Reviewed by John Hussey
It certainly didn’t take Marvel Studios long to announce a sequel to their successful first outing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man. Though, technically, Iron Man 2 was the third instalment (following on from The Incredible Hulk, distributed by Universal Studios), although it more felt like a direct continuation, with the actual second instalment feeling more like a spin-off film that you can choose to watch, but ultimately doesn’t affect the ongoing development.
Following on from Tony Stark’s announcement that he is in fact Iron Man, he attracts a new adversary in the form of Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke). His father watches the announcement on his deathbed, before apologising to Ivan for failing him. It turns out that Ivan’s father was cheated by Howard Stark, ultimately deported from the US and left to be humiliated (living a life of alcoholic rage). Ivan then sets out to build his own version of the arc-reactor (the very device that’s keeping Tony alive) which his father helped to build.
Six months pass and Tony (reprised by Robert Downey Jr.) is living the highlight as he is revelled as a hero, but things aren’t what they seem. We find out that Tony is in fact dying, due to the arc-reactor poisoning his blood-stream unless Tony can find a compatible material to run the device. But problems arise when he doesn’t do the smart thing and tell everyone what is going on. This actually makes Tony feel like a complete fucking idiot as he plays the lone-ranger, ultimately bringing himself closer and closer to further humiliation and downfall.
It’s fair to say that he’s worried, and at first it seems like he’s preparing his last will and testament by making sure his legacy is well looked after. He puts Pepper Potts (reprised by Gwyneth Paltrow) in-charge of Stark Industries, which further develops their unique chemistry, and the simple fact that he has a lot of respect for her. But Tony quickly becomes delusional with his new-found power and often comes across as a complete arse. The strong development we began to see in Iron Man is almost lost here as he regresses back into a child who can do whatever he wants.
Though, it’s fair to say, that his words towards the government is totally reasonable, particularly since Senator Stern is a complete dickhead. It just shows how the government can easily bend words around in their favour in order to pass judgement how they want. They feel that Tony shouldn’t be in possession of such a high-tech, and potentially dangerous weapon, and that it should be given to the government to be manufactured. In Tony’s defence he is Iron Man. Plus, it’s the simple factor of not allowing the government to control a dangerous weapon. It’s far safer in Tony’s hands because he can use it more responsibly.
In many ways it’s a development on Tony’s views on weapons from Iron Man, in which he grew disgusted by the way the system worked, and that he sat back and allowed it to happen. Now he wants to make a difference as Iron Man, and in his control he can try to make the world a better place. It’s great when Tony pretty much owns Stern by hacking the system to show the government that their “supposed” evidence towards replica Iron Man suits was nothing more than footage of failed experiments.
It’s just unfortunate that Tony starts to descend into slight madness as his illness begins to warp his decisions, almost as if he’s suffering from an addiction. Of course this begins to discredit him and his once proud, confident arguments and ambitious ideas for the future begin to backfire, granting his enemies the means to take advantage. On the one-hand, you can defend his actions because Tony is suffering from the reality that he will soon be dead, to which he’s conflicted by his many emotions.
But, on the other-hand, you have to remember that Tony is supposed to be a genius and is supposed to be resourceful, and so his many bad decisions (liked I said above) make him look extremely retarded. Iron Man 2 feels rather conflicting in what kind of narrative it wants to tell, as well as what kind of tone it wants to portray. This is where the film starts to feel like a complete fucking mess, disregarding the brilliant set-up of Iron Man.
I liked how the film began to broaden the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in doing so, the film lost its clear identity. Part way through Iron Man 2 the narrative just straight-up stops in order to turn itself into the direct prelude for Avengers Assemble. Nick Fury (reprised by Samuel L. Jackson) is thrown in there. Agent Coulson (reprised by Clark Gregg) comes back randomly. And Tony’s new assistant turns out to be Black Widow (because she needed an introduction, I guess?)
There are some good elements, however, like having some really good badass moments from Scarlett Johansson in her debut as Black Window (although it’s extremely clear that they had yet decided what they wanted to do with the character, and how they wanted her to be portrayed, thus her lack of character development until Avengers Assemble). Although it’s interesting to see how Fury helps to point Tony in the right direction (helping him get back on the saddle you might say), an interracial moment in the plot, it still feels somewhat out of place, almost disjointed from the rest of the film like it’s some sort of side-step.
