In Looking back upon the genesis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s easy to see where things could have potentially gone off the rails early. Many fans point fingers at The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 is being two of the worst of the MCU films, and one might think that a more reactionary Marvel Studios might have tried to mess with things, and potentially made things worse. Instead, they stayed the course. It probably helped, though, that Iron Man 2 made quite a bit of money, even if it was frowned upon critically.
It’s pretty amazing to go back in time and look at these two films (three if you count Thor) and see where the backbone of the MCU really started coming together. In Iron Man 2, SHIELD becomes much more a part of the story, with Phil Coulson making significant appearances as well as Nick Fury, and of course the exciting debut of Natasha Romanov, AKA the Black Widow. Along with this, you hear the first rumblings about Howard Stark playing a role in the creation of SHIELD, and of course, the infamous debut of Captain America’s prototype shield.
All of these easter eggs aside, though, I do have to agree with the masses that as a whole, Iron Man 2 is probably one of the weaker (if not the weakest) entries in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It starts strong with the great debut of Tony Stark at the Stark Expo and an early introduction to Sam Rockwell’s phenomenal take on Justin Hammer. I love the balance between Stark and Hammer, though to this day I’m not exceptionally fond of the whole “Stark is dying” subtext to the film and that whole need to create a whole new atom to power the arc reactor. In fact, the whole process with which Stark discovers and creates this new atom (based on some strange clue left by his father a few decades previously, who would have had no knowledge of Stark’s medical issues) is a real stretch, and something I still scratch my head at as I rewatch this film so many years later. That doesn’t even get into the ridiculous scene at Tony’s party where he’s drunk and dancing in the armor before getting into a super powered fistfight with Rhodey.
Aside from those questionable angles to the story, there’s a still some stuff to love here. Don Cheadle is an exceptional follow up as James Rhodes, and dovetails nicely into his War Machine persona in this film, introducing yet another significant character to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Micky Rourke as Whiplash was effective as well, though he’s a big departure from the comic character, and I’m still not sure how I feel about how easy it was for him to create not just an army of drones, but a hyper powerful suit of armor so deadly it almost takes down both Iron Man and War Machine.
Another great angle in this film was our introduction to Gary Shandling’s (Rest in Peace) character of Senator Stern, a character who is secretly revealed to be a Hydra sleeper agent in Captain America: Winter Soldier. More connective tissue between different Marvel Studios films that shows not just a link between main big name characters, but so many of their critical supporting staff as well. It goes a long way towards building this cohesive universe.
Speaking of Senator Stern, I can’t help but wonder… in Iron Man 2, Stark is so wholly unwilling to hand off his armor to the government and is absolutely 100% devoted to controlling Iron Man himself. Looking at the upcoming Captain America: Civil War film he seems to be pretty firmly on the side of super hero registration with the government. So what changed? The incident in New York? The destruction of Sokovia? Considering how different his attitude seems to be between Iron Man 2 and Civil War, one can only think that these events had an impact. I really hope part of the Civil War story investigates that change of attitude and gives it some kind of voice in the film, and doesn’t just wash over it.
All in all, while there are some very important pieces of the MCU puzzle that start coming together in Iron Man 2, it’s far from my favorite film in that universe and remains somewhat of a low light. Perhaps that’s just because so many other MCU films are so fantastic that it can’t quite live up to that standard. I will say I was able to watch it and be entertained seven years after it was initially made, which certainly says something, though it’s not nearly as fun as the others.
#3 – Iron Man 2
#2 – Incredible Hulk
#1 – Iron Man
Check out the Other Posts!
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 12 – Ant Man
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 11 – Avengers (Age of Ultron)
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 09 – Captain America (Winter Soldier)
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 08 – Thor (The Dark World)
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 7.5 – All Hail the King
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 07 – Iron Man 3
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 6.5 – Item 47 and Agent Carter
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 06 – The Avengers
- Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 05 – Captain America (The First Avenger)