But Iron Man’s villains probably require more heavy lifting than probably any other hero’s. Even Tony’s arch-nemesis, The Mandarin, while certainly a cool villain, doesn’t really have that much that sets him apart from similar bad guys like Doctor Doom or Baron Mordo other than the fact that in his early days he looked like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
As for the rest, they were mostly just an interchangeable series of commies in robot armour and rival industrialists. I mean hell, when the time came to find a villain for Iron Man 2, they actually just slapped two of them together. Ivan Vanko is a mishmash of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. And nobody even cared. Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine if they did a Batman movie and they just merged the characters of Joker and the Penguin into one guy and called him the Penker? My God, the fans would skin them alive and hang their carcasses in the online forums as a warning to others. That’s how lame Iron Man’s rogues gallery is. Not even Iron Man fans care enough to get mad about changes to the source material. But, did it work? Were they able to reverse Iron Man’s traditionally awful luck with villains? Will our hero triumph over the Penker? Let’s find out! Right after these messages.
Anton tells Ivan that it should be him up there on that podium, proclaiming his greatness over all with the obvious exception of the great restorer of Russia’s might and glory. He tells Ivan that all he can leave him is his knowledge, and then dies, leaving him with nothing but his knowledge. And, as is Russian custom, Ivan roars to let the warriors of Sto Vo Kor know that a soul is coming to join them in their endless revels.
Vanko I think has now largely been written off as part of Marvel’s “villain problem” and revisiting this movie I don’t actually think that’s fair (and yeah, I know I said the same thing about Stane but humour me). Mickey Rourke basically has two types of performance, crazy committed dedication to the part that would make Kirk Lazarus proud or phoned in to the point of barely concealed contempt for the project. This is definitely the former. Rourke visited Russian prisons, researched Mafiya tattoos and learnt some Russian to prepare for the role. He clearly cared a lot about this character and making sure he was a real person. I also really like the concept of Vanko, a Russian Tony Stark who did with his mind and determination alone what Tony did with the world’s largest fortune. Sure, Tony built that suit in a cave with a box of scraps, but all Vanko ever had was the box of scraps. He was born in that cave. And damn it, Rourke just gives a really good performance. Vanko is a complicated dude. He’s a huge, hulking, tattooed mobster with a genius level IQ who genuinely loves his Pop and his burd. Unfortunately, concept and performance aren’t enough on their own, you also need a good script and this is where Iron Man 2 really falls down but I’ll get into that later. Vanko pulls out some old blueprints for an arc reactor that, interestingly, bear the names of Howard Stark and Anton Vanko. Vanko gets to work.
After the credits it’s six months later and Iron Man arrives at the Stark Expo for the opening ceremony complete with fireworks and Iron Man themed Go Go dancers.
Tony then gives a speech where he says that the world is now enjoying its longest period of interrupted peace in years because wait, wait, wait, wait hang on. This has been six months since Tony gave that press conference. I mean okay, we can say that Vanko took a few months between seeing the press conference and building his own arc-reactor but Iron Man has definitely been active for less than a year. So, what does Tony mean when he says “the world is at peace”? Does he just mean the general “well, there aren’t any major wars going on” kind of peace that we’ve had since the end of Word War 2? Because if so, I don’t think he can really take credit for that. Or does he actually mean that Iron Man has brought total peace? As in, there are now no wars anywhere? I mean, that at least would tie in with the fact that it’s only been less than a year (that would be the longest period of “no war” since we developed thumbs) but then that raises a completely different question. Namely, Tony?
I mean, sure, Iron Man’s pretty powerful but he’s not Superman! And he’s just one guy! Are we really meant to believe Tony was able to singlehandedly bring every last dictator, terrorist leader and warlord to heel in less time than it takes to get a diploma in Social Sciences? And this isn’t just one dumb line either. A big part of the plot rests on the fact that Tony Stark is basically now the foundation on which global peace rests. Okay, let me try to explain why that’s a stupid idea.
