telling an overall story. The march to Avengers was on, and the interesting story is around Nick Fury, Coulson… basically everything except the main plot of the story. Justin Hammer was a much better idea as a villain here than Whiplash, and a shame that he was sort of squandered after this movie.
This is a movie of contrasts in what works and what doesn’t. Tony watching the videos of his father works. Justin Hammer’s rivalry and jealousy of Tony Work. Tony’s interaction with SHIELD. The interaction with Tony and Rhodey work. Whiplash doesn’t, the huge animosity that Pepper has with Tony through the whole thing doesn’t.
“Everything is achievable through technology” – Howard Stark. That sort of draws the line around Tony in such a way. In fact, the filling in of the background of Tony, what made him… him, is the strength of this movie. Unlike the whole Vanko going nuts trying to kill Stark, this has believable emotion and belief behind it… and we see the unresolved conflict within Tony over it. Better yet, it’s not something that he comes to grips with or shrugs off, it’s just part of his identity to mull over and live with.
The dialog in this movie is some of the worst and some of the best that the MCU has to offer. I mean, it’s time for the whole “bar of soap” jail joke to just fade away, but I can also see Tony saying something like that at this point in his life. But so much of the interaction just comes across as noise and banter.
Basically everything Tony says without an audience must be Robert Downey Jr. doing some stream of consciousness improv. Basically everything in Morocco, the stuff back and forth with Pepper in the office… things like that. There’s a lot of dialog in there, but it’s almost like the extra money they were paying RDJ must have been by the word.
There are points when it works well, mostly in the parts where I called out it working. Every time Sam Rockwell is on the screen as Justin Hammer is just a highlight, and his interactions with Ivan are great. Like I mentioned above though, Pepper feels like a step back here in spots, but great in others.
Her smacking down Justin Hammer and taking control are fine. Her being stressed out is understandable, but I don’t get the hatred for Tony that only goes away when she realizes that he was dying (something he tried to say multiple times, but, you know). They improve that aspect of it a bit more come Avengers and Iron Man 3, but it is such an abrupt change in the course of this movie.
The big introduction in this movie is obviously Natalie, the new admin assistant… whom we all know now as Natashia Rominov / Black Widow (she never gets named as Black Widow until Avengers, though). If you didn’t read any of the casting stuff, you probably didn’t know how she was going to be set up in the movie until she’s actually revealed later on as an Agent of SHIELD. In fact, she tried to get before Tony at the expo – as a blonde when she passed him a note to call her.
Overall, she was an interesting character at first that you are curious about, but once she’s revealed as an agent of shield (and, based on the costume, we comic nerds know she’s likely Black Widow), she becomes a fascinating character. The best fight scene of the movie belongs to her, punctuated by the humor of Happy thinking he’s helping so much while she just goes on to disable the entire guard force.
Last movie, we got multiple building montages of armor. Here… we get somehow building a particle accelerator out of stuff he had lying around in order to synthesize his new element. The very idea of him manually aiming it, and the power of it, is just so ridiculous. He’s basically standing in the middle of what would be an astronomical release of radiation when he goes to make it. It had an atomic number in the 200s, while the most massive thing that our universe has ever produced is Plutonium, which is 94 for those who want to wander down high school science memory lane (also stupidly rare, most of what we ever had to make bombs was man-made).
We’ve been able to make up to 118, which existed for milliseconds, but that doesn’t occur in nature. Those took millions or billions of dollars, armies of scientists, and years of effort, experiments, and work to make minuscule amounts. Not to mention that it was done with particle accelerators that span miles and consume as much power as a small city just to run the collider. I mean, it’s ridiculous and bonkers, but still kind of enjoyable.
After watching this and the original Iron Man close to back to back… I’m not sure if Whiplash or Stane is the weakest villain of the MCU. With Vanko, his motivations are just stated to us, but never shown except in flashbacks or small news clippings (well, and his dad’s death at the start). I get the idea that Vanko hated Howard Stark, but the whole hatred of Tony feels just forced.
With Stane, his was crazy and his plan was stupid, but you can see the connection there between the characters directly. I mean, from one point, I get that it’s the obsession at seeing someone have success with the same thing… but it’s not like Howard was around to see his son get killed or that Tony even understood why the hatred was there. Even the whole Vanko setting it up… we don’t get to see how he was able to reproduce the miniaturization of the arc reactor tech that Tony was able to make work (and that Tony’s father and Vanko’s father were not).
At this point, you can really see the villain problem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is dealing with. This is the third movie with a lackluster overall villain… but a good to great secondary villain. Justin Hammer is sort of a side act to Vanko, but is a far better character to watch because you can understand exactly how he got there. General Ross filled that role in Hulk, they didn’t establish how he got there at all but you could at least see what motivated him to go after Banner.
