“’Mr. Stark displays compulsive behavior’. In my defense, that was last week. ‘Prone to self-destructive tendencies’ I was dying, please, and, aren’t we all? ‘Textbook narcissism’? Agreed.” – Tony Stark reading S.H.I.E.L.D report on him
Iron Man 2 (2012) is Jon Favreau’s sequel to his 2008 hit Iron Man. The first Iron Man is definitely a better movie. However, Robert Downey Jr. Is born to play Tony Stark/ Iron Man. As such, any Iron Man movie with Downey playing the protagonist will be fun and entertaining. During the film, we learn that the palladium that powers the arc reactor in Stark’s chest is poisoning his body and slowly killing him. As the arc reactor is the only thing preventing the shrapnel in his chest from spreading into his heart, he cannot live without it. Consequently, it is both saving his life and killing him at the same time. As Stark cannot find a suitable replacement for the palladium, he has to come to grasp with the morbid truth that he will die. As a result, he begins acting more reckless and irresponsible than he has ever been in order to have as much fun as possible before he dies. However, he has responsibilities as Iron Man now that he is neglecting with his behavior. Moreover, he announced he is Iron Man in a press conference so his failings cause public concern and scrutiny from the government. While it is a good concept for the sequel, the movie is not nearly dark enough to effectively execute on the concept. In addition, the film is mostly lighthearted and fun and this tone is not compatible with the dire situation Stark is supposed to be facing. Similar to all the other individual Iron Man movies, the villain is also not compelling enough to match Downey’s charisma in order to elevate the film to higher heights. For these reasons, I cannot dispute any critics that assessed this sequel as “lackluster”. Nevertheless, Iron Man 2 is a very solid movie for comic book fans as Downey is excellent as Iron Man and the movie ties in other Marvel characters to set up the Avengers.
The movie begins in Russia with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and his dying father, Anton Vanko, watching Tony Stark’s press conference at the end of the first movie revealing his identity as Iron Man. Before Anton dies, he says that it should have been Ivan up there at the press conference getting fame and accolades. As we learn later, Anton worked with Howard Stark, Tony’s father, on the arc reactor years ago. However, Anton was in it for money and Howard had him deported back to Russia. When Anton promises the Russian government that he could finish the arc reactor and fails, he is thrown into a Siberian prison for years. As such, the Vankos hold a grudge against the Stark family. Pushed by the death of his father, Ivan starts working on his own arc reactor and suit with energy whiplashes as weapons to avenge his father. The character is primarily the villain Whiplash from the comics. However, it is also incorporates elements of Crimson Dynamo as Ivan builds a full suit. While Rourke will always do a good job acting tough and looking intimidating, Ivan Vanko is not compelling and is not developed well enough. He functions like a pawn and is in the movie so Iron Man has someone rough to fight so he can show off his suit. After Vanko completes his suit, he attacks Stark at a race in Monaco. While he is able to cause damage to the Iron Man suit, he is eventually defeated and imprisoned. When Stark questions him in the prison, Vanko has his best lines in the movie when he says “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him, there will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
Before Vanko’s attack, Stark is called to a Congressional Hearing about his Iron Man armor. He encounters aggressive questioning by Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) with the purpose of forcing Stark to turn his armor over to the United States government. The scene brings up a very serious question. When an individual possess a weapon or technology so advanced and potentially dangerous, what kind of government oversight, if any, does there need to be for it? In my opinion, Stark has every right to own that technology privately so long as he does not use it to break laws or harm others. Moreover, it is not a weapon of mass destruction and Stark uses it as a shield to protect others. Another important consideration is that other nations or groups could duplicate the technology and pose a significant threat to the country. As such, Senator Stern tries using fear mongering by claiming others are close to developing their own suits. As such, the government needs to have the suit or suits in order to ensure the country is safe from all threats. However, Stark is not fooled and makes a mockery of the hearing by humiliating Stern as he hacks into the television screen. As blurry videos of countries, such as North Korea and Iran, building suits are shown in order to create fear, Stark has the videos zoom in to prove that the countries are not even close and have only had complete disasters in trying to copy Stark’s Iron Man. On his way out of the hearing, Stark boasts that “I’m your nuclear deterrent. It’s working. We’re safe. America is secure. You want my property? You can’t have it. But I did you a big favor. I’ve successfully privatized world peace.” As the senator is completely humiliated and annoyed, he curses at Stark at the end of the hearing.
