After seeing Iron Man 3, and writing up my review, I went back and re-watched Iron Man 2. The most aligned of the Marvel Phase 1 movies, Iron Man 2 just doesn’t seem to fit.
There are some internal problems, I suppose, that might contribute. Like there not actually being much of Iron Man until the last half hour, although lots of Tony Stark isn’t really a problem. Except it was a dying Tony Stark, so the overboard elements without anything tempering.
But I don’t think this is the problem with Iron Man 2. The internal issues and plot are things that could work – and did work in their own way. It’s a better superhero movie than a lot of others – it just isn’t as good compared to recent superhero movies.
Spoilers ahead for Marvel Phase 1 and Iron Man 3!
So what happened?
The movies in Marvel Phase 1 accomplished a few things. They introduced us to the heroes, and got the origin stories out of the way. Then, like setting up a game of Fiasco, we had characters, and then were given an enemy, an object, and the location.
The location is our world – or close to it. Iron Man sets us very clearly in our world – with all its grittiness, with corporations, and military, with terrorists, energy problems, all sorts of things for our heroes to interact with. It’s kind of our world plus SHIELD, but once superheroes start appearing, some group is going to form to interact with or watch over them. But the stage is set for where the movies are happening.
Thor, then, presents us with a villain. The villain is out of this world – literally. With motivations that might be beyond us, but which are also quite human. With powers that are out of this world, but which are also based so much in simple discourse and sneakiness. Loki is a villain that just works really well, because he is a great combination of human and alien.
Captain America, then, gives us the object. Having seen Iron Man, we’re not surprised to find our past, with a few minor changes. Having seen Thor, then, we can accept the addition of Asgardian technology. So the Tesseract, in the hands of Hydra and causing all sorts of trouble, works. And it is powerful enough to be something worth fighting over decades later.
So then we get The Avengers: We have our heroes, with a couple of extra ones we’ve seen snuck in with Black Widow and Hawkeye. We have our location, in our world plus SHIELD. We have our villain, Loki, returned from cosmic crazyland. And we have our object, the Tesseract, which would solve the world’s problems – or, seems to create them. Everything comes together beautifully for a team to form, and a fight to ensue.
Oh, and The Incredible Hulk happens. Also kind of makes Iron Man 2 look alright. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been – but the best Hulk movie was The Avengers.
Where does Iron Man 2 fit with this?
So there’s one more movie in this mix, of course, and that’s Iron Man 2. Except, unlike the others, it isn’t giving us an origin story (although they introduce Black Widow, except a Black Widow movie could have been amazing). It doesn’t add much of anything to our location, though we see Nick Fury a bit more. It doesn’t give us more about our villains, or the things they want.
In fact, Iron Man 2 does the opposite: it gives us a worldly supervillain. Tony Stark says that in the world no one will stand up to face him on his best day. So then Whiplash does, and voila, we have created a world with supervillains. It’s kind of the takeaway lesson from The Dark Knight: the hero creating the villain through his very existence.
So then, almost immediately, in the very next movie – Thor – we get introduced to the wider universe, to aliens, to alien technology, to things well outside of any threat that Whiplash or someone like him could offer. To a world beyond supervillains – because The Avengers exist to fight armies and demigods, not supervillains.
We’re Going Another Direction
Iron Man 2 seems like a case of deciding to go another direction with things. Laying out the world of supervillains, for instance, just to move past it and be done with it. This is referenced, even, in Iron Man 3 – they say that the Mandarin had to get so public and outrageous with his message to even be heard over the concern about aliens and invasions and generally everything from The Avengers.
But what else?
War Machine. War Machine is a big part of Iron Man 2. But he doesn’t make his way into The Avengers, and is not even who I would call the sidekick in Iron Man 3. He’s set up, waiting… and still waiting. But they’re kind of going another direction.
Black Widow. Black Widow’s character was okay in Iron Man 2, but she got depth and life in The Avengers. They could have done more, they did do more, and so this stands out as something that is clearly different later on.
Howard Stark and SHIELD. This is in part a tie-in with Captain America, and maybe deepens the world they’re in, but it’s also kind of just an internal plot point to the movie. Especially when what he helps do is build a new element, which is then made irrelevant in Iron Man 3 when Tony has the shrapnel removed from him and he no longer needs the miniature Arc Reactor to live. They went another direction with that life-saving beyond-the-grave move.
The Avengers Initiative. The big point about the Avengers Initiative being a thing is the closest that Iron Man 2 comes to giving us something that is a real and true lead-up to The Avengers. It’s the reason all these different characters get pulled together. It’s the unifying theme between these films that aren’t sequels to each other – something that really hasn’t been done before, and certainly not to this scale. Except, as a final crowning “we’re going another direction” item, the Avengers Initiative itself was scrapped, and is a no-go by the time The Avengers happens.
So love it or just kind of accept that it’s there, Iron Man 2 is the oddball Marvel Phase 1 movie. The choices they made there, and things they set up, did not come to fruition – unlike the threads they set up in Thor, in Captain America, and even, it feels like, in Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk.
I am excited to see where Marvel Phase 2 is going now, after seeing Iron Man 3 – time for someone else to be the frontrunner hero?