Iron Man 2 (2010)

Hard to believe it now, but before the release of the first Iron Man, there was much skepticism about Marvel getting into the movie business. The feeling was that the company had already signed away its most lucrative properties (like Spider-Man and the X-Men), and a character like Iron Man was too much of a second-stringer to draw a big audience. And yet, here we are, billions of dollars worldwide later, and Iron Man is now the cornerstone of the whole Marvel movie universe we’ll be enduring for the next… century or so.

It’s easy to see why the first Iron Man exceeded expectations and became such a big hit: It’s one of the few comic book movies that strikes just the right balance between action and drama and angst and humor. It’s a rare superhero movie that’s fun without being camp, and serious without being grimdark.

And it can’t be overstated how much Robert Downey Jr. makes that movie. He doesn’t bear much resemblance to Tony Stark in the comics (one assumes—I don’t follow Iron Man in the comics, does anyone?), but Downey’s life certainly shares the same addiction/recovery arc as the character he plays. I vaguely remember reading Avengers comics back in the day, and as far I knew, Iron Man’s chief superpower was his ability to nurse half a glass of whiskey for seven months straight.

Caption contributed by Winston

Luckily, he didn’t also have the power to fall asleep in his neighbor kid’s bed.

Downey was fun to watch, and everyone loves a great comeback story, and Downey had one of the greatest comebacks ever. By which I mean, he came back from… being on the second worst season in Saturday Night Live history.

Caption contributed by Winston

It was all a dream. A horrible, horrible dream.

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After Iron Man made half a billion damn dollars, the Marvel moneymaking machine kicked into overdrive. The studio developed a whole years-long plan to set up the movie version of the Avengers, and this crafty plan involved releasing several two-hour long ads for The Avengers, calling them movies, and actually charging people to watch them.

Alas, I’ve seen them all: The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, et al, and while some might be better than others, none of them ever really rise above “good enough”. It kind of amazes me that so many critics gave them a pass, and so many people lined up to buy tickets to movies that accomplish nothing but setting up another movie. Case in point: Iron Man 2.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

At the start of the sequel, Tony is totally out and proud about being Iron Man, and showboating at the Stark Industries Expo. Minutes later, he’s mouthing off to U.S. senators who are having serious reservations about letting some random guy be a one-man army. And it’s not just your imagination: Tony’s a total ass in these scenes.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sure, in the first movie, he was a boozing, womanizing dick, making billions of dollars designing weapons and not caring in the least who they killed or maimed. But then he got abducted in Afghanistan, had a major change of heart (by which I mean, he literally changed his heart; it wasn’t a subtle metaphor), and decided to get into the business of saving lives instead.

And yet, in the sequel, all that character growth is conveniently forgotten for the sake of more wacky antics. The first movie was celebrated for its humor, primarily in the form of Downey’s quips, so in the second movie, we get all quips, all the time. The first time around, a lot of the jokes were improvised, but here, they’re actually trying hard to be funny, and it just doesn’t work.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

But there’s a deep dark secret behind Tony’s erratic behavior: Apparently, the glowing thing in his chest is now poisoning him, and he’s slowly dying. Which means that instead of the real disease that plagued him in the comics, i.e. alcoholism, they’ve given him a totally made-up Movie Illness. It’s a bit of a letdown.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Because of his illness, Tony decides to turn over control of Stark Industries to his love interest/assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Really? There’s nobody else more qualified to run the company? If I were a VP at Stark Industries, I’d be a little pissed.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Stark’s right hand man James “Rhodey” Rhodes is back, now played by Don Cheadle. As pretty much everyone knows by now, producers gave original actor Terrence Howard an offer that was a massive pay cut from what he made on the first movie, so he walked. Then, I’m guessing, the producers did some walking of their own, and hired the first black actor they happened to bump into.

That’s the only way to explain it. They look and act nothing alike. And Terrence Howard at least looks the part of an action hero, whereas Cheadle seems completely out of place here. Though, I’ll admit, I do like the meta way they play the change of actor. As Cheadle as Rhodey enters the congressional hearing, he whispers to Tony, “Look, it’s me, I’m here. Deal with it. Let’s move on.” And you can imagine that line being said directly to the OCD nerds in the audience.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke, hot off his Oscar nomination, plays a Russian scientist named Ivan Vanko. Tony’s dad did something bad to Vanko’s dad, yadda yadda, so of course he must have his vengeance on Tony.

