By: Muneeb Arshid

As our series of Marvel Cinematic Universe film reviews continues, we move on to the next entry in the countdown to the upcoming release of Captain America: Civil War. This was the first of the sequels that were made in the MCU, and features one of the team leaders of the upcoming Civil War. This, of course, is our review of Iron Man 2.

We’ve seen, more often than not, situations where sequels have a hard time of living up to the expectations that have been created by their predecessors. This has actually happened twice in the MCU, once with this current review of Iron Man 2 and the second time so far was with Thor: The Dark World (which we will review next year prior to the release of Thor: Ragnarok). However, we’ve also seen Marvel absolutely nail the sequel button on the spot with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which we will review next week, and is a film that for some is their favourite of the Marvel catalogue thus far.

Samuel L. Jackson as Director Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Iron Man 2

So, what does Iron Man 2 accomplish and, not so surprisingly, doesn’t pull off at all? First off, the story. Iron Man 2 picks up pretty much right from the end of Iron Man where billionaire tycoon Tony Stark has just revealed to the world that he is indeed Iron Man. He is now facing the repercussions of that announcement in a way that is quite telling of what is about to occur in Civil War. On the one hand, you have Tony Stark who is beloved with the general public, becoming the hero that the world required. He is also facing immense scrutiny about the way he is dealing with being Iron Man, especially from the United States government, who believe that he is being reckless and that his technology may get into the hands of some evil-doers. This foreshadowing early on by the government ultimately has to reveal our villain of the movie, none other than a Mickey Rourke portrayed Russian, Ivan Vanko. Now, the story is actually quite an intriguing set up because on the one hand you’re watching this playboy, hot-shot save the world, but on the other hand, there is a possible political thriller setting up. The film ends up confusing itself as to the direction that it ultimately wants to take on, and ends up focusing more on the character of Tony Stark rather than the repercussions that the world is facing because of his technology. Now, a lot of it has to do with Iron Man 2 being an earlier phase 1 Marvel film, where the films are focused on setting up the origin stories of the characters. But, because we already have a set up of the character, Marvel could have very easily taken a more political route with this film, a lesson that they rectified with Captain America’s sequel film, The Winter Soldier.

We get all the characters that were introduced as part of Tony Stark’s entourage, with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as the titular Iron Man, Gwyneth Paltrow in a larger role as his girlfriend and CEO of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts. We have film director Jon Favreau as the “pseudo-butler” Happy, and Paul Bettany voicing Jarvis. Samuel L. Jackson is back as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson is introduced for the first time as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Now, all these characters are doing their normal schpiel, yes even Gwyneth Paltrow, even though she was just shoe-horned into this film to be the non-assuming, possibly air-headed love interest. And in a world that there are now discussions of a possible Black Widow solo film, it is quite a touchy subject as to the introduction of Natasha Romanoff into the Universe, considering that for the most part of this film, she is ogled and hit on by Tony Stark. We also see two new characters into the world of the MCU. One is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who is the government contracted CEO of Hammer Industries, tasked with weaponizing the War Machine Suit that is piloted by James Rhodes, who is now played by Don Cheadle, an actor change that was wholly praised, as the performance by Terrence Howard in the first film can only be described as being cringe-worthy. Finally, the villain himself, Ivan Vanko, played by the odd casting choice of Mickey Rourke. Here’s the thing, when you hire an actor to play a major villain role in a blockbuster, you expect him to play a proper villain, not some random guy in Russia with this pent up anger against Tony Stark for something that happened in the previous familial generation. Okay, fine even that isn’t the worst set up, but with a set up like that, you expect there to be some sort of payoff at the end. Nope, all you get after the first half hour, are shots of Vanko tinkering with these suits that Hammer has provided, with a single shot just before the action climax that he is actually planning something else, and then the entire climax with Vanko ultimately playing a remote video game controlling all the different suits that he has tampered with to destroy Iron Man. If I wanted to watch an entire action climax video game style, I would’ve watched my little cousin play Call of Duty instead.

Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2.

Now, there isn’t much to be said about the production itself. It’s an early Marvel film, and in being so, the production work is quite average, apart from Tony Stark’s basement research scenes which do involve quite a few holograms. However, top marks are given to the design work of the Iron Man suit, which Marvel has nailed right from the opening film and has continued to do so with each and every one of their superheroes and their respective costumes.

There are always accusations made when comparing the MCU with the DC Universe that the reason the Marvel universe works so well is that it is quite a nuts and bolts operation. I would not agree with that for the more recent films since the MCU is now delving into deeper corners of their comic book world. But, for a film like Iron Man 2, there are things that could have been better. We get the usual characterizations that we expect from an Iron Man film, but also some that were quite misjudged. The story itself is just a means for the downfall and eventual re-rising of Tony Stark/Iron Man but doesn’t do anything to further the possible genre-mixing that could have occurred. Ultimately, Iron Man 2 is a very average popcorn flick that many people have rejected as part of their marathon prior to Civil WarIron Man 2 receives yet another average grade of a low C+ (6.6/10). 

We continue our Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews with Captain America: The First Avenger.