There was a nice piece of development for Tony’s character after he discovers some old footage of his late father (portrayed by John Slattery) in which he showed some compassion towards him (something that was absent in Tony’s childhood). His father even goes as far as claiming Tony as “his greatest creation”. It was a heart-warming moment, helping to develop his character further within this shared universe, and a clear moment that would help define his character for key moments in future instalments.
By the time the film decides to get back on track we’re at the conclusion, which feels very rushed and without a lot of purpose because the film neglected other key aspects of the narrative whilst it drifted for 30 minutes. This begins the trend of Marvel Studios being unable to make many decent villains. They either feel generic, or underdeveloped. Maybe it’s because Marvel Studios prefers to spend time developing their heroes, rather than their villains, or there aren’t many good Marvel villains to develop in the first place.
Iron Man 2 sets-up a really good villain with Ivan. He has all the clear motivations as to why he wants revenge on Tony, and his first confrontation with Iron Man (during the Monaco Historic Grand Prix section) was absolutely brilliant. There was a clear sense of threat displayed by Ivan as he reveals himself as Whiplash, swinging his electrified whips around, trashing up cars, and really coming close to killing Tony (who is completely defenceless without his suit).
I guess this scene showed the duality that Tony faces within himself. At that point in the film he had proclaimed that him and Iron Man were the same person, which is completely contradicted here because it’s very clear that without the Iron Man suit he is just Tony Stark. Yes, Tony is a genius who can build anything but it’s the suit of armour that he built that holds all the real power. But then without his intelligence the suit wouldn’t exist, so the argument is quite interesting if you think about, something Iron Man 3 went to great lengths to answer.
Also, this confrontation really pisses me off just because Pepper and Happy Hogan (reprised by director Jon Favreau) are completely fucking useless, and idiotic. They drive over to give Tony one of his suits and upon arriving Happy thinks he’s a fucking action hero and Pepper just starts freaking out (despite the fact that Tony was literally just fighting for his life as Whiplash repeatedly tried cutting him down). And instead of doing the smart thing of giving Tony the suit, she holds onto it and continues to scream, whilst Happy continues to act like an arse.
I suppose this film really didn’t know where it stood with Pepper. Was she a damsel, or an independent woman that felt equal (and often) superior to Tony because she understood him better than he understood himself. Plus, what is their relationship status? It’s clearly implied at the end of Iron Man that they have feelings for one another, and yet they don’t seem to be together for the majority of this film, whilst some scenes would indicate otherwise. But it’s not until the end of the film that they actually seem to hook-up. Where do you fucking stand Iron Man 2?!
Despite the great promise for Ivan’s character, he is quickly slung into the bin and almost completely forgotten about until right at the very end, in which Marvel Studios hastily ran back over to the bin, wiped down the mangled remains, before slinging him back into the film as if nothing happened. Because of the massive side-step within the second half of the film, Ivan gets heavily rejected, becoming the butt-monkey of the annoying second villain Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell).
Honestly, I couldn’t care less about this guy. He’s a whiny weasel, and that’s about as far as his character goes. “Oh, no, Tony Stark is better than me, and clearly has a bigger dick than me because I’m a little twat that nobody likes, and my business isn’t as cool as Stark Industries, and because of all my jealousy I want revenge.” It’s the most lazy set-up ever. And the worst part is he doesn’t go anywhere. He clearly has some major resources to be able to smuggle Ivan out of prison undetected, but all he does with him is make him work for him.
He doesn’t try to use Ivan to kill Tony. No! He wants to attack his legacy, which seems fine at first, until you realise he just wants to build a better Iron Man suit. Okay then? Great plan for revenge. Of course Justin is used by Ivan (who is clearly still the major threat of this film – just slightly forgotten about) and ends up using his technology to try and once again kill Tony. But even his plan feels flat, especially when you consider his aim was to make the world see Tony as being vulnerable, thereby making his supporters lose faith in him.
Don’t get me wrong, the final sequence is awesome and cram-packed with explosions and action set-pieces. But it does feel rather pointless. Why doesn’t Ivan have his drones attack Tony all at once? And why doesn’t Tony fly the drones away from the Stark Expo straight-away, instead of playing a game of “cat-and-mouse” around the Expo, potentially endangering the lives of everybody on the ground. And this guy is supposed to be a hero, the very same hero that proclaimed to “privatise world-peace”?