He invents his own glowing chest thing, then straps on a pair of laser whips. Because when your opponent can fly away at supersonic speeds, what you really need is a weapon with a range of no more than twenty feet.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Vanko is supposed to be the villain Whiplash from the comics, but no one ever calls him that. He makes his first appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix, where he can’t manage to put a scratch on Tony or anyone else, and he gets instantly defeated.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Samuel L. Jackson also appears as Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, wanting to recruit Tony into the Avengers. Fury was introduced in a post-credits scene in the first movie, and here, he just shows up with no introduction whatsoever, as if we all know who he is and what he wants from Tony. So, if by some chance you saw the previous movie and decided not to sit through ten minutes of credits, like a sane human being might do, you’ll have no clue what any of these scenes are about.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Meanwhile, Pepper has hired an assistant named Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johannson), but it turns out her name is really Natasha Romanoff and she’s working for SHIELD. She’s supposed to be the Black Widow, though again, nobody ever calls her that. I’m constantly getting the feeling I was supposed to study ahead of time for this movie.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

And there’s no real reason for Black Widow to even be in this movie, other than to set up her appearance in The Avengers. There is literally nothing she does here that Agent Coulson, already introduced in the first movie, couldn’t have done. Other than, you know, wear a tight leather catsuit. But hey, Clark Gregg is no slouch, I’m sure he could have pulled it off.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The whole movie grinds to a halt when Tony becomes the asshole at the bar. Due to either his drunkenness, or his Movie Illness, or both, he uses his suit to show off at a party at his mansion, blasting away at champagne bottles and a watermelon (don’t ask). And according to the intense music and the reactions of Pepper and Rhodey, this is the worst thing a human being has ever done.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

And then, he starts dancing in the Iron Man suit.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Okay, I take it back: This is the worst thing a human being has ever done. I defy you to name just one superhero movie that features the main character(s) dancing and is not terrible.

In response to Tony having a party in his own house, Rhodey puts on a suit of his own and starts a huge battle that basically destroys the place. They fight to a standstill, and then Rhodey flies away, basically stealing an Iron Man suit. And then he hands it over to the military. He can just do that? Why would he do that?

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Eventually, the suit falls into the hands of Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival weapons manufacturer who is seriously jealous of Tony’s inventions. His jealousy soon turns criminal, and Hammer breaks Whiplash out of jail to help him build robot drones. Which he then shows off… at the Stark Expo? Did Pepper really just let the CEO of a rival company present his stolen merchandise at Stark’s own expo?

Iron Man 2 (2010)

After dawdling around for a long time, Tony finally cures his Movie Illness by creating a new element to power his chest-thing. And he does this by, and I’m not making this up, looking at a CGI representation of the EPCOT-like park his father built 40 years ago, where somehow the center of the park is like the nucleus and the pavilions are the electrons and it makes no fucking sense.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Tony cures himself just in time for the final battle. Which I’m sure will be coming up right after we watch this sneak preview of the tie-in PS3 game!

Iron Man 2 (2010)

What’s that? This is the final battle? Oh.

After several minutes of what’s essentially a CGI cartoon starring Iron Man and War Machine, Whiplash shows up after the battle is over and gets immediately defeated. Then Tony agrees to join the Avengers, I think, and the movie ends.

Oh yeah, and there’s a post-credits scene (it’s amazing how utterly irrelevant these scenes come off years after the fact) that reveals Agent Coulson found Thor’s hammer. Shocker!

Iron Man 2 (2010)

It’s pretty obvious where things went wrong here. Iron Man 2 suffers from severe sequelitis, the chief symptom being the need to make everything bigger and more convoluted than the first film. The movie has two villains (neither of whom are the least bit menacing) and eight different subplots, and none of them ever come together in a meaningful way. And surely, Marvel’s insistence on shoving in random characters and plot points to set up the Avengers movie didn’t help matters.

