Revisiting Iron Man 2

So last week I had a look at the first Iron Man film. For me, the thing that surprised me the most about the first film of the MCU is how interesting it’s geopolitics were. 2008 seemed like an epoch ago in the grand scheme of history. It seems that our news focus has shifted from Afghanistan, the country in the first Iron Man, to Syria. Now instead let’s turn our focus to the second Iron Man film. Iron Man 2 is not so well liked amongst Marvel movies, but like most of them (bar the dour Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World) it is supremely watchable. The cast work wonders in that regard. Downey is magnetic. Cheadle, Johansson, and Jackson give enjoyable performances in their role. Sam Rockwell is having too much fun as Justin Hammer. So, let’s look at the movements and the plot of Iron Man 2 and reflect on where we’ve been and what that means for our current moment in time.

The first part of Iron Man 2 is interesting. In the first twenty minutes, we have Tony Stark testifying before the United States Senate regarding his invention. It’s an interesting moment. It reminds me of the Senate hearings that Mark Zuckerberg was made to attend in regards to Facebook’s involvement with the whole data issue, fake news, and election tampering. It’s strange for a movie that’s in the past to remind you of the present and its future. Well, when else are you going to get an arrogant billionaire before Congress.

You’ll recall that last time I mentioned something about #MeToo and how it would be significant later. When Scarlet Johansson’s character is introduced as Natalie Rushman, it struck me for a moment. By now, we know that Johansson is playing Black Widow but I had forgotten that she was in this movie. Also, Natalie Rushman? Pick a better alias, Natasha Romanov. The façade doesn’t stay up long when she takes the fight to Happy Hogan. Pepper is the first to warn of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Stark ends the scene with Rushman by declaring ‘I want one’ and wow, does that line show the film’s age. There is an interesting commentary in the film, however, with everyone judging Rushman on her looks when she proves to be incredibly competent which must have enticed Johansson who is so often subject to the ‘rabbit food’ question in interviews.

Sidebar, did you know Elon Musk is in this movie? I definitely missed that the first time around. I mean, it makes sense for the world. Of course, billionaire Tony Stark who was once in the war business and has turned a new leaf as an innovation (?) centre would know Elon Musk. When the film aired, I wouldn’t have picked him but well, shooting a car into space does wonders for your personal brand. Another sidebar, in discussing the clean energy initiatives of Stark Industries Tony bemoans that he ‘[doesn’t] care about the liberal agenda anymore’ which is an interesting statement coming from famously conservative-leaning actor Robert Downey Jr.

Aside from all this political stuff floating around, there is some compelling stuff to the story of Iron Man 2. There is some compelling stuff about how Tony deals with his impending death via palladium poisoning. He makes Pepper CEO, begins a major year-long expo for scientific collaboration (it could’ve been a month), tells the Senate that he’s their nuclear deterrent, lets Rhodey take the Iron Man suit. Sometimes it looks like he’s planning for the future, sometimes he’s acting like the present will continue forever. From a character viewpoint that’s very believable.

There’s some interesting dialogue in the film where Vanko, one of our villains, talks of Stark’s legacy of ‘butchers and thieves’. Not that big a deal. However, with films such as Thor Ragnarok and Black Panther whose core conflicts revolve around a theme of colonialism, it would be interesting if Iron Man 2 were tweaked to fit into that oeuvre. Ragnarok and Black Panther are among Marvel’s most well-loved. With some more time in the oven, Iron Man 2 could be something special. Even Vanko’s identity as a child of cold war collaboration and falling out is interesting considering the Russia that we know in the geopolitical sphere today. In the same scene, there’s a drop the soap joke which, like the previous film’s gay panic jokes, feels weirdly backwards in the sense that this tentpole blockbuster, now under Disney, makes a joke about prison rape.

Couple more interesting/weird things about the film. Justin Hammer’s home base is in Queens. Notable because Tony would later recruit Spider-Man from there. Second, the use of hacking by Vanko is understated which makes it feel realistic. The interface looks like a DOS interface and feels realistic by that metric. Also, if Vanko is a hacker, does that mean that the villains in this movie are a Russian hacker and a New York billionaire who are secretly working together. How prescient in 2018.


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