At the end of 2008s Iron man, Nick Fury showed up in a post-credit sequence to talk to Tony Stark about the Avengers initiative. It established the ground work for an idea that quickly swept across all of comic fandom. Multiple movies introducing multiple superheroes, all leading up to one movie in which all of these heroes would unite. A bold concept and a bit risky at the time. And less than two months later, the next piece of the puzzle was released with The Incredible Hulk. An even bolder move considering how disappointing Ang Lee’s Hulk was some five years earlier. However, with Edward Norton assuming the role of Bruce Banner, and staying closer to the Marvel comic, it was a big success. And this time around, the surprise cameo came from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. It worked to connect the two films and set up that we were headed towards something even bigger. In 2010, Iron Man 2 continued to build this universe by expanding some characters and introducing others.
Iron Man 2 picks up essentially right at the end of the first film with Tony revealing to the world that he is Iron Man. He’s become a superstar, living on the edge and bringing peace to the world. However, it is at a high cost as the palladium core in the arc reactor keeping him alive is also slowly killing him. He decides to be reckless as he’s given in to the thought that he’s going to die. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) begins to suffer, especially as he promotes her to CEO of Stark Industries. Tony hires Natalie Rushman as his new assistant, who is in reality S.H.E.I.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (played by the incredibly lovely Scarlett Johansson).
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Expendables and The Wrestler), whose father co-created the arc reactor with Tony’s father Howard Stark but never received the credit. Ivan never really establishes a name for his villainous role but comic book fans with recognize comparisons to Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. Ivan attacks Tony in Monaco, which eventually leads him to jail and a breakup thanks to future partner Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), an arch rival of Tony’s. As Tony slips farther and farther, Ivan’s planning revenge that will ultimately lead to the climactic battle of the movie that entertains just as much as the first movie.
We see some great interactions in this movie. Tony’s confrontation with Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle), which results in the creation of War Machine, essentially a militarized version of Iron Man. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury in an expanded role doing what he does best and Clark Gregg is once again S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who also appears in the post-credit sequence that sets up Thor (2011). Director Jon Favreau is still bodyguard Happy Hogan and Paul Bettany provides the wonderful voice of Jarvis, Tony’s computerized man Friday.
Iron Man 2 was a great sequel that fits in seamlessly with the first. Same cast (well, except for Don Cheadle) and same sets, the two movies, when played back-to-back, really work as one long epic. While lacking the originality of the first movie, it also lacked a little bit of the fun, which would be some of the more consistent complaints about the movie. Ironically, Iron Man 3 (2013) has had some complaints that there is too much humor. With the box office success and two more super-hero epics on the horizon (Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor), Robert Downey Jr. was ready to carry Tony Stark and Iron Man through some life changing events in The Avengers (2012).