#FlashbackFriday ‘Iron Man 2’: Is One of the Lowest Points of the MCU Fixable?

Revisiting Iron Man 2 was always going to be quite the experience. Widely considered one of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man 2 is a unique mess, even by Marvel’s chaotic standards. 

When Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, Marvel fans were ecstatic at the prospect of seeing Robert Downey Jr. return to his iconic role Tony Stark that he so perfectly embodied in the MCU’s first entry into the franchise. Marvel has made an admirable effort to trying to redeem the weaker entries in their franchise, by having WandaVision and What If…? fix Avengers: Age of Ultron , Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings sort of fix Iron Man 3, and have Avengers: Endgame try valiantly to redeem Thor: The Dark World. It’s an interesting thought experiment, is there anything about Iron Man 2 that can be fixed in the context of the MCU?

Iron Man 2 marked the introduction of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), arguably one of the only redeeming components of the entire movie. This is a very sexualized version of the character however, with corny dialogue in an unnecessarily seductive voice,  and unnecessarily tight and revealing clothing. This version of the character is completely designed around the male gaze, and it was a huge disappointment that fans had to wait for subsequent movies to have the character develop in a compelling way. 

Robert Downey Jr. ‘Iron Man 2’. Credit: Marvel Studios

Don Cheadle casually replaced Terrance Howard as Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine and to be fair, he really understood the assignment. Although it was too bad Terrance Howard never got to suit up as War Machine, Cheadle made a real effort to tap into the connection between his character and Iron Man, and focus on their relationship, which was arguably the best approach. There are definitely opportunities to poke fun at this actor swap when the MCU introduces Deadpool.

Mickey Rourke, a legend in his own right, plays one of Marvel’s most perplexing villains, Ivan Vanko. His anger directed at Tony Stark makes no sense. Tony’s father, Howard Stark (John Slattery) had Ivan’s father deported back to the former Soviet Union after it was alleged that the senior Vanko had been a spy. After Vanko Sr. dies at the beginning of the movie, Ivan goes on a quest to create the arc reactor technology that makes Iron Man Iron Man, because…it would have helped his father? If this was the case, it was strange timing considering his father had already passed away. There was also a very strange storyline with this character needing to have his bird as a sidekick. This character was Marvel’s villain problem exemplified, making no impact and being dispatched before the end of the movie. 

Sam Rockwell’s villain Justin Hammer was another very confusing choice. The character seemed to be a misguided attempt at comic relief that came across as just odd. Over the top and cartoonish, there is maybe some opportunity to revisit this character and to make this a compelling commentary on weapons manufacturing and the American Military Industrial Complex. I would be very reluctant to see this character re-visited in any way though, since there was nothing interesting about him and he honestly just gave off a very weird, creepy vibe.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Iron Man 2 features the worst of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who in this movie is a shrieking damsel in distress with essentially no agency. Although in name only appointed head of Stark Industries, she spends the entire movie screaming and being generally useless. As in any subsequent appearances by this character, there was absolutely the opportunity to make her Iron Man’s equal, and the closest Marvel came to giving fans this was arguably Iron Man 3. Subsequent Marvel entries have basically confirmed that there’s not really an interest on Marvel’s part in doing anything particularly interesting with this character which is yet another disappointment. 

Iron Man 2 really could have been a meditation on mortality and legacy. There was terrific setup for this storyline with the intentional recklessness Tony displays through the movie. He completely goes back on essentially all character growth that was established in Iron Man and devolves into fighting literally an army of faceless machines. Perhaps the problem is that this idea came way to early in the franchise, before Iron Man’s legacy had a chance to be established. 

It’s worth noting that What If…?’s episode “What If…The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” the proposed fix of this movie was to have Tony killed at the movie’s midpoint. This certainly opened a far more compelling story involving Hank Pym seeking revenge against SHIELD for recruiting his daughter Hope which ultimately led to her untimely death in action. It seems to be a comment on the quality of Iron Man 2 that this was the only way Marvel thought it was possible to save this story. 

Iron Man 2, like so many of the MCU’s bottom tier entries, definitely introduced some interesting ideas and character moments. They were ultimately wasted, which maybe isn’t such a terrible thing. The door is definitely open for someone to try to make something out of Iron Man 2’s glaring mess.

Iron Man 2 is currently available to stream on Disney+.

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