This is part of a series of blog posts, discussing my rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe FOLLOWING my viewing Avengers: Endgame on opening weekend. If you HAVE NOT seen Endgame, I suggest you wait to read these posts as I will be mentioning and referencing plot points from the most recent film(s) including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
In a world where we ALWAYS seem to get 2 Marvel Studios films per year (and often 3), it’s hard to believe that the studio had NOTHING to capitalize on the success of Iron Man (2008) in 2009, but it’s true. In fact, Iron Man 2 feels rushed even though it had 2 years of prep time as the 3rd official entry into the MCU.
It does A LOT of heavy lifting, fleshing out Nick Fury, introducing us to Black Widow, suiting up Rhodey, but the thing it does BEST in my mind, is give us a villain story to match the hero’s for the first time. Iron Monger happens mostly often screen, and it turns out the character of Stane was a villain even before Howard died. Abomination has some motives (he is desperate for power) but nothing we can empathize with as the audience. While Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is a LITTLE over the top at times, his motivations are reasonable, he feels his father’s legacy was stolen, and he’s suffered personally his whole life because of it. His actions are still villainous, and his alignment with Justin Hammer means we don’t “root” for him, per se, but in a film that also has Tony abusing his power, endangering civilians and fighting his best friend, a villain you can understand is enough.
It will take Marvel a LONG time to get this really right, but with Vulture, Thanos and Kilmonger, I’d argue that they have figured it out. Whiplash, as brought to life by Rourke, is the basis of all that. The flip-side of his villain coin is Justin Hammer as played by Sam Rockwell. Hammer is the one villain I’d most like to see return in a future MCU film. He’s delightfully bad and sharp-witted in a way that reminds me the most of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. As a child of the 80’s that’s a good thing. Hammer Tech has been used on the Netflix shows, and I believe referenced in Agents of SHIELD, but he’s not shown up again after this in the MCU outside the short “All Hail the King” (which is amazing), where he was serving his jail sentence.
The Palladium poisoning that sits at the heart of this film’s plot seems like a lost opportunity and one that could have been used to more closely tie in the universe they were building in the background. My initial thought when I saw this was that the answer would be Vibranium, introducing Wakanda for the first time. That would take several more films and years to become reality. Is this an example of how (especially pre-Disney) they were less focused and strategic? Or just an issue of being rushed and having nothing with Black Panther finalized or even green-lit at that point?
This is the first film released after the purchase of Marvel by Disney (although it was not distributed originally by Disney, that started with The Avengers in 2012). It was NOT a sure thing at that point that Avengers would even happen. Captain America still seemed like a difficult nut to crack for a modern film audience, all of those major characters were at different film studios meaning their fate was not solely in the hands of Marvel or even the movie-going audience. Frankly, if Disney didn’t buy Marvel, maybe none of this series happens. They decided to make that purchase after only two MCU films. Of course, films aren’t the only revenue stream for Marvel, merchandise, digital games, comics themselves are all evergreen products, but this began and was closed because of the promise of the MCU to come.
Even here, in what most fans and critics agree is one of the messier MCU titles, that bet/investment was validated by the expanding roster and growing world that the movie hints toward. Fury and Romanov are non-plussed by Stark and his antics, as is Agent Coulson when he threatens to taze him into a drooling fit. They’ve ALL seen it before (having seen Captain Marvel we now know some of just WHAT they’d seen), and that makes this feel like a “lived in world” that phrase that everyone applies to Star Wars versus pre-Star Wars Sci-Fi. The MCU has always felt full and fully realized. It’s that aspect that makes the films often feel so much like the biggest budget television show ever produced as opposed to a film series.
The real question is in a future where we get actual tv series from the stars with big budgets ( through Disney+) will ”normal” MCU movies still work, or will they all have to be Endgame level extravaganzas to get us off our couches?
One final point on this film. It was the first Marvel movie released post-Disney purchase and includes the closest Walt Disney amalgam ever presented in the MCU in the person of Howard Stark. While Captain America a year later presents him as a young playboy, here Howard is the titan of industry and the pillar of American life that Tony lives in the shadow of for most of HIS life. Howard is shown in archival footage that directly mimics Disney’s “Wonderful World of Disney” presentations and the macguffin of the film is actually inside an EPCOT style “city of the future” scale model. John Favreau is obviously very happy with his Disney overlords having made The Jungle Book and Lion King remakes, and now The Mandalorian with them for Disney+, but I do wonder how much of this was a light-hearted dig from the Marvel creatives at their new owner. It doesn’t play harshly at all, but it also is not something I could see them approving of if this movie were made today. It is just an interesting note in the corporate history of this franchise.