6th Nov 2021, 10:31 PM Iron Man 2 Retrospective

So now that Iron Man 2 the chapter is winding down, I thought it might be fun to sit down and actually rewatch the movie in one sitting, instead of rewatching bits and pieces over and over again for weeks to gather screencaps and figure out how I wanted specific scenes to be paced. Going forward I might try to do this with each movie, and maybe I'll even go back and do Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk at some point, I dunno. Maybe after the first Avengers.

Anyways, on to Iron Man 2. I have here a list of some stray thoughts and observations I had while watching it:

  • Ivan Vanko doesn't look all that much younger than his dad, I think?
  • I like that the movie starts off with a sort of dark reflection of Tony's "building in a cave with a box of scraps" montage. That being said:
  • While I feel bad for all the work Mickey Rourke put into crafting this character that never came to pass, I also feel like no amount of additional scenes or backstory was going to make Whiplash all that much more interesting. All I have to do is remind myself how many people were killed during the F1 race and then all I can think is "cool motive, still murder". Apparently there was an idea earlier in the process to have Hammer be backing several different villains, and I feel like that would have worked better.
  • It's genuinely hilarious watching Tony brag about establishing world peace knowing all the crazy shit that's happening in the background. SHIELD has already encountered aliens, they had a guy in a shrinking suit on payroll, Bruce Banner has been the Hulk for five years, and Wakanda's pretending to be a nation of humble goat-herders like they aren't sitting on the world's biggest pile of vibranium.
  • We get a Stan Lee cameo, a future Psylocke cameo, and a future Invisible Woman cameo all in rapid succession.
  • Tony seems to do all his best work half-assed and without really meaning to. Case in point, running circles around a HYDRA agent without even knowing it.
  • I'll touch on Hammer more in a bit but suffice it to say that I appreciate that Sam Rockwell brings a real "used car salesman" vibe whenever Hammer's trying to be a professional.
  • I don't know if this is a particularly hot take, but even when they each had just one movie apiece Don Cheadle proves to be the best Rhodey. He feels more like someone who can stand on Tony's level? I don't know, maybe I'll talk more about it if and when I get around to the first Iron Man.
  • Robert Downey Jr. is really good at... I don't know what to call it beyond "understated mania"? Like he isn't bouncing off the walls with hyperactive motormouth energy, but he really sells the idea that there's 50 things firing in his brain at once and he only has time to deal with whatever's pushed itself to the forefront.
  • In a similar vein to why Don Cheadle is a better Rhodey, I feel like Tony and Pepper's chemistry in this movie is... not great? It gets better in future movies, but I feel like in these first two you can really feel the "one of these people is the main character and the other is the love interest" imbalance.
  • Everything about Natasha's introduction as "Natalie" is really weird and uncomfortable now. I know it's "haha, Tony's an incorrigible rascal", but still.
  • Oh hey speaking of weird and uncomfortable, it's an Elon Musk cameo! Gross! :D
  • I don't know a lot about Formula 1 racing but I feel like Tony would have died if Whiplash hadn't shown up and derailed the entire event.
  • Feeding into the idea that multiple villains might have worked better, the racetrack fight is an awesome scene, but nothing Whiplash does afterward even comes close, and it's criminally short.
  • This is a weird observation but I actually really like that they didn't make Whiplash's arc reactor glow red or some other "obvious bad guy" color. It's one of those little obnoxious things that I feel like we would have had to deal with if this movie had been made in the late 90's/early 2000's.
  • How do multiple hits with a car not immediately cripple Vanko? Is he fully armored underneath his pants?
  • Suitcase armor is one of the most badass things ever put to film and I squee with joy every fucking time. It's one of those utterly ridiculous things that, again, probably wouldn't have gotten in if this movie was made earlier. Some studio executive would've cut it out for being too silly.
  • I know I mentioned this in one of the comic comments but I really do find it interesting that Tony never incorporates arc reactor whips into his own designs, and no one else ever uses them again.
  • Tony takes three hours to make an omelet because of course he does.
  • RDJ is also really good at giving off vibes of "Maybe there's something big and worrisome on my mind, or maybe I'm just an eccentric asshole? We'll figure it out on the day".
  • For someone who's really good at killing people with his bare hands, I think it's kind of weird that Vanko not only uses long-range whips, but later makes a big bulky suit that's presumably hard to move around in.
  • Everything about Hammer is just super-fake, and I love it. The obvious spray tan, getting "Italian" ice cream flown in from San Francisco, spending over 100 million each on prototype drones that are apparently just for show. The man is just obnoxiously extra.
  • There seems to be an Agent Carter continuity error here. This movie says Vanko defected to the US in 1963 but we see him working for Stark Industries in the mid-late 40's? Funny enough, the only reason I even noticed is that I rewatched the first episode of Agent Carter a week ago. I bought that "Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe" book set a bit ago and there were enough mentions of that show that I thought I might want to rewatch it. Since it's the only show from the Marvel Television era that gets more than a fleeting mention, maybe I'll do something with it after all? Who knows, we'll see, 2015's a long ways off.
  • This is very much an "in hindsight" thing, but I think it would have been way cooler if they hadn't told us who Scarlett Johansson was playing ahead of time? Imagine that whole exchange between her and Tony right before the party, but you don't know who she is or if she can be trusted.
  • Where did they get a watermelon for Tony to unibeam?
  • Tony's "plan" is absolute garbage. At least I think it was meant to be a plan? I feel like the implication is that he wanted to give Rhodey an excuse to take one of the suits, but there's no reason he needed to get drunk for that. What would he have done if he had actually hurt someone with his shenanigans?
  • "Give me a phat beat to beat my buddy's ass to" is still one of the greats in terms of lines.
  • I know they aren't out to seriously injure each other but it still makes me laugh that for as advanced as the Iron Man suits are, Tony and Rhodey's fight consists almost entirely of slugging it out and finding random things to hit each other with.
  • The moment SHIELD actively enters the plost is the moment this movie takes a nosedive. You really mean to tell me Nick Fury has nothing better to do than show up and give Tony a pep talk?
  • Adding to the "SHIELD subplot kinda sucks" rant, Coulson shows up seemingly just to remind us he exists? Thanks to the pacing of the scene Tony leaves the house with no issue, and Coulson doesn't even leave any other agents to keep an eye on Tony when he leaves for New Mexico. What if Tony had dropped dead in the middle of remodeling his house and building the synthesizer?
  • Everything about the "new element" plot is stupid. I don't have a fix for this one, I just know it's all stupid. Howard Stark already having discovered it is dumb, hiding it in a display is stupid, they threw in that "it is impossible to synthesize" line for no reason other than to make Tony look even more impossibly awesome when he immediately disproves it. Just inane from start to finish. Maybe have an alternative solution like an improved arc reactor design? A discharge tank maybe? I dunno, like I said, I don't really have a way to make this less stupid and I know we need to resolve the palladium poisoning problem, but. Ugh.
  • More reasons I love to hate Hammer, not only is he a hapless phony, he's also hilariously petty.
  • The War Machine design is on point, “bulkier Iron Man with more actual guns”, as it should be.
  • I hate to keep harping on about this one but genuinely, the whole Natasha subplot would have been great if we didn't know who Scarlett was actually playing until the drive to Hammer Industries.
  • Props to Peter Parker for standing up to a drone. I don't know what he thought he was gonna do, but props.
  • Who's actually paying for all the property destruction at this point? Is it S.H.I.E.L.D.? Does Hammer end up having to pay for it?
  • Natasha's fight contrasted with Happy's fight is both really funny, really awesome, and helps sell the difference between an average decently tough person and a SHIELD Agent. They may not be superhuman, but they may as well be.
  • By contrast I feel like the aerial dogfight goes on too long and yet at the same time the drone fight and Vanko attack on the ground is too short. Imagery when they're surrounded is phenomenal though.
  • When Hammer has his final spiel they do Pepper a disservice by not letting her get in a barb at him about “not being the competition” or something like that. Hammer is not competent, and he is not threatening, and it's a little late to try to make us think otherwise.
  • I like how Vanko, easily one of the more intelligent people in the movie, didn't think to put his helmet up when the repulsors converge. Probably wouldn't have helped, but it also probably couldn't have hurt?
  • I also like how this exploding repulsor thing only ever comes up in this movie and never again. Seems like it would have been useful.
  • Lt. Colonel James "Date Peeper" Rhodes
  • Fury just staring at Tony daring him to disagree with “textbook narcissism” is what I live for.
  • Tony's entire assessment report is ass-backwards. You'd think “Iron Man Yes, Tony Man No” would mean they were looking at War Machine instead, but they just hire Tony on as a consultant, aka “to NOT be Iron Man, the only reason we'd want to put up with him in the first place”.
  • This post-credits scene is super-hype. So far we've just been dealing with super-science in some form or another, and then they decide BAM! GODS AND STUFF!​​​​​​​
So yeah, overall this movie is... kind of a big mess? I have a lot of fun with it, I like to call it "the bad Iron Man movie I really like" in opposition to Iron Man 3's "good Iron Man movie I really dislike", but it's a mess. And as easy as it is to say they should have cut this or added that, as I've been doing this whole time, it's really hard to actually draw a solid line.

