THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Continuing my Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) ‘Throwback Review’ series leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, Iron Man 2 is one of the most criticised films in the blockbuster franchise. When it comes to discussing the worst films of the MCU, it’s uncommon for Iron Man 2 to be absent from the conversation. The film simply tries to do too much.
Iron Man 2 continues the story of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who in declining health is confronted by a vengeful madman with ties to his father’s legacy.
Following the major success of Iron Man, Marvel Studios pushed for a sequel, once again directed by Jon Favreau, to be released within two years. Favreau was frustrated with this timeframe, wanting three years to work on the sequel. Marvel refused to give him three years, wanting the film to release in 2010. Favreau reluctantly agreed and as a result, was given far less time to craft a follow-up that would not only be a sequel to Iron Man but a setup for the future of the MCU. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 is evidence of studio executives interfering with the director.
The major problem with Iron Man 2 is that it has far too many plotlines. There’s Tony’s declining health, Tony’s father problems, Tony’s rivalry with Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony’s troubled friendship with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Tony’s relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Ivan Vanko’s (Mickey Rourke) hatred of Tony Stark, and so many more. It’s ridiculous just how much is shoved in the film. As a result of all these plotlines, the overstuffed script is forced to sacrifice character development, particularly with the newer characters like Ivan Vanko. I wonder what the film would have looked like had Favreau been given his desired three-year production time.
Another major problem present in Iron Man 2 is the obvious attempt to lay the groundwork for the rest of the MCU. Whether it be the Captain America shield in Tony’s lab or Coulson’s assignment to New Mexico, all of it is extremely forced. This desire to establish the cinematic universe ends up distracting the audience from the story within Iron Man 2.
There is good to be found in Iron Man 2. As you’d expect, Robert Downey Jr. delivers another brilliant, charismatic performance as the “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” Tony Stark. The cast as a whole stands out more than they did in the predecessor, with the likes of Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansonn producing memorable performances. As for Mickey Rourke as villain Ivan Vanko, putting his attempt at a Russian accent aside, he also delivers a good performance. Don Cheadle takes over the role of Rhodes, vacated by Terrance Howard, producing a more fun version of the military veteran. It is through the characters and the memorable performances, that the majority of the fun is had with the film.
As for the direction, Favreau proves that he understands the characters and the world of the Marvel, even if he was clearly frustrated by the lack of creative freedom given to him. The action scenes, like the first film, are well handled by Favreau. There aren’t many action sequences in the film compared to the first film, however, the standout sequence involving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow taking out numerous guards, whilst Favreau’s loveable Happy Hogan struggles with a single guard is fantastic. The final confrontation between Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and Ivan Vanko is another standout moment from the film. Watching Stark fighting drones alongside Rhodes, wearing the War Machine suit, is absolutely thrilling. Its sequences such as these that make Iron Man 2 so entertaining. That is the film’s greatest achievement. It is thoroughly entertaining even though it, as a film, is massively flawed.
Iron Man 2 is a flawed yet entertaining film. It tried to do far too much instead of focusing on telling its own well-developed story. Though not the worst film of the MCU, Iron Man 2 is definitely one of the worst.