Blending iconic stories, villains, and allies, few films in the MCU captured the spirit of Marvel’s Iron Man better than his second outing.
No other superhero has had such a modern renaissance as Iron Man. As the foundation and cornerstone of the entire MCU, Iron Man single-handedly changed the entire entertainment industry forever. With 30 films under its belt and many more to come, the MCU has become the preeminent model for both superhero stories and filmmaking, all thanks to the success of 2008’s Iron Man. But despite having starred in nine films culminating with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, only one film has captured the true spirit of Iron Man comic books in its entirety, serving as a love letter to the most iconic stories that shaped him.
Iron Man 2 was released in May of 2010, acting as the third film in the MCU, following 2008’s Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. While still a great success and far from a failure, Iron Man 2 was met with mixed reviews upon its release. Many critics said that, despite it being a fun and enjoyable film, Iron Man 2 was still less satisfying than the first Iron Man film. Common opinions held it as an action-packed spectacle that lacked the emotional soul of its predecessor.
Iron Man 2 was followed by 2011’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and ultimately with 2012’s The Avengers. And so the ho-hum reception of Iron Man 2 was quickly forgotten. With the emergence of the villain Thanos, the Infinity Stones, and plenty of new characters, the MCU gradually became the massive entity it is today. At its core, Iron Man 2 is a combination of Iron Man’s most famous elements from the comics. The film blends two of Iron Man’s most important stories together, 1979’s "Demon In A Bottle" (by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, John Romita, Jr., and Carmine Infantino) and 1988’s "Armor Wars" (by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, Mark D. Bright, and Barry Windsor-Smith.) The film features Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko as antagonists, with Ivan Vanko acting as a combination of two Iron Man villains — Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo.
While Iron Man served as an introduction to the character, Iron Man 2 took a radically different approach and explored Tony Stark as a person, rather than an invincible hero. Depression, regret, and arrogance plagued him as he struggled to come to terms with his newfound life as a superhero. Compounding his intrapersonal problems was the poison stemming from his ARC reactor embedded in his chest. Iron Man 2 uses these plot elements as vehicles to cover the main premise of the aforementioned "Demon In A Bottle" story where Tony slips into alcoholism to cope with the stressors in his life.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Ivan Vanko, the son of an ex-Stark Industries employee, vowed revenge against Tony Stark and teamed up with the slimy weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer. Justin Hammer was a primary villain in "Armor Wars", a story that explores what happens when Iron Man’s technology is stolen and sold to the criminal underworld. Pairing the two villains together in the film was an ingenious move as it brought two of Iron Man’s most dangerous foes together on the big screen. The icing on the cake for Iron Man 2 was the inclusion of James "Rhodey" Rhodes, a.k.a, War Machine and Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a Black Widow. More than just a tease as in Iron Man, War Machine stands shoulder to shoulder with Iron Man during Iron Man 2’s finale, giving fans of the armored warriors exactly what they wanted: relentless supersuit action. Black Widow would return in The Avengers, becoming an MCU staple up until her death in Avengers: Endgame.
Iron Man 2 is one of the very few films in the MCU that adheres so closely to its comics source material. In many ways, watching Iron Man 2 literally feels like watching an 80’s Iron Man comic come to life. While fans may have their own personal favorite films in the MCU, it's undeniable that Iron Man 2 is absolutely the purest depiction of a comic accurate Iron Man on film.
Devon Lord-Moncrief is a comic feature writer for CBR and also a full-time nerd. An avid fan of comics and video games ever since he could remember, his favorite comics are Jim Starlin's Warlock, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, and Chris Claremont's entire run on X-Men. His favorite games are Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Secret of Mana, and Illusion of Gaia.