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Marvel Retrospective: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Posted: Posted January 15th by Jet Presto

Something of a black sheep of the Marvel cinematic universe, it's a bit strange to think that so many people dislike†Iron Man 2. In some ways, it improves upon the first - better comedy, slightly more consistent tone, something vaguely resembling an actual arc, more fun action, and villains that actually have some thematic relevance to the titular protagonist.

The villains are an interesting point of contention when discussing the film. Most people argue that they are underwhelming, with Justin Hammer being too silly or Ivan Vanko serving as almost too simplistic and second-rate Joker-type baddie. However, there is an interesting component to them together that connects more to Tony Stark. Both are one half of Stark, although without much of a moral compass.

Justin Hammer is literally a second-rate Tony Stark. He's in the same business, dresses the same way, chases down government contracts, and is the only person in the world with an ego to match. At the same time, he isn't exactly known for his brains. His Tony's money and resources, but not his brilliance. Ivan is the opposite. He is one of only a few people in the world who can match Tony's smarts in the technological field. Yet he grew up poor in Russia, and thus lacks the resources of the Starks. Both men have, to various degrees of legitimate, felt burned by the Stark family and their brand. Hammer has lost contracts and frequently loses attention to Tony. Vanko's father was essentially ruined and his family decimated.

Together, they are a reflection. If Tony Stark has a number of problems that make him a less than idyllic superhero (such as raging narcissism and a bit of a chauvinistic streak), the team up of Hammer and Vanko show us just how much worse it could be. They are both versions of Tony without any sense of moral compass.

What makes them work more thematically is that they are on a natural crash course with the invincible Iron Man. Many Marvel villains serve as simply an obstacle or challenge for our heroes to overcome. There isn't really a connection between Malekith and Thor, or Thanos and the Avengers, or Ronan and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Then there are under-explored connections. Obadiah Stane was almost a parental figure and a longtime business partner to Tony for years and years, but our hero seemed shockingly unfazed by the betrayal. Stane's greed made him a natural opponent to Tony's newfound desire to stop selling weapons, but there is so little focus on that clash.

Here, from the get-go, we see how the villains pose a fundamental threat to Iron Man. It works because the stakes are small, as they were in the first film. Where Stane wanted to simply destroy Tony to take over the company for wealth, Hammer and - more significantly - Ivan want to destroy the Stark name. This is significant because Tony's entire objective is to leave behind a more positive legacy than the one he inherited from his father. Every single action the playboy makes in the film is done with the explicit goal of improving and protecting his†legacy. The term gets thrown around several times.

So, when Ivan steps into the fold to tear down the Stark brand, it provides us with one of the most natural and organic conflicts in a Marvel film. On a basic level, our villains and hero have goals that are in fundamental opposition to each other. It's done better than it was in the first film, and it was even handled better than it was in†Iron Man 3. Sure, it's not given enough attention, and the film is a little too fractured for its own good, but there is a case to be made that the villains of†Iron Man 2 are some of the best utilized characters (especially given how underwhelming they are as characters in the comics).

There are problems, of course. Similar to the previous film, Tony is put on what appears to be a character arc, but winds up making all of the same mistakes he always makes and he fails to end up anywhere different. He is the same Tony Stark at the end as he was in the beginning. It is a little messed up that, for all the times he makes an effort to tell Pepper that he is slowly dying, she only finds out because she was on what turned out to be a conference call among him, Rhodey, and Natasha. His narcissism and egotism still get in the way of his relationships, and he never actually does anything to merit a return of feelings from Ms. Potts. (Their romance in these films remains one of the most contrived elements of anything Iron Man related.)

Some tend to complain that the film spends too much time world-building, but it's actually pretty well worked into the central story. The movie isn't really "disrupted" by the set-up of a larger world. In fact, Tony would never have solved the riddle of his problem and, subsequently, learned of Justin Hammer's treachery without the intervention of Nick Fury and his connection to Howard Stark, Tony's father. That, itself, is relevant to Tony's primary issue, which is one of social inheritance and legacy. Even Black Widow plays an important role in uncovering the Hammer plot. Point here being that all of the things that feel like insignificant world-building are actually critical to the main story and theme of the film. One would have to completely rework the film if looking to remove those elements. In actuality, the film†doesn't disrupt itself for this world-building to occur.