During the hearing, the senator calls on Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), CEO of Hammer Industries, as his expert on weapons. As Stark Industries is moving away from defense, its rival Hammer Industries is trying to take over as the government’s top defense contractor. During the hearing, Hammer is also embarrassed by Stark and exposed as incompetent. Hammer wants to be Tony Stark but does not even come close. While Stark is full of crap, he can back up his chatter so he is more 50% crap and 50% substance. On the other hand, Hammer cannot back up any of his trash talk. As such, he is completely full of crap and a buffoon. Stark knows Hammer is inferior and rips on him from the start. When Senator Stern calls on Hammer to testify, Stark smugly notes “Let the record reflect that I observe Mr. Hammer entering the chamber and I am wondering if and when any actual expert will also be in attendance.” When Stark shows the videos of other countries’ feeble attempts to copy the Iron Man idea, he also shows the video of Hammer’s attempt which is more pathetic the rest. As such, Stark comments “Yeah I’d say most countries 5-10 years away….Hammer Industries 20.” In every aspect, Stark is light years ahead of Hammer. When Hammer tries to brag about Vanity Fair’s Christine Everheart (a cameo by Leslie Bibb from the first movie) writing a story about him when he runs into Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Pepper responds “Right. Well, she did quite a spread on Tony last year.” Tony clarifies and adds “And she wrote a story as well.” As such, Hammer needs to find a way to outshine Stark to get some revenge and the government contracts his company covets. When he sees Vanko go head to head against Stark, he offers Vanko employment and provides the resources for Vanko to build suits. Hammer provides the personality that Vanko does not. Rockwell does a decent job portraying a villain that is entertaining at times but also annoying in other moments. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable to watch Stark completely outsmart him throughout the entire movie.
Nevertheless, the theme of the movie is Stark’s reckless and erratic behavior when he believes he will die as he cannot find a replacement for palladium. For example, he makes questionable decisions such as donate his entire modern art collection to the Boy Scouts of America that Pepper spent 10 years accumulating and relieving a professional race car driver from Stark Industries’ Formula One Car so he can drive in the race himself. As Stark is overwhelmed by the prospect of dying, he cannot handle making the rationale decisions needed to run his company properly. Consequently, he entrusts the company to his trusted personal assistant, Pepper Potts, and appoints her CEO. However, he conceals the fact that he is sick and dying so she is not concerned. Paltrow does an excellent job again showing grace and strength as Pepper. Moreover, she does a respectable job answering for Stark’s irrational behavior and maintains her executive presence amid public backlash for Stark’s decisions. I also like that she has no fear and goes right to the front lines in order to help Stark fight his battles. Of course, their relationship is complicated. They are attracted to each other but Pepper does not want to act on it. For the most part, she is still having a difficult time trying to control the immature Stark from acting like a child and making foolish decisions. Similar to the firs tmovie, the dynamic between the two is very entertaining.