I suppose (like with Iron Man) you have to question whether this is a genuine “superhero” film, because Iron Man is barely featured, thus we don’t get many scenes where we can enjoy watching Tony fighting criminals and saving the day. In fact, Whiplash’s major entrance is the first occasion that we see Tony don the Iron Man suit to be a hero. The only other time he’s not wearing the suit because he’s pratting around is at the very end. Are we absolutely sure this is Iron Man 2 and not The Tony Stark Chronicles, Part II?
After many moments of what seems like pointless “Let’s show off our awesome CGI” scenes, we finally come to the final confrontation between Ivan and Tony. And it’s rather dull, and uninspiring. What makes it a fucking joke is the fact that (once again) the villain builds a bigger fucking suit. Where the fuck have I seen that before?! If it wasn’t for the fact that this was just rehashing the third act of Iron Man I would enjoy this fight a lot more. But because it feels like a rehash, it just quickly looses it’s charm. Plus, it’s just boring.
Ivan had so much more potential in the earlier stages of the film, and felt more of a threat when he wasn’t in a robot suit. That was the point! He build a different kind of weapon that could go toe-to-toe with Tony’s Iron Man suit. And let us not forget about the simple premise that the arc-reactor was designed by Ivan’s father (adding much irony to the overall journey of Tony’s character – his enemy literally saved him).
But none of this actually goes anywhere. In fact, it’s almost completely forgotten about. Ivan’s development is shunted (or more accurately, discarded during the editing process) and he’s reduced to a one-dimensional villain that shows up for the obligated final showdown. And just to make things worse, he fails to execute a simple self-destruct protocol, with him practically giving the game away twice, and granting Tony plenty of time to escape. I know this is from the ancient book of Villain Tropes, but come on Marvel Studios. You can write your villains better than that! [Looks to further MCU instalments.] I’ll say no more.
And let’s not forget about the re-introduction of James Rhodes. After the exit of Terrance Howard (which to this day still remains a mystery as to whether he left or Marvel Studios straight-up fired him – we’ll never know) Rhodes was replaced by Don Cheadle, who immediately stands as a better portrayal of the character. One thing that was clear within Iron Man is that Howard and Downey had no real chemistry, and Rhodes lacked any real development. Here, it’s a completely different ball-game.
Cheadle is more prominent throughout the film, and his chemistry with Downey is instantly recognised, forming a great bond that would continue to progress throughout future instalments. What I liked was the continuing conflicting friendship that Rhodes and Tony have together, to which Rhodes both admires Tony’s new lease on life, whilst also questioning it due to his reckless nature and somewhat childish attitude at times.
As Tony’s illness pushes him to the brink, Rhodes becomes more and more concerned with his old friend, until he is pushed to betray Tony after his questionable conduct. This results in one of the best sequences of the film, in which Tony is clearly having a mental breakdown, followed by a hilarious skirmish with Rhodes across his penthouse (with them both wearing their own Iron Man suits, whilst “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen plays in the background).
After confiscating one of Tony’s earlier suits, Rhodes progresses his character-arc towards becoming War Machine. This was certainly an exciting aspect of the film, pushing for Tony to have his very own sidekick, although Rhodes does stand up on his own just enough to feel capable within a battle situation. But, obviously, he’s still the rooky because Tony has had more experience with the Iron Man suit, and of course is able to freely upgrade his capabilities. It’s just a massive shame that you have to try and look past the blatantly obvious recasting in order to try and envelope Rhodes’ character all over again.
Despite this review being all over the place with opinions, I will go on record and say that Iron Man 2 still remains my favourite Iron Man film (which is saying a lot considering I absolutely hated it on my first viewing). It just has the right sense of fun, I like where the narrative mostly goes, the characters are generally well-developed, and it has some really well constructed scenes throughout. For anyone who bitches and moans at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should look no further than this film, because it was the original guilty movie for trying to cram way too much in for the sake of “building a universe”.
It’s blatantly obvious that this is a set-up film. The film stops its own narrative in order to develop all the different elements in the wake of Avengers Assemble. There are so many aspects in this film that felt forced, making one question whether or not they were actually watching an Iron Man sequel. But I suppose this film was a learning curve for Marvel Studios, and they have generally learnt from their mistakes, and in the long run have managed to produce better quality blockbuster hits for us to enjoy each and every year. Plus, one could say that (like with Iron Man) Iron Man 2 was very crucial in developing the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.