In regards to the conclusion, battling an army of CGI robots needs to be kept in the context of its release. As common as that trope has become, it's worth remembering that that wasn't always the case.†Iron Man 2 kind of kickstarted it. It was the first Marvel movie to end this way, so at the time, it felt fresh and fun. It was action-packed and allowed for some great back-and-forth with Rhodes, who is finally allowed to do something more than just stand on the sidelines and watch. Plus, how they address the casting change is simple, amusing, and efficient. It almost serves as an example of how to move on with actor changes going forward, in some ways.

By no means would one argue that there is much depth to†Iron Man 2. Yet, in many ways it improves upon the first film. Viewed through modern standards, it can even be more entertaining to watch. Every Iron Man movie features a similar problem in that Tony gets what appears to be character arcs without actually following through with them, but there is much to like and appreciate about the structure of the sequel. It really is one of the more under-appreciated films in Marvel's collection.

REDUCTIVE RATING: It's good. Underrated.

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REDUCTIVE RATING: It's good. Underrated.

Heh I really need to rewatch it. I thought it was pretty bad when I saw it years ago. Do you own the movie? It is the only Marvel movie currently on Prime and Hulu which I find funny as it was just recently added to those platforms a few weeks back lol. I was under the assumption that they would be taken off subscription based platforms and thrown into the disney one.

Posted January 15th by S.O.H.
S.O.H.
 

They almost certainly will get taken off and thrown onto Disney's platform when that goes live.

And yeah. I've been mulling over turning some of these into video essays, in particular a series I'm working on examining mental health in the MCU. So I bought all of the films. (I guess I didn't have a blu-ray player in 2008 because I have Iron Man and Incredible Hulk on DVD, and the rest on blu-ray.)

I am pretty certain that I am the lone voice arguing that Iron Man 2 is much better than it gets credit for. I just think it examines so many more interesting concepts than the first film, and I think overall is better executed than the third (which I have a bunch to say about that one, but that's coming soon.)

Posted January 15th by Jet Presto

I am pretty certain that I am the lone voice arguing that Iron Man 2 is much better than it gets credit for.

I feel that way about Iron man 3.

I really want to hear your thoughts about Doctor Strange. I disliked it the first time. But he was my favorite part of Infinit War and I want to make time to rewatch his film.

Posted January 16th by S.O.H.
S.O.H.
 

This one and Incredible Hulk are the two Marvel movies I remember the least. I do recall enjoying this one when I first saw it, though not as much as the first one, but it didn't leave much of a lasting impression. Very interested to rewatch it--I imagine it'll feel pretty similar to watching a movie I haven't seen before.

Posted January 16th by white lancer

Honestly I thought Ironman 2 was good and I really enjoyed it. It introduced Don Cheddle as Colonel Rhodes (way better actor than the guy from the first movie) and Saw Tony show how you piss in an Ironman suite lol.

Itís saying something about the quality of the MCU if Ironman 2 is considered the black sheep but is still way better than most DCU movies.

Posted January 17th by Q
Q
 

I've been mulling over turning some of these into video essays, in particular a series I'm working on examining mental health in the MCU.


Please JP I'm begging you to let me see this someday.

Posted January 17th by Cetasaurus
Cetasaurus
Formerly KM8

Agreed Jet. If you throw in some clips and animations iíd subscribe and like the shit out of your videos.

Edited January 17th by Q
Q
 

Itís saying something about the quality of the MCU if Ironman 2 is considered the black sheep but is still way better than most DCU movies.

the worst mcu movie is better than most of their movies lol. I still say man of steel is better than a lot of the phase 1 stuff.

but it has been years since ive seen it.