It’s strange to look back at now, but there was a time where it was somewhat concerning with the direction of the MCU. Even now, most people are going to rank this movie towards the bottom of any lists. I like it, but I still wouldn’t put it all that high… the flaws are obvious when you watch it, there’s just a lot in there to still chew on and enjoy.
This is the first movie that laid down breadcrumbs of what was to come with the MCU overall. Avengers are mentioned by name, though nothing more past it, and we get a much bigger glimpse into what SHIELD is doing. Again, comparing to Hulk, it’s stark (pun intended) how much universe building is happening in this movie compared to the last one, and you can see the plan forming up.
With the return of Coulson, we also get the little touch early on relating to his love of all things Captain America with the prototype shield. The end credits scene is a direct shout out to the next movie, Thor, ending with the trademark thunder. We get Black Widow, setting up the relationship between Tony and Pepper (and that evolves to more of a Partnership in Avengers), and the revelations that there are a lot bigger things out there to worry about.
While the focus of Iron Man 2 remains very much on the personal level of conflict, the threats are starting to be a lot more real. The problem with Tony Stark failing isn’t that he’s dangerous, it’s that he’s become so important to the safety of the world that it is just going to escalate to the next point. His building of the Iron Man suit was opening Pandora’s Box, and Vanko proved that the technology can be duplicated. Despite what Tony said at the start, others will have worse coming up. More than that, there are a lot of worse things out there… and maybe the people that will save us aren’t up to the task.
Despite that setup, Iron Man is still the best hope that exists in the MCU… and Fury seems to know it, setting him up for the final fight with the big bad. The final showdown is bombastic, but also ridiculous. They make jokes about how bad Hammer’s tech are, but we’re shown hundreds of drones firing thousands of bullets and never hitting anyone. Not even random background people. They’re worse than Stormtroopers.
Despite that whole fight, what is just fantastic to watch is the concert movement of Iron Man and War Machine together. We got a lot of it foreshadowed earlier on with their “cross the beams” moment… but it still just worked. Their friendship remains a highlight through the rest of the films where it is shown. That being said, I wish Rhodey and Falcon would get far more screen time in the Avengers movies than they do.
Once all the Hammer Drones are gone, though, is where it just sort of falls apart. Truth is, the end just anticlimactic. Somehow, Whiplash was able to piece together a suit and be better at using it and fighting than Iron Man or War Machine… which makes no sense at all given everything we are shown. We saw nothing to say he was smarter than Tony (at best, he’s as smart), just that he had access to the same info and a bird.
His grand plan seemed to be fight him then blow himself up in movie-audience friendly explosions that may somehow kill Pepper. How would Whiplash know to go after Pepper, given everything we’d seen of their relationship was very private. I don’t get at all what the reasoning was for blowing up the bots everywhere (or, for that matter, how them getting shot earlier didn’t set even one of them off). It’s basically explosion for explosion’s sake… and setting up the little rooftop scene between Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey (which is pretty good).
It’s weird how the fight is overshadowed by the aftermath of it… slowing down the “Avengers” thing and having Stark make fun of himself a bit, the whole thing with Senator Shandling were both genuinely great scenes, and the aforementioned end credits scene that rolls right into Thor. It’s weird to think that at this point, Thor was basically unknown outside of fairly big comic fans.
He was never an overly popular hero at any point along his life, to be honest, and the vast majority of people likely had no idea who he was. Also, the end credits are worth listening to just for the Stark Expo song. They remind me of the GE and GM shorts about the World of Tomorrow, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax… I just love those slices of cheese.
While this most certainly isn’t the best movie of the MCU, and it is a worse movie overall than the original Iron Man… it’s not the disposable thing that Hulk was. We get two, maybe three, references to the Incredible Hulk after the movie. Here, despite the failings on many levels, there’s just a ton of world building, setup, and introductions that define what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to become. That fact alone elevates this one up to a three out of five in my book. It’s not what I’d call great, but it is entertaining and has some great new characters established in it.
Since there are going to be a lot of these reviews, and it’s nice to see how all of the movies stack up against one another, we’re going to add a little summary section for the Marvel Cinematic movies. When we’re all done, I’ll have an article that goes over my rankings of all the movies (which won’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of the movie in stars, etc, more of how it ranks within the total collection).
- Iron Man (2008) – 5 out of 5
- The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 2 out of 5
- Iron Man 2 (2010) – 3 out of 5
- Thor (2011)
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
- The Avengers (2012)
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Thor: The Dark World (2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Guardian’s of the Galaxy (2014)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Ant-Man (2015)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Doctor Strange (2016)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
- Captain Marvel (2019)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)