Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.
After the somewhat disappointing The Incredible Hulk (2008), we turned to the next movie in the MCU, Iron Man II (2010). I had low expectations for this one, not remembering a lot of it from 9 years ago, except that it wasn’t an origin story, and that it would have to deal in some way with Tony’s narcissism (as all of the Iron Man movies did). I couldn’t shake the memory that Robert Downey Junior had started to get bored with the movies (although that might only have happened in Iron Man 3), and I was expecting it to be not very good.
I was quite pleasantly surprised.
From the beginning, they set up the premise of the movie, that Tony was dying from palladium poisoning (from the arc reactor in his chest, that was keeping him alive). Somewhat similar to his brush with death in the first Iron Man movie (in the desert in Afghanistan), it humbled him somewhat, making him think about what his legacy would be, how he would be remembered. He thus set out to recreate the Stark Expo, perhaps to make his father proud. Of course, this inner humbling had to be outwardly avoided, at all costs, by huge stage shows, large parties, and public drinking to excess.
This led to his actual first low moment, where he let ‘Rhodey’ take his Mark II armour, perhaps as part of a legacy, perhaps because he knew that he really was actually out of control.
Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance here, going undercover in the legal department of Stark Industries, then as Tony and Pepper’s personal secretary. She gets to show off her badassery, first sparring with Happy, then breaking into Hammer Industries. She also gets to show off her creative understanding of computer systems, where, after she and J.A.R.V.I.S. both being unable to break into War Machine’s system, she manages to reboot it, restoring Rhodey’s control.
She felt like she was used as a supporting character through most of the movie, but that makes sense, given her cover.
Overall, the movie felt like the ‘A’ plot was Tony trying to save his own life, by developing a better arc reactor. The fights against Vanko and the Hammer drones seemed almost too easy for Iron Man (totally unprepared, he suits up in his weakest, portable armor, and wins reasonably handily on the racetrack, and the Hammer drones are only a threat because of the civilians nearby. (The last battle sequence with Vanko is also incredibly short.)
Along the way, he got a bit closer to his father, and solved the ‘B’ plot of Vanko & Hammer.
He solved some of the problems (but not all) of quick field deployment of his armour (The Mark V was much quicker (about 15 seconds), and doesn’t require specialized equipment. He learned a better appreciation for his father, and got some emotional support from him. During the movie, he added electrical resistance and the new arc reactor to his Mark VI armor, which was otherwise mostly unchanged from the Mark III.
However, he triumphed mostly over himself. His external adversaries (Hammer, Vanko, that senator) were not substantial enemies for Stark & Iron Man. He even managed to defeat them with no bystanders being harmed. This would only fuel his narcissism, which would not be adequately countered until much later.
The movie held up quite well. It felt well paced (all of the ‘best of’ scenes on Youtube were connected by scenes that seemed to make sense, and went on for reasonable amounts of time), all of the characters were believeable (Justin Hammer wonderfully punchable villain, and Vanko was well-devloped, and quite in character). All of the rest of the cast were believeable, and made sense.
How did I feel about it? I felt that I understood Tony as a character better, I understood where I knew Black Widow from, and why I wanted to see more of her as a character. I wanted to see more interactions with technology, more world-building in that direction, more Tony making better amour, or other things. (Making Black Widow’s devices would be pretty cool.) I appreciated the interactions with Tony’s father. Justin Hammer perhaps spoke even more to me, as he channeled an ’80s movie villain. I understand more of the dual challenges of Tony fighting with himself, vs. fighting with others, and how this varies over time.
How did this help me process Endgame better? Perhaps it showed me that Tony was at his most interesting and effective when he was right on the edge, or that he wasn’t, and it was all about giving him time to be apart and get into ‘flow’, to solve large intractable problems. It helped me understand his arc better, and how him coming face-to-face with his mortality, and tempering his narcissism were key (although he always had the drive to protect those around him, which always seems to have included all civilians, which seems to have been a constant part of his character).
This was perhaps best personified in the “C’mon!”, where he’s desperate to make a difference (and survive), and save people, but he needs others to do help him do it, and being so frustrated when this is difficult.
Stay tuned for next time, when we watch a movie with a totally different feel, the Shakespearean drama Thor!
 I still have a soft spot in my heart for Iron Man’s origin story.
 The dealing with his distant father issues were done in (I thought) an understated and tasteful way, focused on a few scenes of introspection
 To be refitted and ‘weaponized’ into the ‘War Machine’ armour. Interestingly, he calls him ‘War Machine’ explicitly in the film, before this happens. Also, it’s pretty obvious that off-screen, he had allowed Rhodey to play with the armour.
 I really hope that her movie gets into her origin story with Fury…
 Vanko suggests in the jail cell scene that he was deliberately just trying to make Tony bleed, not actually trying to kill anyone, which would agree with how no civilians seem to have been harmed in the Stark Pavilion battle.
 Vanko mentioned in the jail cell scene that once you ‘make god bleed’, then ‘there is blood in the water’, about how now that he has shown that Iron Man is not invincible, others will come after him. Some have suggested that this is related to the ‘All that for a drop of blood’ line in Infinity War. I interpreted that line straight, that even with the benefit of surprise, and a pretty good plan, Stark was not enough to defeat Thanos head-on.
 Although it’s never really explained exactly what happened to Vanko’s father, we only have Fury’s word on it.
 The ‘arm lasers’ are a noticeable exception.
 It was a work in progress, but it could be argued that his PTSD arc after Avengers, and his defeat in Infinity War are the keys.
 Apparently Mickey Rourke did a substantial amount of work to prepare for the part, and it showed.
 A substantial part of the character growth may be Tony learning that others are not subordinates, but can be full partners in what he needs to do. Promoting and giving Pepper control of Stark Industries may have been the first step here, then Rhodey, and finally letting Cap call the shots in New York…
 Why else would you choose Kenneth Branagh to direct? Fun factoid: He also directed the post-credits scene for Iron Man 2, where they discover Mjolnir.
 Sorry, I can’t find the reference. 🙁