Posted January 17th by S.O.H.
S.O.H.
 

I don't know if I'll wind up making them video essays. I've already completed by essay on Iron Man (it's...11,000 words, so...might need to edit that a little bit). Kind of working backwards by appearances. Iron Man was going to take the longest since he's in the most movies. Then, Cap and Thor, then Hulk, then Ant-Man, and Black Panther, and Vision. I can't tell yet if it's worth breaking down Hawkeye, since he's never really been a central character. He plays key roles in both Avengers films, but I don't think there's really enough there. Vision has some interesting components I want to explore, primarily because he was the one other Avenger capable of wielding Mjolnir.



Man of Steel is...interesting to me... there's a bunch of stuff I like about the film, but it really just doesn't get *anything* right about the character. And it's not just Superman they don't get right. They don't get Jonathan Kent right. They don't get Lois Lane right. They sort of get Perry White right but he's in it so little. They made Zod better than most versions in the comics (J. Michael Stracyznski's Zod remains the best version). The action was solid, but callous and shallow.

Zack Snyder probably should get a superhero franchise again. He would be pretty solid for something like a Deathstroke movie, or even maybe the Punisher. He has a great visual eye. The problem is that he doesn't really think deeper than that. The Christ imagery in Man of Steel might look great, but the film itself doesn't really do anything with that imagery. He's kind of done this a lot at this point. Batman v. Superman, Man of Steel, and Watchmen all prove that Snyder doesn't really..."get"... these characters. For all the talk of how cool Ben Afleck's Batman was, the writing for Batman was still out of character and kind of unrecognizable for fans. And Watchmen kind of proved that he didn't understand what that comic was actually about at all. His sensibilities are better suited for something action-oriented (particularly with on a testosterone-fueled celebration of masculinity) like 300. But I don't think it works *at* *all* for a character that is supposed to be an icon for hope and promise like Superman, or one of a strict moral code like Batman.

Man of Steel was a hot mess of a film on almost every level. But the central premise - how would the world really feel about a Superman emerging - was worth exploring. It just...doesn't really seem that interested in exploring it. The depth gets lost for the sake of action, which only really serves to set up a shocking edge-lord finale. I'd still like to see what Snyder did with characters better suited for his sensibilities. In terms of overall quality, I thought Man of Steel was "as good" as Superman Returns, which was bad for very different reasons.

Posted January 17th by Jet Presto

Very surprised given your recent comments about Ghostbusters that you didn't talk about the political overtones in Iron Man 2. It's probably the most political Marvel movie after Black Panther? Maybe not, there's so many of these fucking things it's hard to remember them all.

I am pretty certain that I am the lone voice arguing that Iron Man 2 is much better than it gets credit for.

While I wouldn't go as far as to say it's "much better," than it gets credit for, I agree that's it's always been treated a bit unfairly (same with Age of Ultron). I feel like all of the complaints about being overstuffed or unnecessary world building were just from the people trying to predict the future of this franchise. While it's a little tough to remember now, before the first Avengers, a lot of people were convinced that the Marvel model would never work, and they pointed to Iron Man 2 as proof. Because, I don't know, it used other comic book characters? In a fairly appropriate manner? The complaint never made sense to me. Fury and Black Widow are very reasonable supporting characters for Tony's journey, and their inclusion makes sense given the end of Iron Man 1. It's not like a Mortal Kombat Annihilation or something where random characters you recognize just pop up and then disappear for no reason.

I disagree with you about the final fight though, it's anticlimatic as fuck. Iron Man flying around and zapping people is always pretty fun to watch, but when they end up in that tiny garden with War Machine it all falls apart. I think having a large battle with multiple enemies in a small location can possibly work (like the elevator fight in Winter Soldier, though that location was comically small), but there's probably a reason we've seen this type of shit take place over an entire city most of the time. It's pretty boring. They just stand still back to back zapping people, and that's pretty much all that happens. Standing still is not exciting at all. It doesn't help that War Machine's "Nice... Nice!" comments deflate the tension and make it all feel like they're playing a video game. And then Tony's finishing move is awful. They try to subvert the problem by turning it into a joke, "next time lead with that!" but addressing the problem doesn't erase it, it just makes the dummies that wouldn't have thought of it like me aware of it.

