MarvelBlog Retro Review: Iron Man 2
When people evaluate the popularity of movies, they use established metrics.
Today, we’ll talk about a movie that is 72 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, rated 7.0 out of 10 on IMDb, and has an A Cinemascore.
For a regular release, most would describe the film as successful and well-received.
That’s before we factor in that it was the third-most-popular domestic release of 2010.
Somehow, whenever alleged MCU fans discuss this title, they claim it’s subpar by Marvel standards.
What’s the deal? Why do people act like they dislike Iron Man 2? We’ll talk it through in this week’s Retro Review.
A Film about Duality
When Paramount Pictures (not Disney) announced the plans for Iron Man 2, fans careened between excitement and concern.
Marvel head Kevin Feige indicated that the infamous Demon in a Bottle storyline from the Iron Man comics would provide some of the source material.
Now, Marvel didn’t intend to adapt it verbatim, but the idea still worried some. The Demon in a Bottle comic arc examines Tony Stark’s alcoholism.
This sort of adult subject matter seemed awkward for a comic book movie, especially one where Marvel wanted to build toward a superhero team-up.
Such an emotional issue! Today's Invincible Iron Man 14. #CaptainMarvel and #IronMan at AA meeting! They love and respect each other!! pic.twitter.com/kBzaCHrdZY
— ✵ Captain Marvel NEWS (@CaptMarvelNews) October 5, 2016
Why would other characters like Thor and Captain America join Stark if he were publicly battling his personal demons?
Director Jon Favreau put plenty of thought into this. He came up with a modified version of Demon in a Bottle that only partially plays into the story.
The rest stems from the parallelisms between the hero and the villain of the piece.
While Howard Stark earned acclaim throughout the world, one of his employees, Anton Vanko, worked for/spied on Stark Industries, eventually going to jail.
One father has already passed, while the second dies early in the film. A grieving son plots revenge on the entitled brat who runs Stark Industries now.
This man, Ivan Vanko, is a tinkerer, just like Tony Stark. He develops a plan to build his own miniature arc reactor.
This process proves important. In Iron Man, the finest Stark Industries workers couldn’t replicate what Stark did in a cave.
Within the first five minutes of Iron Man 2, Ivan Vanko matches the feat with similar scraps. He is an inventor on a par with Iron Man.
Two battles occur in this film. One is Stark’s internal struggle. The other is the external one with Vanko.
The Comic Relief
In the wake of The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke made a brief, unlikely return to glory. As Vanko, he proved the villainous foil to Stark.
However, the showier role of agitator goes to Sam Rockwell, who plays Justin Hammer.
An arms dealer in his own right, Hammer hasn’t experienced the same epiphany as Stark. He’s happy to do anything to earn more fame and fortune.
I believe that Rockwell is absolute magic in this role, but I must acknowledge that I’m in the minority here.
I’ve loved Rockwell since Galaxy Quest and treasured his performance in more obscure films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Mr. Right.
More fans – or at least louder fans – believe that he’s too one-note to add depth or substance to the film.
I don’t feel that way, as Hammer’s presence here reveals what Stark could/would have become if not for his desert imprisonment.
Favreau takes a similar approach to Batman Forever, choosing two villains from Iron Man’s rogues’ gallery to offset Stark’s combustible personality.
Hammer mirrors Stark’s personal failings, the hunger for status and power. Vanko reflects Stark’s drive as a creator.
I enjoy the symmetry, even though it’s readily apparent that Vanko represents the real threat.
The character known as Whiplash announces his presence at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, where he shreds several cars, including Stark’s.
When I reviewed the film in 2010, I indicated that if you didn’t buy into Iron Man 2 at this moment, you never would.
In terms of action, it has everything. Vanko causes flaming wreckage, but he keeps his eyes on his prey, Stark, the entire time.
Loyal friends Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan drive upstream against vehicles going 200 miles per hour to deliver a suitcase of Iron Man armor to Stark. It’s mesmerizing.
The Messy Parts of Iron Man 2
While I loved Iron Man 2 at the time and rewatched it many times from 2010 through 2015, I’m acutely aware of its flaws.
Gary Shandling appears as a Senator who hates Stark. The governmental oversight parts of the film are weak, but they’re not the worst part.
Stark’s descent into partying and alcohol abuse leads to some scenes that frankly shouldn’t have made the film.
There’s a party scene where Iron Man impresses models by blowing stuff up that’s just not MCU quality.
Hammer’s attempts to woo Vanko to his side also feel a bit lazy. There’s a subplot with a bird that I relate to as a pet owner, but it’s pointless to the story.
Over the years, Marvel has gotten better about picking which sets to destroy as well. The Stark Compound isn’t one of the better visuals.
Also, Hammer’s weapons demonstration feels a bit dated. Still, I don’t mind it due to Rockwell’s zeal in delivering his dialogue.
Meet the Avengers
That’s obsessing too much on the negative, though. In rewatching, I appreciate how much Favreau gets right.
The purpose of Iron Man 2 never centered on the stories of Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko. Those are the temporary aspects.
Marvel eyed an entire franchise, one where Tony Stark befriended other superpowered people.
Two of them appear for the first time in Iron Man 2, albeit with an asterisk on one.
Empire star Terrence Howard asked for too much money for the sequel, leading to his replacement, Don Cheadle.
While I understand Howard’s perspective after the wildly successful Iron Man, it was a short-sighted decision.
Cheadle will star in his own Disney+ series, Armor Wars. That will mark his second Disney+ appearance in addition to seven movies portraying War Machine.
This character plays heavily into the denouement of Iron Man 2, as Vanko’s firepower requires the War Machine to counter.
Still, the most significant seed in the story is planted early. It then pays dividends almost exactly halfway through the film.
The new leader of Stark Industries is Pepper Potts. So, Stark needs a replacement as his personal assistant, and he chooses Natalie Rushman.
Later, at a diner, Nick Fury appears and reveals that Rushman’s name is actually Natasha Romanoff. She’s the Black Widow.
Counting Fury and Potts, this film features five Avengers who later appear in Endgame. Four of them perform in The Avengers. And Phil Coulson shows up, too.
Despite its name, Iron Man 2 functions as the first Avengers movie, and it works exceedingly well at setting the table for the next one.
I don’t love the film the way that I once did, but it’s still an A-.