But the biggest problem is the pacing. There are a grand total of three action scenes, and the rest is just people standing around talking. Even while cutting back and forth across all the various plot threads, the movie still crawls.

Honestly, I’m not sure this movie even has a main plot; it’s all subplots. A plot generally involves the central character overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal. But what’s Tony’s goal in this movie? Is he trying to stop Whiplash? Because he puts him in jail thirty minutes into the movie and doesn’t see him again until the very end.

Is Tony’s struggling to cure himself of his Movie Illness? Not really. He doesn’t do much about it until Nick Fury and Agent Coulson basically hand him all the information he needs to cure himself. And when Tony finally gets down to business, it takes almost no effort at all.

Is he trying to stop Justin Hammer from acquiring Stark technology? It doesn’t seem like much of a concern, seeing as how Hammer is portrayed as such an over-the-top buffoon that you can hardly imagine him being able to build his own Iron Man suit. Or dress himself in the morning, for that matter.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

So really, it’s two hours of Tony Stark moping, in between sporadic moments of asshattery. Almost every problem he faces is a problem he himself created, meaning, when he finally stops dicking around and gets to work, he solves everything instantly.

Due to bad reviews and weak word of mouth, this movie ended up making “only” $300 million. Director Jon Favreau soon stepped away from the franchise for undisclosed reasons, but rumor has it he was greatly unhappy with being forced to include so much setup for The Avengers, only to end up being passed over for the opportunity to actually direct that movie.

Whatever the reason, Shane Black would eventually take the reins for the next film. Iron Man 3 was a big improvement over the second film (though, really, how could it not be?), but the film has its own set of problems, which I’ll be delving into more deeply in my review of that movie, coming soon!

Tag: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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  • Cameron Vale

    This movie’s biggest problem is that it has no teeth. Whiplash, Tony’s dad, Whiplash’s dad, Hammer, Rhodey, the government, they’re all cuddly and nice and it’s just a series of misunderstandings. People were right to point the finger at Disney for this; people often overlook that their acquisition of Marvel Studios happened after the first Iron Man, and removing that movie from their record actually causes it to become pretty bad.

    • So did they just let go of the reins for 3?

      • Cameron Vale

        It’s not totally fearless like the first one, but it’s not totally spineless like the second one either, it’s just normal.

  • MichaelANovelli

    You don’t watch the credits? A lot of people work really hard to make movies, you know…

    • Sometimes I think about sitting through the credits, but then I realize if I ever need to know the name of the guy who drove Ms. Paltrow to the set, I can just go look it up on the IMDb (yep, it’s on there).

      • MichaelANovelli

        Plus, there’s all that money they spend on licensing songs for the credits. That’s just fiscally responsible!

  • Thomas Stockel

    Yeah, I hated this movie. The biggest problem for me are the villains. In the comics Justin Hammer is a criminal industrialist mastermind that looks like Peter Cushing (It’s obvious who artist Bob Layton used as his inspiration.) who uses a host of hi-tech villains against Stark and Iron Man. What I think was needed here was something similar, with Iron Man being worn down by a legion of guys like Porcupine, Blizzard, Boomerang, Beetle Whiplash, MAULER, etc. And have Black Widow have to fight Spymaster. That would have at least given her something more interesting to do.

    Instead Sam Rockwell is comic relief and Whiplash plays second fiddle to him. And then we have Iron Man fighting robots. We get a guy in a suit of armor fighting robots. As if I didn’t get enough of that shit in the second Star Wars trilogy.

    As to the other Marvel movies, I actually liked Thor and Captain America, but I think those movies work based on the strength of their casts. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are awesome in one, Evans and Weaving likewise in the other. Sure, you can make the argument that they are there to set up the Avengers but unlike Iron Man 2 they stand better on their own.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Those senate scenes work or don’t depending on who you are. Younger viewers generally hated them, while older viewers generally loved them, and if we go to the polls… sometimes there are patterns and sometimes we see patterns where none really exist.

    I agree completely about the effort to one up the last film killing this movie, I can’t honestly blame having to setup the next film. There were a lot of interesting things in this that they should have picked one or two to make the film about, but they kept piling on more in order to one up the previous film until they had a big pile of movie.