Another key person in Stark’s life is his best friend, Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard in the role from the first movie. While Cheadle is an excellent actor, I prefer Howard’s stern and serious demeanor as it completely contrasts with Downey’s charisma and wise-cracking portrayal of Stark. Cheadle is similar to Downey as he is charismatic and has a lot of funny one liners himself. While I enjoy the bickering between the two, I feel the sharp contrast between the two characters in the first movie is better. Nevertheless, Rhodey remains completely loyal to Stark in Iron Man 2. When Vanko attacks Stark in Monaco, the government becomes concerned as Stark assured them that others are years away from developing suits but Vanko shows up with one almost immediately. The reaction validates Vanko’s idea to “make God bleed” as the public starts turning against Stark highlighted by Pepper watching political pundit and TV personality Bill O’Reilly questioning Tony Stark’s actions which includes the appointment of Pepper as CEO. While the government wants to send the military to storm Stark’s home to take the Iron Man technology, Rhodes personally vouches for Stark in order to keep the military at bay. However, Rhodey’s breaking point is when Stark puts on his Iron Man armor at his birthday party, is completely drunk, and starts shooting things up with his repulsor blasts to entertain his guests. As Stark does not listen to Pepper or Rhodes to desist with his antics, Rhodes puts on one of the extra suits, to become War Machine, in an attempt to settle Stark down. When Stark refuses to stop, it leads to an entertaining fight between Iron Man and War Machine that tears Stark’s Malibu home apart. Afterwards, Rhodes takes the armor back to his military base where the armor is further weaponized by Hammer at the request of the military. On the other hand, Stark has protocols that only allow his armor to be worn by himself. The fact that Rhodes is able to put on a suit proves that Stark also programmed a suit to be able to be worn by Rhodes. As such, it is clear that Stark trusts Rhodes and gives him access to use the suits and fulfill the responsibilities of Iron Man in the event that Stark is incapable of doing so. I like that the idea is explained during the movie. Moreover, I believe Stark understands that the government and military will continue to demand his suits unless they had one that they could control. By allowing his friend Rhodey to have a suit, Stark ensures that his technology does not fall into the wrong hands while the government also has a person with a suit in Rhodey that they can trust and give orders.
A new character in the movie I love is Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman. She commands the screen immediately as she stuns with her beauty and mesmerizing eyes. While Stark and his chauffeur and body guard Happy Hogan (played again by director Jon Favreau) box, Pepper and Natalie enter the scene to get Stark to authorize Pepper’s appointment to CEO with his finger prints. Stark and Happy are instantaneously caught off guard by Natalie’s looks. When Pepper talks to Stark, she explains to him that “She is from legal and she is potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you keep ogling her like that.” When Stark asks Natalie to step into the ring to take his place, Happy acts cocky about teaching her how to box. In a comical move, she immediately does a flip and takes Happy down with a scissor kick. As such, she is everything Stark wants as a personal assistant to replace Pepper as she steps up to be CEO. When Stark notes to Pepper, “I want one.” She simply responds as a mother would to her needy child: “No”. Nevertheless, Stark never listens and gets Natalie as his assistant to the dismay of Pepper. Of course, Natalie is under cover and is actually Natashsa Romanoff, better known to comic fans as the Black Widow and is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Natasha is the agency’s best superspy. She is assigned as a S.H.I.E.L.D. shadow when they discover that Stark is sick. After she reveals her identity to Stark and he is impressed by her uncanny ability to blend right in to Stark Industries, he remarks to her “God you’re good. You are mind blowingly close to this. How do you do it? You’re a triple impostor. I’ve never seen anything like it. Is there anything real about you?” At the end of the movie, Happy and her go to Hammer’s compound to go after Vanko. While Happy has trouble beating up one security guard, Natasha shows off her fighting prowess again as she easily takes out an entire hallway of Hammer’s security guards in spectacular fashion. On the drive over, she also changes from her dress to her leather S.H.I.E.L.D uniform. Consequently, Happy almost drives into the next lane on to oncoming traffic as he tries to stare at her through the rearview mirror. Who could blame him? Whether it is in business casual, a dress, leather, or underwear, Scarlett Johansson is a breathtakingly beautiful woman. Any movie with her gets a bonus point which I have already embedded in my score. Although the Avengers does a much better job developing her character, Iron Man II is a good introduction of Natasha Romanoff.
