With Iron Man 2, the ball is rolling on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just like the ball that is MCU March! Gotta mention the event in ever post, no matter how awkward! Marvel Studios had achieved success with Mr. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk did decently with a Tony Stark cameo linking the movies together. The road to the The Avengers continues in this movie by adding a new recurring character and giving a new face/actor to an existing one.
We open in Russia where Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) watches his father, Anton Vanko, die. Turns out Anton had helped Howard Stark (John Slattery, not to be confused with Captain America: The First Avenger‘s Howard Stark, Dominic Cooper) build the original arc reactor and was either actually a spy or a victim of Howard’s ego, so he was deported and his life never got better. His son swears vengeance on the Stark line, specifically Tony Stark. Meanwhile, Tony is riding high on the success he’s had as Iron Man, having successfully “privatized world peace.” Not sure I like that concept, but the US government, led by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) really doesn’t like it. Tony gets a new assistant in “Natalie Rushman” (Scarlett Johansson) who is more skilled than she lets on. As Pepper gets more frustrated with Tony’s antics, Tony himself is dying of palladium poisoning from the arc reactor in his chest powering his Iron Man suit. Things get worse when Ivan–comic nerds call him Whiplash–confronts Tony in Monaco, and while Ivan is defeated, the world saw their “god” bleed and now public opinion has turned against Stark. Ivan gets broken out of jail by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a business rival of Tony’s who really, really wants to be the new Tony Stark. Tony’s drinking gets so out of hand that Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle) dons a spare suit of armor to beat the billionaire’s ass, stealing the suit and taking it to the military and Hammer. We also find out that “Natalie” is actually Natasha Romanoff, agent of SHIELD, sent to work with Tony under orders from Nick Fury. While Tony unravels a mystery left by his dead father that could save his life (it does), Hammer’s presentation at the Stark Expo is taken over by Ivan, who controls Hammer’s drones as well as Rhodey’s War Machine armor. Iron Man–now no longer dying after having created a new element, don’t think about it too hard–swoops in, rescues War Machine, and the two of them take out Hammer’s drones and Ivan’s new power armor. Compulsorily heterosexuality has Tony and Pepper hook up despite the fact that they’ve been at each other’s throats the entire movie, Hammer gets arrested (we next see him in the short All Hail the King where he has a prison boyfriend, because prison makes you gay, or something), and a post credits scene teases Thor’s hammer having landed on Earth, leading up to Thor the following year.
I don’t want to get too much into the politics of this movie, but I feel like it does too good a job showing that Tony is a living disaster. He’s reckless, an alcoholic, thinks with his dick constantly–also he slut shames a woman he slept with who was slightly mean to him after he ghosted her, which is just so gross–and is in control of one of the strongest weapon on Earth. I absolutely don’t agree with the government swooping in and taking his tech specifically to build weapons–made worse by Senator Stern’s appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that I’ll get to soon enough. But should this living disaster be a key element of America’s global “peacekeeping?” Should any superhero? Most comics shy away from the whole “heroes entering the political sphere,” and those that do either do it on a more municipal level, or it’s eventually reveal that the government’s actually up to something and the hero saves the day. But the movies are a little more grounded, and… This is all leading to Captain America: Civil War, so I’ll allow it. For now.
As for the movie itself, it’s fine. It breaks the “trilogy format” where the first is good, the second is better, and the third is bland. Iron Man was a fun ride, but Iron Man 2 just doesn’t balance Tony’s wit with the script’s need to bring him down to his lowest point (so far) very well. Iron Man 3 holds a higher place in my memory than this movie, but I suppose we’ll find out if that holds up soon enough.
Also, it’s weird to me that the Ten Rings–the villainous organization from the first movie–show up in here and you never would know if you didn’t read interviews and/or wikis. Ivan gets a fake identity and tickets to Monaco from some nameless dude we never see again, But it turns out that he was actually a Ten Rings member. I can’t find where that information was first revealed, but it absolutely wasn’t presented in the film. That’s always been a pet peeve of mine.
COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! While never fully addressed in the movies, Iron Man has a history of debilitating alcoholism in the comics. The Demon in a Bottle storyline from Iron Man #120-128 (1978) is one of the most well regarded Iron Man stories and ends with him overcoming his addiction and getting his life back on track. However, the next writer, Denny O’Neil–who himself had wrestled with alcoholism–thought that the story had been wrapped up a little… too nicely. Iron Man #167 (1983) saw Tony pick up the bottle again and enter a bender so severe that Rhodey had to fill in as Iron Man until issue #192 (1985). O’Neil also created the character of Obadiah Stane–the villain of Iron Man–so that’s something!
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