Anyway, Tony declares the expo open and then plays a film his father Howard (John Slattery) recorded in the seventies welcoming everyone to the expo. Howard Stark (in this movie at least) is clearly based on none other than good old Uncle Walt. Huh. I guess that would make Anton Vanko Ub Iwerks if Disney had had him deported to Russia.
Outside the expo, Tony is approached by a gorgeous woman who it turns out is just there to serve him a subpoena.
Tony is summoned to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington. The hearing is being chaired by Senator Stern, the man for whom the word “oleaginous” was built. Stern wants Tony to hand over the Iron Man suit because he claims it’s a weapon and Tony counters that it’s not. Which I suppose is technically true. The suit isn’t a weapon, just the lazers, machine guns, rocket launchers and nuclear bomb hidden in the crotch that are all attached to it. Stern then summons an expert witness to testify on the Iron Man armour, Justin Hammer, played by talentless slack jawed lackwit Sam Rockwell IHATEHIMIHATEHIMIHATEHIM…
Sorry. Sorry. I’ll try not to let my visceral hatred of Sam Rockwell and how he ruined my life derail the review. I’ll just content myself with spreading vicious rumours about him as I usually do, for example how he steals from children’s charities and has a penny for a dick.
Hammer gives a spiel about how America can’t always rely on Iron Man to defend them (gee, if only they had a military larger than the next fourteen largest combined). Stern then calls Rhodey to testify. Rhodey’s first line of dialogue to Tony is fittingly enough “I’m here, it’s me, deal with it” because of course he is now played by Don Cheadle. Hey, no complaints from me. Terrence Howard was my least favourite part of the first movie and Don Cheadle is great in the role even if I’m having a hard time thinking of an African American actor who looks less like Terrence Howard. Hell, I can think of a ton of actors who look more like Terrence Howard than Don Cheadle and some of them are white. Anyway, Rhodey is ordered to read a select passage from his report on Iron Man that paints Tony in a much more unflattering light that he intended and then tells the committee that certain nations are already trying to build an Iron Man of their own and shows them satellite footage of dots in a desert. And of course, you don’t argue with satellite footage of dots in a desert. I mean, those dots could be anything.
Tony then hijacks the feed and shows them footage demonstrating that the Iranians, North Koreans and Justin Hammer himself are all trying to build their own Iron Man suits but are making advances only in the field of physical comedy. The Hammer footage in particular shows one of Hammer’s suits twisting a test pilot’s spine like fusilli. Tony then saunters out saying “You’re welcome everybody, I’ve successfully privatised world peace.” and gets a standing ovation.
Back at the Stark ranch though it turns out that Tony is being even more of a reckless ass-hat than we first thought, namely that he’s expecting the US to rely on him as its sole defence despite the fact that he’s a dead man walking. As JARVIS informs him, the palladium he’s using to fuel the arc-reactor is slowly poisoning him. As JARVIS puts it, “The thing keeping you alive is also killing you.”
Pepper now arrives and this is where I ask what the fuck happened, just what even the fuck happened? I liked Pepper in the first movie. A lot. I thought Paltrow and Downey had great chemistry, they had snappy banter, they were cute and funny together WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?! Every scene Pepper Potts has in Iron Man 2 is as brisk and pleasant as the STATIONS OF THE CROSS. She is UNBEARABLE in this. Just a constant stream of nagging and complaining and negativity…it’s like when they cut Terrence Howard’s Rhodey from the first movie he telepathically leapt into Pepper’s body like a Star Trek villain. And now he just watches, secretly fuming. Waiting for his moment to strike.
Probably because he knows it’s the only thing that’ll buy him five precious minutes of stunned silence Tony tells Pepper that he’s making her CEO of Stark Industries. To make it official they summon a notary named Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) and holy moly…
Excuse me, I must compose a sonnet forthwith.
