With 18 movies and nearly six billion dollars to its name, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a cultural phenomenon. All of these films have been building to one thing: Avengers: Infinity War.In honor of this massive movie, we here at The Overthinkers are going to spend the next 16 days retracing the path from Iron Man to Infinity War in a feature we’re calling Infinity War Countdown.
Despite its black sheep status, Iron Man 2 is very important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This sequel to Iron Man, the third installment in the MCU and the third installment of Phase One, works very hard to lay the foundation for future MCU movies, no matter how awkward it seems at times.
While I will always argue that The Incredible Hulk set up the MCU, it is Iron Man 2 that really begins the in-depth world building for which Marvel is known. This is accomplished through the development Tony’s character and continuation of the MCU legacy.
The Development of Tony Stark
Iron Man 2 is not about external conflict, but rather it is a subtle take on Tony’s internal struggle manifested in outward antagonism: the ultimate consequences of his actions (hubris and dependance on his inventions) and the dangers of being a “hero” (constant overreaching and recklessness).
This is best exemplified in Tony’s villains and allies in the movie.
1. Justin Hammar
Hammer is a caricature of Tony’s womanizing and ruthless business savvy. Throughout the film Hammer constantly tries to emulate Tony, but always falls a bit short — be it in his awkward socialization, shoddy technology, or his misplaced ambition.
2. Ivan Vanko
Vanko offers a parallel to Tony’s intellect and engineering skills. His technological genius and resourcefulness allows Vanko to create a tool to empower himself after he loses everything. However, Vanko uses his new power to enact revenge on those he believes ruined his life, unlike Tony who creates the Iron Man suit in an attempt to fix the future. Vanko serves as a reflection of who Tony could have become had Yinsen not be a guide for him in the cave.
3. Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff
Natasha is a foil of Tony’s self-indulgence and public figure. Tony is controlled by his desires while Natasha actively uses the desires of others to manipulate them. She weaponizes her deception to live in the shadows.
4. James “Rhodey” Rhodes
Rhodes character contrasts Tony’s selfishness and narcissism. Rhodes living his life in complete devotion to his duty, even when it conflicts with his own interests. This is evident when he denounces his destructive behavior with Tony and steals the Mark II to become War Machine.
Tony constantly faces down and confronts the worst aspects of himself throughout IM2. As a result, we see a stronger and more balanced Tony at the end of the film (not so subtle depicted through his palladium poisoning turned new elemental cure).
The MCU Legacy
The theme of legacy was already in the forefront of the first Iron Man movie. Not only does Tony bear the Stark mantle but he also gains the title of Iron Man.
And, just as Tony built his own legacy, IM2 builds the Marvel Cinematic Universe through it’s introduction of new characters, themes, and influential conflicts.
1. Black Widow
By introducing Natasha Romanoff in IM2, we finally see more of that shadowy organization with a really long name — The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Natasha sets up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s involvement and importance in the MCU while also establishing it’s morally ambiguous nature. After all, she is there to spy on Tony for Nick Fury and to asses his threat level. After deciding that he is of no use to them dead or otherwise incapacitated, she finally provides Tony with a box of his father’s old research that can hopefully be used to find a cure for his palladium poisoning.
2. Government Intervention
In IM2 we see the government’s first attempt to control superheroes through their efforts to seize the Iron Man suit. Tony faces pressure from all sides to share his technology with the military. He is reluctant to divulge the secrets of his armored suit, fearing the information will fall into the wrong hands. This of governmental control theme continues throughout the MCU starting with Tony’s Senate hearing and culminating in the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War (when Tony has since changed his opinions about hero oversight).
3. Phil Coulson
IM2 showcases the return of Agent Coulson. Throughout he movie we see glimpses of the relationship forming between Tony and Phil. This is one reason why Tony’s reaction to Phil’s death in The Avengers is so impactful — by establishing Phil as a likable supporting character in IM2, we become connected to him in a way that makes his death so important to the ultimate creation of the superhero team.
4. Drone Tech
When Hammer is arguing with Vanko about the Hammer Drone designs, claiming that he needs to put a guy in his suits, Vanko tells him, “Drone better”. When Tony hears about the idea of drones, he develops a remote piloting system for JARVIS, creating the Iron Legion. HYDRA also steals this idea by implementing Project Insight using Arnim Zola’s AI concept to create a autonomous force. Tony later overreaches again and tires to use Loki’s scepter to unlock his AI, thus accidentally creating Ultron. In fact, most of Phase 2 can be tracked all the way back to that throwaway line; it became a theme in both Captain America: Winter Solider and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
5. Howard Stark
By introducing Howard Stark we see the first parental depiction of what Tony’s childhood was really like (other than that Howard wasn’t really in the picture and Obadiah Stane practically raised Tony). It is obvious that Tony feels guilty for his parents death, which only makes things worse when he finds out in Civil War that Bucky Barnes, better known as Winter Soldier, assassinates them when they become a threat to HYDRA. In IM2, Howard’s eventual admission of love in his video to his son ultimately solves all of Tony’s “heart problems” (both literally and figuratively).
There are more themes and Easter eggs in IM2 that I haven’t even bothered to touch (I’m sure you can think of a few). While I could have easily talked bout them all day, I wanted to focus more on the characters than anything else. To me the characters are important to the creation of the MCU than the post credit scenes and occasional name drop and cameo.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Iron Man 2. Leave me a comment below!
[media courtesy of Marvel Studios]