If you ask a random selection of filmgoers to name their favorite film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many will likely point to the very beginning. More than ten years and 21 films later, 2008’s Iron Man remains among the franchise’s most popular movies. It retains its global appeal not just for being the exciting and accessible introduction to the style of Marvel Studios, but also for its action, humor, and strong performances from the entire cast. Little wonder, then, that the character of Tony Stark is also integral to other MCU favorites like The Avengers, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and both halves of the Infinity War Saga.

With that said, many of the lead character’s biggest fans tend to overlook the other two standalone Iron Man films. This may be because the first one is a tough act to follow by any standard, and plenty of other characters have taken the spotlight in the succeeding decade. However, casual viewers and hardcore devotees alike can find something interesting in the further adventures of Tony Stark. Iron Man 2, in particular, deserves at least some level of reassessment from those who have not seen it since its release in 2010.


As the World Consumes You

Iron Man 2 picks up where the first Iron Man left off, and despite his sensational status as a superhero, Tony Stark has much on his plate. The US government wants to use his suits as military equipment, and he wants to keep them for himself. Worse, his arc reactor — the power source of his suit and the only thing keeping him alive — is slowly killing him, and he cannot find any workable substitute for the palladium cores. This drives him into acting recklessly and pushing away the people he loves, which gets so bad that Nick Fury declares him unfit for the Avengers Initiative.

Worse still, he has a new villain with his own homemade, arc reactor-powered suit and weaponry. The baddie in question in Ivan Vanko, son of Anton Vanko — the man who co-invented the arc reactor technology with Howard Stark, Tony’s late father. Howard deported Anton to the Soviet Union, who sent him to suffer in the gulag. In fact, Anton dies at the very beginning of the movie, and Ivan formulates his revenge plot when watching Tony announce his identity as Iron Man. Now, Tony Stark has to pay for the sins of his father while fighting his own internal battles.

iron man vs rival ivan vanko

An Exceptionally Distinguished Performance

Once again, Iron Man 2 is anchored by Robert Downey Jr.’s universally beloved performance as Tony Stark. He experiences some intense highs and lows throughout the story. The lows have already been detailed, but the highs include his superstardom; his budding romance with Pepper Potts; and his grand reopening of the Stark Expo, his father’s innovation showcase and festival. In some ways, life is much better than before. In other ways, it is far more horrific. The uneasy mixture of emotions comes across in all of Downey Jr.’s scenes, especially when he is at his lowest in the movie’s midpoint.

Stark’s downward spiral cannot be described without mentioning the similar issues that Downey Jr. faced during his life. The actor has endured substance abuse issues, numerous arrests related to said issues, rehabilitation, and relapse. While the MCU Stark does not share those issues (unlike the comics version), he purposely and often pointlessly gets himself into dangerous situations and awful situations. The birthday party scene, where Stark gets drunk, gradually goes from humorous to disturbing. It seems that Downey Jr. tapped into that dark part of his life. He also tapped into the part where he got better, and Stark pulls himself together in the end. He pulls it all off with aplomb.


It’s Good to Be Back

Returning director Jon Favreau had much to balance with this movie. The story features multiple subplots and frequently switches between different members of the cast: Pepper deals with being the new CEO of Stark Industries, Rhodey is torn between his military duties and his loyalty to his friend, and Ivan takes advantage of Stark’s rival Justin Hammer. Favreau also had to maintain a balance between the humor of the original and the darkness of this story. Complicating matters is that Marvel Studios wanted to cram in yet another subplot involving Nick Fury, the newly introduced Black Widow, and SHIELD.

Even with all this on his plate, he and the cast and crew pulled off a fine film. It expands what we already understood about Tony Stark, the characters surrounding him, and the world at large. Three movies into the MCU, you can already see that its charm will continue to grip people. Better still, some of the franchise’s later films retroactively strengthen this one: Stark’s confrontation with mortality foreshadows his battles with PTSD, and Senator Stern’s insistence on acquiring the Iron Man tech gets a darker shade in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Even without this context, the movie maintains the charm and excitement of its predecessor. Iron Man 2 is definitely worth a rewatch.

iron man 2 premiere cast and director

Iron Man 2 Merchandise

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