Of course, her boss is Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury plays an important role in the movie when he confronts Stark about his recent decisions. After the fight with Rhodey at his home, Stark has a hangover and in a giant donut eating donuts. Fury approaches and politely asks “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to exit the donut”. While Stark tries to be defiant as usual and joke his way out the situation, Fury is annoyed, furious with Stark’s recent behavior, and is in no mood for his antics. Like a father scolding his disobedient son, he tells Stark, “What do we want from you? Uh-uh. What do you want from me? You have become a problem, a problem I have to deal with. Contrary to your belief, you are not the center of my universe. I have bigger problems in the southwest region to deal with.” More importantly, Fury notifies Stark that his father Howard was working on an energy project that solves the palladium problem. As such, completing the project should provide a suitable replacement that powers the arc reactor. As Stark has no discipline, he also assigns Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to keep his eyes on Stark and cuts off all Stark’s communication to the outside world. He provides Howard Stark’s unfinished research to Tony to finish. I like that Fury provides the disciplinarian that Tony desperately needs to get his life on track as Samuel L. Jackson is excellent in that role. Tony can ignore Pepper and Rhodey but Nick Fury is a man that even Tony cannot blow off. Moreover, a lot of Tony’s personal issues spawn from his daddy problems in regards to the belief that his father never loved him. However, Fury assures him that Howard did love Tony and always believed he would finish his work and change the world. In one of Howard’s videos given to Tony by Fury, Howard tells Tony that “This is the key to the future. I’m limited by the technology of my time, but one day you’ll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is, and always will be, my greatest creation is you.” It is the turning point as Tony is able to move past some of his personal issues and finish his father’s work to create a stronger power source that is also safe for his body.
Of course, Vanko never intends to help Hammer. He uses Hammer’s resources to build drones and a much bigger suit for himself in order to attack Stark at his expo in Queens, New York. As such, it leads to the final action scene where Iron Man has to defeat Vanko and his drones. Moreover, Vanko takes control of the software in the War Machine armor as has it attack Iron Man. However, Natasha Romanoff is able to reprogram the armor so Iron Man and War Machine can fight Vanko and his drones together. In the most hilarious scene of the battle, Rhodes tries to use the “Ex-Wife” against Vanko. It is supposed to be Hammer’s best weapon and a powerful bunker buster. Naturally, it hits Vanko and falls harmlessly to the ground. Of course, Stark asks Rhodes “Hammer tech?” with an annoyed Rhodey answering “Yeah”. While the final fight scene has its moments, it is not as epic as comic fans would like. After the fight, Pepper resigns as CEO after a week as she cannot handle the stress: “I don’t know when you’re [Stark] going to kill yourself, or mess up the whole company.” However, they also finally kiss and realize the feelings they have for each other as Pepper is finally fine with the relationship. The best part of the end is when Nick Fury debriefs Stark. When Stark reads Agent Romanoff’s assessment of him, her report is less than flattering about Stark and rejects Stark but she approves the Iron Man armor for the Avengers Initiative. After a funny exchange between Fury and Stark, Fury explains that they would only like to use Stark as a consultant for the time being. In response, Stark jokingly states that Fury cannot afford him. However, he does agree to waive his retainer in exchange for Fury’s help in getting a presenter for the medals Rhodey and Stark are receiving in Washington. Of course, Fury forces Senator Stern to present the medals. As Stern is putting the medal on Stark, he grazes Stark a little with the safety pin and says “Sorry, it’s funny how annoying a little prick can be.”
The post credit scene is solid. Agent Coulson heads to New Mexico and oversees a S.H.I.E.L.D. team that discovers a hammer. It is actually Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, thus gives a quick preview of the Thor movie. Earlier in the movie, Stark has Captain America’s shield in his laboratory as he works on his father’s unfinished energy project. The shield foreshadows the movie, Captain America: the First Avenger. Consequently, Iron Man II does a good job tying in the other Marvel characters that lead to the Avenger.