Okay, full disclosure, Black Widow is my favourite Avenger but that is almost entirely on the strength of the Avengers movies and Winter Soldier and that is because Joss Whedon and the Russo Brothers are actually interested in her as a character whereas Jon Favreau quite clearly is not. Also, I hate to say it but Johansson hasn’t quite figured out what she’s doing with the character yet. She gets better, much, much better, but here her performance is more than a little bland. All in all, it’s an inauspicious introduction to one of the great action movie heroines of early 21st century cinema.
Anyway, Tony is so impressed with Natalie that he hires her on the spot as his assistant because of her impeccable credentials and language skills and relevant experience and is anyone buying this, anyone? Anyone? Well anyway, Pepper, Tony, Happy and Natalie jet off to Monaco to take in the Grand Prix. There they meet Justin Hammer and Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) and Tony and Pepper lose no time in bringing up the fact that Tony and Christine slept together in the first movie to embaress her because in the intervening time they’ve both become the worst human beings ever, I guess? Seriously, it’s not cool. I mean, sure Pepper had the “taking out the trash” line in the first movie but that was only after Christine had thrown some serious shade herself. Here it’s Justin basically saying “Have you met respected journalist Christine Everhart?” and Pepper and Tony going “Oh yes. The slut. How’ve you been?”
Meanwhile, Tony checks his blood toxicity in the bathroom and finds that it’s 53% percent which sounds like he should be dead, but I’m no fancy big city doctor. So Tony decides to do something reckless and drive one of his Formula 1 cars in the Grand Prix himself. Pretty fucking dangerous in and of itself but then Vanko suddenly emerges on the track dressed as one of the emergency crew and starts slicing up the approaching cars like frickin’ celery with his arc-reactor powered whips.
Tony looks like he’s about to get whipped to within an inch of his life plus one inch but fortunately Happy and Pepper arrive with the portable Iron Man suit (silver and red, beautiful, beautiful prop). Fully armoured, Iron Man’s easily a match for Vanko and knocks him down and takes his
lunch money arc reactor. He watches as the Monaco police take the bloodied Vanko away, who yells “You lose Stark!” because his English ain’t so hot.
Anyway, Vanko agrees with the condition that Hammer brings him his burd. And Hammer seems to have a weird inability to understand what he means by that. He wants his burd. What’s to understand? Dude just wants his burd. Really ties the room together. He shows him some of the prototype suits Hammer Industries has been working on and nearly has a conniption when Vanko pulls the head of one off because they cost over $120 Million each. To be honest, if I were him I’d be more worried that I’d just spent $120 Million on a war machine that one largish dude was able to tear apart with his bare hands.
Back in California Rhodey visits Tony and tells him that the US Government is this close to just knocking down his walls and taking his toys. Rhodey is clearly worried about his friend Tony and man that feels weird to type. Good weird, through. Tony reassures him that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He then proceeds to throw a big fuck off birthday party and dance around sloshed off his face in the Iron Man suit. Which is kind of like drunk driving, if your car could fly at supersonic speeds and had enough weaponry to craterise most of Asia. Outside, Rhodey is on the phone with his superiors promising that “Iron Man will be back on watch within 24 hours.” GODAMMIT MOVIE, PICK ONE. Either Tony Stark is not trusted by the US government and is regarded as a potential risk or he’s America’s last best line of defence. HE CAN’T BE BOTH. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE FOR HIM TO BE BOTH. IF THEY DON’T TRUST HIM THEN THEY SHOULDN’T BE RELYING ON HIM AND IT SHOULD MAKE NO DIFFERENCE TO THEM WHETHER HE’S ON WATCH OR NOT BECAUSE HE DOESN’T BLOODY WORK FOR THEM.
Going back inside, Rhodey realises just how bad things have gotten when Tony starts blowing shit up to entertain the partygoers. Pepper begs him to stop Tony, with no ulterior motive whatsoever.
