Iron Man 2 is often considered to be one of the worst films in the MCU, and the thing is… I don’t think that’s wrong. However, I disagree with anybody saying the film is straight up awful. There are certainly criticisms I can (and will) make, but to write it off entirely kills any real discussion. This mentality of “the film is bad so don’t watch it” is the polar opposite of the ethos that I believe so firmly I made it this blog’s tagline; every film is worth something. It’s a mentality that will crop up a few more times in this franchise, so allow me to say, not for the last time, that even the “worst” film in the MCU is still of average quality. If you see films on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, then I believe at worst that the worst film in this franchise is still a 5.
Iron Man 2 takes place roughly 6 months after Iron Man and shows Tony Stark grappling with his own mortality as the palladium in the arc reactor in his chest slowly kills him. Meanwhile, he is attempting to prevent the US Military from taking his suits that they have classified as weapons, and surviving attacks from disgraced Russian scientist Ivan Vanko.
The son of Anto Vanko, who had helped create the original arc reactor with Howard Stark in the 1970’s, Ivan has also miniaturised the technology and is using it to electrify a pair of metal whips, whilst disgracing the Stark legacy. All of these events are escalated by weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer who has been hired to build Iron Man suits for the Military and brings Vanko in to assist him.
The film was released in 2010 as the third entry in the MCU, but it sits fourth chronologically. This essentially provides us with a two part story when coupled with the original Iron Man that details the origins of Tony Stark and his struggles. This is also the first of these stories that doesn’t feature an Infinity Stone, instead focussing on the world’s biggest superpower – money. Having watched Tony save his own life and decree himself a superhero in part one, we now get to see the full blown repercussions of those actions. The decaying of his body and his relationships, the attempts by Justin and Ivan on his life, and the overbearing presence of SHIELD are all his own fault. There’s this running joke within the MCU Fandom that everything is Tony’s fault—something worth keeping an eye on as we go forward—and with Iron Man 2 it’s definitely true. Not only has he let his ego run wild, but with his death imminent, he has chosen to let that trait dominate him. It’s only by the film’s climax that he’s even remotely attempting to reel himself in and, despite him being a jerk, it makes him a compelling character.
If the first 3 films in the MCU chronologically are hinting at a larger universe then Iron Man 2 is where we see the first actual signs of set-up. It’s here that we are introduced to Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as The Black Widow, who is a top tier spy and very attractive and… that’s is all we learn about her. There’s a very real effort on behalf of the filmmakers to let us know how deadly she is, which I won’t fault them for, however it’s done from a very masculine perspective. Her clothes are tight and her hair is frizzy but not messy, and her costume is noticeably unzipped so as to give us cleavage. You would presume that because this was over a decade ago that her character and the way she is treated would change, but this is incorrect and, trust me, we’ll get to that. As far as 2010 character introductions go, this one is fairly solid.
Speaking of character introductions, we are re-introduced to Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. We had already spent a large amount of time with him in Iron Man but between films actor Terrance Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle, who has played the role ever since. At the time, it was unclear as to precisely why this had happened, and the specifics still aren’t known to anybody outside of the situation, although it appears as though the issue was money related. It’s no secret that Robert Downey Jr was given a significant pay rise between films, and it appears to me as if Marvel was unwilling to extend that same courtesy to Terrance Howard, although that is just a theory. Whilst Cheadle has been brilliant in the role, I can’t help but wonder how much more imposing Howard’s Rhodey would have been. This was the first time that Marvel re-cast a role, but it was by no means the last and we’ll get to them soon enough.
I still have a soft spot for Iron Man 2, as I made clear up front I don’t think it’s bad, but its biggest impact is that it sets up a couple of elements that will crop up again. This isn’t to say that I think the film is boring, I find Ivan Vanko a really interesting contrast to Tony Stark and Justin Hammer is so ridiculously entertaining that I’m a little sad he hasn’t been brought back yet. However the way that the film choses to treat Vanko is far from perfect, seeming to have more interest in the drones that he helped create than the man himself. Ultimately his “climactic battle” is only a couple of minutes long, and it results in his death, making him the 3rd MCU villain to hold this fate and the 2nd by Tony’s hand. The really big takeaways from the plot seem to be that Black Widow is here now, that Agent Coulson is about to handle the discovery of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and that SHIELD/Nick Fury doesn’t entirely trust Stark. It’s worth noting that Stark doesn’t leave this film as an Avenger, he leaves it as a consultant.
I think this one gets a bad rap, along with a couple of the following films, and I don’t think that’s fair. Like I said, I find it to be really reductive to just write a film off because it’s bad and there are some standout moments. Justin Hammer’s entire character is one of them, along with the way it shows Tony’s insane ego and how smart he is. The guy literally creates a brand new element based on decades old research from his dad. The final thing that gets mentioned a bunch is the theory that the kid in the Iron Man helmet at the Stark Expo is Peter Parker. It’s something that was “confirmed” by current Spidey Tom Holland and MCU Helmsman Kevin Fiege in 2017, but I don’t agree. I think that it’s a nice theory, but that it remains just that. Further, just because you state something retroactively, doesn’t make it true. I’m definitely a little biased on this because I’m not really a fan of the way that Tony Stark has replaced Uncle Ben in the MCU, but that is an issue for another time. As it is, I like Iron Man 2 and I like the way it leads into Tho,r but first it’s time for something incredible.