    I look forward to your IM3 review.

  • Alexa

    Haven’t seen this movie, but while movies like Thor and Captain America do seem like lead ups to The Avengers, they were still very entertaining and fun films in their own right. Well Captain America was a lot of fun, and Thor was okay, but still a better handled and faithful superhero film than most, and the casting in both were really great. And while I’ll probably never really be a true Marvel fan, I still enjoy these characters and the actors who play them. And I appreciated that Marvel had the energy to somehow connect and build up these movies to create a very engaging superhero movie universe. Wish DC could do the same, but c’est la vie.

  • Muthsarah

    “being on the second worst season in Saturday Night Live history”

    You can’t say that without naming your pick for the worst. Season 6? ’94-’95 (my personal pick, because I actually sat through it)? Or are you just going with consensus?

    I have nothing to say about this movie, FWIW. It was the worst kind of terrible, the boring, stupid kind I’d rather not even acknowledge. Except for Sam Rockwell. He’s still cool.

    • Some of those mid-90s seasons were brutal, but the absolute worst has to be 1980… Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, some other nobodies who got fired midway through the season. I saw some of it on Netflix streaming, and you could hear crickets during Weekend Update with Charles Rocket.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Didn’t Charles Rocket only last one episode? Oh well, he was great on Max Headroom!

  • William

    I dunno. I liked Iron Man 2. I only had three expectations for this film: That Tony Stark would 1) build something and 2) team up with War Machine to 3) blow stuff up. This movie met those expectations. The bar is high for me for Avengers and Superman. Other superhero films have a much lower bar.

  • mamba

    Good review of a good movie, but I think you missed a lot of this movie’s points and subtitles:

    -Tony at the beginning being an ass. Ummm, he never stopped. He still has the character growth he had, he was ALWAYS an ass. He still wants to save lives and his weapons are now his to do just that. He doesn’t trust the gouvenment to do the right thing. So he’s keeping his tech and being an ass rubs the gouvernment’s face in it. Where is this out of character.

    -Paltrow as CEO: she was his #2, is fully versed in the companies internal workings, and has apparently been that way for years. She clearly is consulted on decisions relating to the company, and thus she has clear seniority (SHE went to confront Stane, remember? interns don’t do that…) So she may actually BE the most qualified.

    -Whiplash’s whips and his “loss” at the track: He built them in the basement of a russian house. What did you expect, a nuclear bomb? He had no resources…and he built far better stuff the second he had them. BUT that’s irrelevant because that was NOT his goal to kill Tony per-se. He simply wanted to show the world that Tony’s not the only game, and to instigate the world into ganging up on him like the gouvernment tried to do. That’s why he’s laughing while being dragged away screaming ‘YOU LOSE!” to Tony, and he explains all this the next time they meet. He was right, at that moment Tony DID lose, big time, and the movie went on to prove Mickey right.

    -Rhodes stealing the suit and giving it to millitary. The original prototype flying suit was meant to be given to Rhodes anyway…that’s why we could wear it and ONLY he could operate it. He gave it to the millitary simply because he’s a trained-to-obey soldier, at the time agreed with the gouvernment on the “Tony is getting dangerous” mindset, and figured that a counter-Iron man (who is HIM and thus he trusts him) is a good idea. Lacking Stark support for this, he went straight to Hammer for the guns to add.

    -Hammer at Stark expo: Yeah, why not? Stark may be the funding and the host, but it’s TECH EXPO, open to everyone in the business to show off (and presumably for Stark to buy out/steal ideas from). Not very unusual, and at the time nobody thought Hammer was evil, just an annoying incompetent. Stark probably invited him specifically just to show him up in front of everyone originally.

    -the atom model: He his the atom’s arrangement in a model. Clever, but not that outrageous to me. it’s basically counting circles after all, though I agree there’s no reason to hide the element at all.

    -Final battle almost all CGI, no arguement there…it was watching a video game. Whiplash should have been FAR more of a threat by this point…and the drones were more effective as they were originally being used…to kill civilians. By diverting them all to stark’s position, he basically solved Stark’s problem for him. Dumb move…have the drones rampage as a distraction while HE fights Stark.