The biggest problem is still the villains though. Sometimes doing more but falling short is worse than not trying at all (which is actually my problem with Black Panther). Vanko *should* be more interesting than Jeff Bridges, they set up all the right pieces, but ultimately they don't do enough. I expect more personal interaction between Tony and Vanko after the prison scene, but it never comes, and the next time they're together Vanko is just in a stupid robot outfit. They do more to establish emotional stakes between these two characters than they did in Iron Man 1, but they don't deliver, and at the nd of the day, I'd rather just watch Jeff Bridges because of his performance.

Posted January 18th by The Bandit

I don't know if I'll wind up making them video essays.

J Prez likes to literally stab me in the heart.

Posted January 18th by Cetasaurus
Cetasaurus
Formerly KM8

Very surprised given your recent comments about Ghostbusters that you didn't talk about the political overtones in Iron Man 2. It's probably the most political Marvel movie after Black Panther? Maybe not, there's so many of these fucking things it's hard to remember them all.


That's certainly true. I mostly wanted to focus on more structural and thematic components of the film. It's also a bit more confusing to me in Iron Man 2. It doesn't seem to be particularly friendly towards the industrial military complex, and certainly seems to make a case for the private sector being more trustworthy and beneficial than the public. The senator and defense contractor being corrupt and incompetent makes a case for private being better than public. Of course, at this point we don't know Gary Shandling is Hydra, but he's also clearly an unlikable war hawk, so it speaks more to the military industrial complex, which John Favreau doesn't seem too big a fan of it. But then, conversely we see Tony literally getting drunk in his armored suit. We see him frequently make other blunders that put people at risk. And he never becomes accountable. Mixed with the fact that the military itself is never depicted as less than idyllic and trustworthy (Tony even lets Rhodey take the War Machine suit), I'm just not sure that the political leanings of the film are consistent enough to really dive too much into.

It's not like Ghostbusters where the political leanings are pretty clear and constant. There can be no missing the leanings of director Ivan Reitman. But I find the politics of Iron Man 2 to be a bit...scattershot. (Neither film is political in the sense that they are *about* the politics. Ghostbusters isn't *about* how Reagonomics will save the day or anything like that. Those ideas just permeate the film here and there.)


I expect more personal interaction between Tony and Vanko after the prison scene, but it never comes


That's certainly a legitimate criticism of it. I definitely agree that an additional sequence between them would have improved the film. I do think the film hurts itself with its ending right after that. Tony gets the girl (for some reason), is viewed completely as a hero, and has Gary Shandling pin a medal on him. It concludes as if there are no consequences, far too neatly. I think the Vanko stuff would still work well without an additional sequence if it ended with more of like, the criticism of the Avengers at the end of Avengers, right? Like, I'm not really sure how on earth anyone can blame the Avengers for the events of an alien invasion. But on the TV we see a politician blaming them. So while it's still a happy, clean ending, there's at least the undertone of uncertainty as to their role in the world.

Probably something like that would improve the film here, especially when Vanko once again says, "You lose." Given that those drones were modeled off of Stark's tech, which he very publicly refused to share information with the government, one might imagine that someone might want some answers from Stark.

I'd rather just watch Jeff Bridges because of his performance.


Completely fair. Hard to challenge that logic. (Not sarcastic. Jeff Bridges rules, and while his character is underwhelming to me in the film, I do really love what he brought to it.) I feel like Sam Rockwell is someone that I always love to watch too. And I personally found his knock-off Tony Stark thing to be more entertaining, so I'm certainly liable to overlook weaknesses of the character of Justin Hammer, I feel sort of similarly about Rockwell as you do Bridges.

