Countdown to Endgame #4: Iron Man 2 (aka Favreau’s Folly)

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

Iron Man 2 picks up in the final moments of the first Iron Man movie, and the action of the film overlaps partially with both The Incredible Hulk and Thor. Though Tony Stark is still the focus, this movie also elaborates on the progress Fury’s made on the “Avengers Initiative” idea he dreams up at the end of Captain Marvel, laying critical S.H.I.E.L.D. groundwork for the team-up movies to come.

Hero: Tony Stark / Iron Man

“I have single handedly privatized world peace.”

Still a billionaire, genius, and engineer, Tony now spends his days as a professional superhero.

Other heroes:

  • Lt. Colonel James Rhodes / War Machine
  • Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Nick Fury
  • Agent Coulson

Villain: Ivan Vanko

“You come from a family of thieves and butchers, and like all guilty men, you try to rewrite your history, to forget all the lives the Stark family has destroyed. ”

Son of Anton Vanko, who built the original arc reactor with Tony father, Howard Stark.

Villain Complexity Rating: 1/5

What can you say about Ivan Vanko? He buys all of his clothing a size too small and refuses to put laces in his Timbs. He has a full set of gold teeth despite living his entire life in poverty and exile in Siberia. His Russian accent is slightly more believable than the Scarlet Witch’s in Age of Ultron. He HATES Tony Stark and is petty as fuck about it, and he has a thing for whips. He’s like convinced that whips are better for killing people than guns. 

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 1/5

Pretty small in MCU terms. Vanko wants to take out Stark by defeating him with his own tech…
…in WHIP FORM! He doesn’t even want to get rich or powerful. Pretty small (Russian fingerling) potatoes.

What did our hero(es) learn?

  • Stark re-learns all the the humility he apparently lost since the first film.
  • A grudging respect for S.H.E.I.L.D., or at least for Fury and Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow, after they successfully infiltrate Stark Industries and give him the tools to save his own life.
  • How to share (one of his suits with Rhodey)

Heroism Rating: 0.5/5

This installment of Iron Man finds Stark cresting the series high water mark for egoism and self congratulation. He’s like a DNA splice of Billy McFarland and Elon Musk. His actions are almost completely selfish. He defeats the guy who wants to kill him, saves his own life from palladium poisoning, and gets benched as an Avenger for playing drunk fruit ninja with the Iron Man suit. The most heroic thing he does in this film is grudgingly share one of his suits with Rhodey AKA War Machine.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 2/5

Jon Favreau got his card pulled for this stinker. The CGI is fine, but the action scenes are stupid and over the top, post-1999 Michael Bay style. And I know this is the part about visuals, but oooh that score is assy. Iron Man 2 is flashy and expensive looking and I’m glad Favreau is doing animated children’s films now. Chalk it up to MCU growing pains.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 1/5

Fun fact: the screenplay for Iron Man 2 was written by Justin Theroux – yes THAT Justin Theroux from The Leftovers who married Jennifer Aniston. Weird, right? 

I genuinely enjoyed the first 15 minutes of this movie, because of the Iron Man corporate dance team performance and Tony’s senate hearing stand-up routine. I also liked the parts about S.H.I.E.L.D.; in fact, the only reason I recommend watching this movie is for the introduction to superspy badass Natasha Romanoff, and the way she kicks ass in the third act.

The rest is a schmaltzy, flashy, confused, flaccid mess. Mickey Rourke’s villain is ridiculous. I imagine the character was conceived as a foil for Tony – the son of his father’s disgraced partner,  brilliant but poor, etc. – but instead of being anything approaching interesting, he’s this too-muscular steampunk hacker with opaque fingernails, a bizarre whip obsession, and a missing pet bird. (Seriously, did I miss something with the whole “Where’s my bird” thing?) And do those whip arms emit sonic booms to make cars pop into the air like toast? But they also saw car parts off like electric knives? AND they’re like sparkly barb wire tentacles that magically strangle Iron Man suits? Do they have different settings? Why whips again?

I think there are two people who may be more compelling villains in this craptasterpiece: Tony Stark, who drunkenly temper tantrums his way through a showdown with mortality with all the grace and emotional maturity of a spoiled 4-year-old, and Jon Favreau, a director who is quick to add a fart sound effect and who apparently hasn’t heard of the Hero’s Journey. Also, what a waste of a Sam Rockwell! Sam Rockwell really is a delightful Tony Stark-wannabe. But he gets so lost in this tornado of shit that I almost didn’t notice – and ultimately, I just don’t care.

Justin’s Rating: 1/5

The opening scene of Iron Man 2 is a punchline to the entire first film. We find Stark in the thrall of his considerable ego’s full power, a fully smarmed RDJ delivering a late-night style monologue at the Stark Expo amid Iron Man cheerleaders shakin’ it to “Shoot to Thrill”. It’s way over the top and it plays well, especially when viewed in chronological story order as we’re doing for this project.

But boy does this film double down on America’s love of incorrigible arrogance. A few years after the events of the first film, Stark has positioned himself as a kind of benevolent autocrat of national defense in Iron Man 2. He’s got the tech to keep the world safe, so as long as no one else has it, we’re all good. He mocks senators who question whether it’s a good idea to have so much privately controlled military power in the hands of one man. He emasculates full bird colonels with off-handed remarks denigrating their “missiles”. He’s having a great time with it all and the people are loving it…. Maybe this has something to do with our current national  leadership, but a rogue billionaire operating above the law to the delight of his base and the dismay of the defenders of democratic process is somehow less funny than it was in 2011. Anyway, this problem of how to gracefully be the most powerful human on earth is one we see Stark wrestling with for the remainder of the series, and thankfully it gets a lot more interesting in later films.

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is shatteringly stupid, though one heck of a snappy dresser, and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is funny enough to keep us from hating him completely – but none of that stuff really matters. This was a minor revelation to me this time around, I think because I remember all of the promos really pushing Vanko – greasy, shirtless, whip-wielding, fucking up F1 cars for some reason. A cursory backward glance reveals this to be true, maybe because all this MCU stuff was still spankin’ new at this point. Marketing teams were promoting films in the traditional MOTW style while the foundations for something larger were quietly being built beneath the surface.

So when you watch this movie, it’s 1% for laughing at Vanko’s outfits/obsession with whips, 15% for Tony Stark’s character development, and 84% for the cool S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff, like Natasha Romanoff’s badass introduction and the birth of War Machine. In fact, though this film is as bad as it gets in the MCU, it’s essential viewing for this reason. Romanoff/Black Widow slips quietly into the film doing her super spy thing. She infiltrates Stark Industries and seduces both Tony and Pepper with her competence and charm as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. operative posing as a member of the legal team. Scarlett Johansson is allowed to show some of Romanoff’s more subtle espionage talents before she breaks cover and delivers by far the best action sequence of the film. Lt. Colonel Rhodes has less to do here, but is played convincingly by Don Cheadle as one of the only human beings Tony Stark speaks to like he’s not a subnormal twit. The War Machine suit is so awesome looking in all its gunmetal and stainless steel butchness! You could probably just fast forward through all the scenes that don’t involve these two if you’re in a hurry, but then you wouldn’t get to savor all the weird bits that make this film so messy.


Iron Man 2 is available to stream on Amazon Prime and Hulu, or you can rent it online through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores for a few bucks. Up to you.

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