Revelling in his new-found fame, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is hiding a secret: the very thing which saved his life and powers his suit is killing him. Seeking to secure his legacy in the face of ambitious rivals and a suspicious Government, Stark’s behaviour grows ever more erratic and unpredictable as his penchant for publicity attracts the attention of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian scientist who believes his father helped Howard Stark develop Stark technology.
Although objectively I know that “Iron Man 3” is a better movie and “Iron Man 2” is always jostling for position with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor: The Dark World” at the bottom of most people’s MCU lists, I’ve got a lot of love for old shell head’s sequel. It may not be one of the MCU’s absolute bests, but I think it’s got a fair claim to being one of the ones I’ve watched the most times. Yes, it’s absolutely overstuffed with set-up, world-building, plots and characters – so overflowing, in fact, it has to deliver some exposition during the opening credits but if you pick up and examine each component individually, it’s all pretty much awesome. It’s just there’s slightly too much to fit into one movie; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you can totally see what the picture is meant to be but there’s like three too many edge pieces and none of the tabs and blanks are in quite the right position.
Helping it to chow down on its crowded plate is Downey Jr’s irresistibly charming Tony Stark. Still the arrogant, hedonistic asshole we know and love but this time indulging and embracing a self-destructive streak in as close a riff on “Demon In A Bottle” as we were ever going to get in a four-quadrant friendly franchise flick. There’s grandeur and folly as he seeks to push those closest to him away, ostensibly to save him and them the pain of a parting he sees as inevitable. He wants to secure his legacy, and guard against it getting into the wrong hands – hands which include the covetous grasp of Senator Stern (Gary Shandling).
Opposing him is ambitious also-ran Justin Hammer (a superb Sam Rockwell), providing an interesting spin on Marvel’s tendency to look to ‘dark mirrors’ for their villains. This time, the villainy is split between personality (Hammer’s vainglorious wannabe) and ability (Vanko’s embittered tech genius) and it kind of works as Vanko follows his own agenda while Hammer impotently rages at his insubordination. Don Cheadle is a good enough substitute Rhodes that you never really miss Terrence Howard, the origin of War Machine is well handled and if the movie stopped there, it would have been just fine. Of course it doesn’t, because Marvel’s feeling confident enough now to raise the stakes so there’s more foreshadowing of the Avengers with the introduction of Black Widow (who introduces the corridor fight to the MCU before “Daredevil” elevated it to an art form) and a return for Nick Fury as well as set-up for “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor”.
It’s unfair to judge “Iron Man 2” too harshly because although it committed to a lot in its overstuffed enthusiasm, in retrospect everything it promised has been delivered on. Yes, the inventing a new element is a little silly (and, if fan rumours are to be believed may yet link to an infinity stone) but there’s absolutely nobody who can convince me that the briefcase suit isn’t one of the best bits of the whole MCU and seeing Iron Man and War Machine fighting back to back against an army of unstoppable drones is pure comic book goodness. While later MCU instalments would solve the conundrum of balancing multiple characters and overarching narratives with much more panache, there’s a wild craziness to “Iron Man 2” that makes it as irresistibly watchable as its title character.
Nothing definitive but we do get the first tantalising hints of the Marvel cosmic.
Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the smarmy Senator Stern (Gary Shandling), who ends up having an ulterior motive for his hostility towards Tony Stark.
Colonel James Rhodes/ War Machine (Don Cheadle)
Stan Lee’s cameos are still in the play-it-safe zone so this time he’s briefly mistaken for Larry King. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour appears as herself.
Post-credits, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) arrives at a crater in New Mexico where a large hammer has crashed and reports the discovery to his superiors. What can that mean?
Tom Holland, who plays Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, claims the little boy wearing the Iron Man mask at the Stark Expo is a young Peter Parker. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