Posted January 18th by Jet Presto

(Tony even lets Rhodey take the War Machine suit)

Ive read that he was planning to give him the suit all along and that it just happened that way. And when you think of it is he really allowing him to take it? He can trigger it to self destruct at any time. (I wouldnt be surprised if he could get it to fly back to him when ever he wanted)

Posted January 18th by S.O.H.
S.O.H.
 

Like I said, I never disliked this one--Incredible Hulk, The Dark World, and Age of Ultron were the only MCU films I recall not much liking on first watch--but I never found it particularly memorable either. I had vaguely positive feelings about it, but I never felt an urgency to rewatch it. This might be a bit silly, but I wonder if the poor reputation of this film might have a little bit to do with its generic name--it's pretty easy to see it as "2 = sequel = worse," since that's so often the case. All of the other sequels in the MCU have a subtitle that helps them to stand out a little bit and easily identify what they were about. This was also the first sequel and the only one for a while, so it may have been at a disadvantage since people were comparing it only to films that introduced shiny new characters (and also had more stand-alone value). Because like you said, I really don't think either this one or Iron Man 3 really deserve to be so maligned. They're both perfectly fine flicks, definitely better than Hulk and TDW (Age of Ultron pending in my mind, as I haven't seen it since theaters).

I like the discussion on the villains here. Found them both pretty unexciting the first time through, but I liked them both better on this rewatch. I thought Hammer was genuinely entertaining just because of his sheer bumbling nature, yet at the same time it was easy to understand why he hated Tony so much--Tony was a legit ass to him here, early and often. Vanko I think was more interesting in concept and thematically than he was in practice--as Bandit pointed out, Stane was far more fun to watch based on sheer charisma (due in large part to being allowed to speak English, or much at all)--but I do really like that these are both villains of either Tony or his father's creation. I'm a big fan of Tony Stark as a character because he's both heroic and deeply, believably flawed, and in this movie his flaws come back to bite him in the ass. A character flaw may as well not exist if it doesn't negatively impact the hero in some way, and the villains are a good way to give Tony some comeuppance (and hopefully give him some reason to consider improvement). They work well together in this film for precisely the reasons you stated--they're both foils of Stark in different ways.

Had no issue with the Fury and SHIELD stuff in the film. I can understand having problems with it when the film first came along, given that the connected film universe probably seemed like little more than a pipe dream at the time, but now these moments really seem essential. And I didn't feel like it took up too much of the screentime (or that it was shoehorned in there--seemed natural enough to me!). As far as the other side characters go, I agree that Pepper's role was problematic. She's not as poorly used as Betty or Jane, because she at least gets to do stuff and be competent, but as mentioned on the Thor post the romance looks pretty bad and unbelievable from her perspective. Romanoff gets to come in and be badass, and Stark wouldn't have been able to win without her involvement, so her introduction was far better than what Hawkeye got (she's still a cipher as a character at this point, but given that she's a superspy, that's understandable). And Rhodey's new actor is a massive improvement, as is his role. He didn't matter at all in the first film, so it was nice to see him get some real action in. He's also the one who gets to call Tony out on being an ass--should have been Pepper's job, but Tony doesn't seem to respect her enough for that to work, so at least someone gets to do it.

Speaking of Tony, I like his turn here. This is him at his very worst, and it's both disappointing and understandable. Expecting someone who has been an arrogant fame junkie all their life to change overnight would be a stretch in the very best of times, and his behavior in this movie is exacerbated by the fact that he knows that he's dying. More than enough justification for a relapse there, particularly since, as Jet observed, it sets up his principal concern as being his legacy. We also find out more about his complicated relationship with his father--himself a heroic yet deeply flawed man--which both helps us to understand Tony a little more and sets some groundwork for Captain America's first film.

I wouldn't say that this surpasses the original, or is one of the better Marvel films out there. This is the film that I would classify as fine--there's nothing that I really dislike about it, but there's nothing that really stands out to me either.

Posted January 31st by white lancer
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