Published on April 21st, 2015 | by Michael0
MCU Retrospective Review – Iron Man 2 (2010)
Year of Release: 2010
Film Number: 3
Budget: $200 million
Box Office: $623.9 million
Director: Jon Favreau
Written By: Justin Theroux
Iron Man 2: The Avengers Trailer
Iron Man 2 is the third film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first for two years (Summer 2008 saw Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk released in consecutive months). It’s Marvel’s first foray into the murky world of sequels and the film that really kicks the whole MCU concept up a notch. It is also in this reviewer’s mind the first film of the cycle that’s any good. Iron Man has little to recommend it beyond an engaging central performance from Robert Downey Jr and The Incredible Hulk is largely rubbish – indeed the film has contributed nothing to the expanded world save its title character, recast. Of course, Iron Man 2 did have its own problems regarding casting – just three films in and already an acting replacement. Out goes Terrence Howard as Col. James Rhodes and in comes Don Cheadle, to my mind a far better actor (when he’s not affecting a cockney accent). Thankfully his first appearance comes with a full name introduction –at a Senate hearing no less- so the audience know who he is. Rhodes’ first lines in the film also seem to lampshade the change in actor – ‘It’s me, I’m here, deal with it let’s move on’.
Iron Man 2 was greenlit after the phenomenal success of the first film and immediately scheduled as the next film in the MCU, jumping ahead of Thor, Captain America and the culmination of all these efforts, The Avengers. Giving Tony Stark two full films in which to showcase his obvious charm and talents has given the character the place of prominence in the MCU which he has yet to relinquish. Iron Man, for all its faults (namely a complete lack of plot) was a box office smash, raking in over $580M on a budget of $140M, not bad at all for a glorified trailer for a film still four years away. This success convinced Marvel of the viability of their MCU project. After the damp squib of The Incredible Hulk it was left to Iron Man 2 to lay the real groundwork for future films. This move made sense – as the first sequel in the sequence, Iron Man 2 was unencumbered by the need to introduce a whole set of characters, provide an origin story and sell the audience on the central concepts. Accordingly, Clark Gregg and Samuel L Jackson as Agent Coulson and Director Fury respectively return as representatives of SHIELD (Jackson having appeared in the Iron Man post credit scene), talking cryptically of an Avengers initiative. More importantly Scarlett Johansson makes her first Marvel debut as ‘Natalie Rushman’, later revealed to Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, a SHIELD agent sent to shadow Tony and evaluate his suitability for the Avengers project.
Johansson as Romanov has proven to be one of the breakout stars of the Marvel series but it’s worth noting how she has changed throughout the films. In her introduction she introduces herself to Tony with sultry gazes, before throwing Happy (director Jon Favreau) around like a ragdoll and pinning him to the mat – what is she, the worst undercover agent in history? As Natalie, she is a slightly overwhelmed but ultimately very competent PA who morphs into an army of one when assaulting Justin Hammer’s facility, a scene played largely for laughs, contrasting Romanov’s gymnastic fury with the game but limited Happy (‘I got him!’ he exclaims joyfully having felled a single guard in the same time Romanov has laid waste to a small army). In The Avengers, aka Avengers Assemble, Johansson puts in a joyless performance in the clichéd female badass vein, like a cut-rate Katee Sackoff. Her sole memorable scene is being on the end of a misogynist insult from arch bastard Loki but to be fair as the lone female among alpha males the situation problem did Johansson no favours. Much better is her turn in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She’s still kicking ass and taking names but comes across as a likable, even normal, person. Of all the heroes introduced in the MCU it seems to me that Romanov is the most subject to the whims of each scriptwriter – Johansson has turned in three completely different performances in her three films so far.
Iron Man 2 has to function as an enjoyable film in its own right, of course. To that end it introduces a brace of villains, Mickey Rourke, flush from his success in The Wrestler, as Whiplash and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. Neither are destined to go down in the annals of film villainy but both represent a huge upgrade on the utterly forgettable Obidiah Stane (the usually wonderful Jeff Bridges). Rourke did a lot of research into the role of Whiplash, whose real name is Ivan Vanko, a physicist whose family have bad blood with the Starks. Rourke visited Russian jails to get a feel for the lifestyle and suggested Vanko’s extensive prison tattoos. He also came up with the idea for the bird of which Vanko is so fond. This version of Whiplash is an invention of the film, though other versions of the characters have existed in the comics. In addition the man named as Ivan’s father, Anton (whom Tony’s father had deported) was himself a comic villain, the Crimson Dynamo.
Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is similarly a reinvention, his comic counterpart is a crafty old man but this version is re-imagined as Tony’s contemporary (in age if nothing else). Hammer is a vain and jealous man, brought in by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) to provide expert testimony on the Iron Man system, only to be humiliated when Stark hijacks the Senate hearing to show footage of Hammer’s disastrous attempts to create his own version of the suit. What Hammer lacks in design genius though he makes up for in his deviousness. He somehow manages to convince the US armed forces that he should be responsible for improving their illicitly acquired Iron Man suit and he manages to fake Vanko’s death and effect his escape from prison so that Vanko can work on Hammer’s new creations. ‘Your software is shit’, is Vanko’s honest appraisal of Hammer’s work. Craft, needy, spineless bastard he may be but Hammer has one advantage over Tony – his entrance music is much better. At the beginning of the film, to kick off Stark Expo, Tony flies into the conference centre to the overblown strains of AC/DC’s ‘Shoot To Thrill’, backed by two dozen cheerleaders. Later at the same Expo, Hammer shuffle dances onto the stage to Average White Band’s ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, a much classier entrance all around I’m sure you’ll agree. Apparently the dance was something of Rockwell’s own invention, a routine he does to help himself get in to character.
The plot as it pertains to the villains is pretty slight. Whiplash, fuelled by hatred, creates two electric whips with which to attack Tony at the Monaco Grand Prix, wanting to damage Iron Man’s reputation by allowing the world to ‘see him bleed’. Vanko is swiftly arrested and imprisoned and more swiftly still rescued by Hammer and made his indentured servant. Hammer wants Vanko to create suits for him. However Vanko instead creates drones and has them attack Tony at his own Expo. Tony along with Rhodey as War Machine thin out the drones before facing Vanko himself. This final fight lasts less than a minute and I for one appreciate it for its brevity although there’s a sizable contingent that think the main villain being defeated in under a minute is pretty weak. For my money, superhero smackdowns all too often become tedious knock-em-down drag-em-out affairs which this neatly sidesteps.
More important than Vanko and Hammer though is Tony’s own story. The device used to power his heart is poisoning him and his attempts to find a replacement have all failed. After some encouraging words from Fury, Coulson and his father (from beyond the grave, via film reel), Tony final discovers a new compound his father had hidden in architectural plans. Along with his poisoning (standing in for the comic book storyline involving Tony’s alcoholism) Tony must feel his way through his relationship with Pepper, keep his weapons out of the hands of the US government and, though he does not know it, prove his worthiness for the Avengers project. In the end, Romanov deems Iron Man suitable for acceptance into the project but Tony himself unsuitable. It’s not made clear exactly why but I suspect it’s to do with Tony’s senate appearance in which he claims to have ‘successfully privatised world peace’, a line that drew applause in the senate but made me wince. This is the trouble with having a billionaire arms dealer as your hero. You aren’t always going to see eye to eye.
In continuing Marvel tradition, the film comes with a post credit sequence to help expand the Universe. During the film proper, Agent Coulson had been called away on urgent business. In the final sequence, we see him arrive in the New Mexico Desert. No, he hasn’t found a mobile drug lab, but a large war hammer. Now who could that belong to?