For example, it's easy for me to say “cut the Avengers recruitment” subplot, but then you don't have a reason for Natasha to be in most of the film unless you ALSO retool the Vanko subplot so maybe they know he's alive, and you still would have had to explain the end of Incredible Hulk only now you wouldn't have “Tony's a consultant for SHIELD” as an easy explanation, so then you'd have to take even more time from the beginning of the Avengers to set THAT up. And I have way too much to do to spend time rewriting this entire movie, much less any of the other movies.

Still, as uneven as it gets, I have a really good time with it. We get at least one really engaging (if incompetent) villain, and this film does a really good job fleshing out Tony's personal relationships a bit better and really enforcing one of Tony's key traits: Tony does not ever learn his lesson. Or at least, not the right one. He decides on a course of action based on impulse, charges full steam ahead, and only when it comes crashing down around him does he learn to think things through/lean on others/whatever the proper lesson is supposed to be. And then he does the whole thing again. It happens in Iron Man 3, it happens in Avengers, it happens in Ultron, in Civil War, arguably even in Homecoming, and definitely in Infinity War.

But it actually feels endearing instead of tiresome, most of the time at least. I really get the impression that Tony spends the rest of his life from escaping the Ten Rings to fighting Thanos feeling the weight of how close he came to dying, and he doesn't know when it might happen again, so he's determined to make the world better and make up for everything he was complicit with, even if inadvertently, with however much time he has left. For as much as people like to point at how Captain America's arc is ultimately about learning to seize things for himself every once in a while (and honestly I'd argue he's way more selfish than they maybe intended to make him even before that point, but then I'm #TeamIronMan), Tony has almost as much of a problem stopping to actually live his life, even to the point of periodic self-sabotage. No wonder he and Peter got along so well.

In hindsight this back half turned into less of a look back at Iron Man 2 and more an analysis of Tony as a whole, but I guess you can only avoid that so much when you've watched this movie enough times and you know what comes next. Feel free to post your own thoughts on Iron Man 2 if you want, I love getting other people's takes. As with the comic itself, thanks for reading, and I hope you got at least some small modicum of enjoyment from this little experiment. More than likely, I'll be back to do this again at the end of Thor.
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