MCU Review: Part 3 – Iron Man 2 (2010)

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In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2010’s Iron Man 2.

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Despite having Jon Favreau return as director and a story that added more background to the bigger universe Marvel was building, the MCU’s first sequel was a disappointment. Iron Man 2 begins with glimpses of Mickey Rourke as Ivan Venko working on a homemade miniature arc reactor that would power weapons to take down Tony Stark.

However, Rourke’s Whiplash villain isn’t really all that formidable. In fact, he becomes the middle entry in the now trilogy of Iron Man movies’ run of disappointing or poorly paced villains.

Iron Man 2 establishes Whiplash as a man willing to kill Tony to settle a grudge between the two men’s fathers. It’s an interesting motivation for a villain that could have simultaneously given the audience important S.H.I.E.L.D. backstory while providing us with action sequences fueled by a private vendetta.

iron_man_2_03We get the S.H.I.E.L.D. backstory from it and even some important insight into Tony’s history with his father. But after only one battle scene, Whiplash is relegated to a supporting player in a goofy tech race with Stark Industries competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Venko/Whiplash is taken off Stark’s radar until the climax of the movie.

Instead of giving Whiplash full reign to be a thorn in the side of Stark, Iron Man 2 muddles itself with a bevy of subplots that hit or miss throughout the movie. Perhaps the most problematic subplot involves Tony’s blood gradually being poisoned by the core that’s keeping the shrapnel from his heart.

This is meant for character building and bringing Stark down to Earth. But it clutters the script with something that, frankly, feels lazy and played out in the superhero comic movie genre. Peter Parker dealt with Spider-Man losing his powers intermittently throughout Spider-Man 2. While Iron Man and Spider-Man are very different characters, it’s hard to ignore the sort of similar plot devices in their respective sequels.

I can’t be too bothered by Tony’s existential crisis however, because it does yield some interesting character reveals as he works to solve his life-threatening problem. This is where the movie gives us its emotional context but I can’t help but feel like it could have been simpler and cleaner to resolve Tony’s daddy issues within the frame of Whiplash’s vengeance.

Iron Man 2 gives supporting character Rhodey (this time played by Don Cheadle) a little more to work with. Making good on the promise from the first movie (“Next time, baby.”), Rhodey dons a suit and becomes War Machine. But even this piece of fan service detracts from the movie. The genesis of War Machine comes during a painfully awkward sequence where Tony, struggling with his mortality, gets drunk in the Iron Man suit and wreaks havoc on his birthday party.

2010_iron_man_2_07619The scene is silly for a variety of reasons but most of all, it just feels like it breaks some unspoken rules of comic book movies. Tony has a line early in the movie where he tells a senate subcommittee that the suit is an extension of himself. Tony Stark is a character locked in a battle between his ego and newfound sense of duty. Showcasing the flawed, narcissistic side of Tony Stark in the suit that’s the embodiment of his heroism and sense of purpose was a gamble that backfired and leaves a bad taste.

Iron Man 2 is disappointing but it still has its merits. The introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow is a nice window into the day-to-day operations of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their interest in Iron Man. Clark Gregg reprises his role of Agent Coulson and further roots himself into the hearts of the MCU fan-base. He’s assigned to “babysit” Stark at one point and that leads to some very endearing moments for what should be a fairly thankless role.

The action set pieces themselves are handled well. Iron Man’s first run-in with Whiplash during the Monaco Grand Prix is impressive. However, the set up of it is fairly hackneyed. Tony enters the race with himself as the driver. It fits with his existential struggle but comes across more as a display of his extravagance that really wasn’t needed.

The climax is a nice escalation from the original movie. Iron Man and War Machine battle a fleet of drone suits and Whiplash. The chaos and energy of the action is an improvement over the one-on-one battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger in the first one, but the lack of characterization for Whiplash makes the action feel a little empty for me.

Where Iron Monger was a product of a power hungry industrialist greedily usurping Stark, Whiplash’s motivations are introduced and then all but dropped by movie’s end. The result is a fight where the stakes aren’t as high and, despite more action, it failed to hook me and struggled to hold my attention.

Iron Man 2 has some glaring script problems that stem from too many subplots and not enough focus on the villain. The movie makes up for it somewhat by expanding on the shared universe promised in the stinger at the end of Iron Man and gives us War Machine. But it’s not enough to give the movie an edge over its predecessor. Ultimately, Iron Man 2 is a disappointing entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon.

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6.0/10

Buy Digitally – These movies are worth owning but don’t necessarily need to take up space on your shelf or garner a trip to your favorite DVD/Blu-Ray shop.

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