Rhodey runs downstairs and changes into the silver Iron Man suit and engages party-pooper mode and orders all the guests to leave. Realising that the party has entered the wine, cheese and robot battle phase Rhodey and Tony throw down. After destroying Tony’s living room, Rhodey leaves him and flies off to the nearest Air Force base. You know, Rhodey just beat Tony senseless, wrecked his house and stole his shit, but he’s still a better friend in this one than in Iron Man 1.
Depressed and miserable after his break up with Rhodey, Tony flies off and ends up in the hole of some Randy guy.
Nick Fury shows up along with Natalie, who he introduces to Tony as Natasha Romanoff, a SHIELD agent who was working for Fury the whole time.
Yes, the whole time. Fury tells Tony that he needs to stop fucking around and get to work on a cure and Tony tells him that there is no cure because he has tried every damn element on the table and nothing works. And Fury tells him that there’s still one element he hasn’t tried.
Meanwhile Vanko is paid a visit by that pudding faced puffy spots blubber mouthed jowls no neck dog-stupid Justin Hammer (sorry, sorry, it’s my problem I’ll deal with it) who gives him a burd and Vanko tells him that it’s not his burd. And then Hammer throws a hissy fit because apparently he “pulled a lot of strings” to get the burd. What’s with this guy? He can fake a death in a foreign prison and bring one of the most wanted men in the world into his private facility with no problem but he can’t just send someone to Vanko’s apartment in Russia and pick up his damn cockatoo? What the hell? Anyway, Hammer is not happy when he sees that Vanko has converted the Hammer suits (“Hammeroids” as they have been named because Hammer is as good at branding as he is at tech) into unmanned drones. Vanko tells Hammer that they’re better than suits and Hammer asks why drones are better. Um…because they’re cheaper and can fly lower to the ground and get a much more accurate bead on targets which reduces the risk of civilian casualties and you don’t have to worry about pilots coming back in wood suits with American flags draped over them? How the fuck did this guy get a Pentagon contract?
So in the ruins of Stark’s mansion, Fury explains that the arc reactor that Howard Stark built was simply an early proto-type of a clean energy source that was going to change the world. Tony asks how Anton was involved and Fury says that Anton saw the arc reactor as a way to get rich, unlike Howard of course who was just in it for the science man and had Vanko deported. Seriously though, anyone else smell something fishy about that whole story?
Also, according to this movie Anton Vanko defected to the US in 1963, which is weird because Agent Carter shows him working with Howard Stark as early as 1946. It’s not necessarily a continuity error though. Seventeen years is a long time and there’s no reason Vanko couldn’t have returned to Russia when the Cold War got frostier and then returned to the States in the sixties.
Tony arrives and demands to know where Vanko is but Hammer plays dumb (very convincingly I might add). Suddenly, the Hammeroids and War Machine open fire because Vanko has taken control of them remotely. Okay, question. Vanko can hack the Hammeroids, that’s fine. But Vanko had nothing to do with War Machine. He didn’t work on it, and it’s not designed to be controlled remotely. So how can he control it? Or, if he’s just that good that he can hack Tony’s tech, why not just take control of the Iron Man suit and force Tony to go on a killing spree?
Well anyway, Iron Man leads War Machine and the Hammeroids (sounds like a band from the sixties) on a merry chase through the air while Black Widow inflicts severe pain on Hammer until the joy centres of my brain overload and he tells her where Vanko is. Natasha and Happy storm Hammer’s facility and find that Vanko has flown the coop like a burd, but she is at least able to use his computer to reboot Rhodey’s suit and return it to his control. Rhodey and Tony fight off the Hammeroids in a big kick ass fight scene that is pretty damn kick ass. Meanwhile the cops arrive at the Expo and Pepper orders them to arrest Hammer and then arrange for buses to take all the visitors back to the city and they’re all “Uh lady, we’re cops, we don’t take orders from you BWAAAHAAHAHAHA no this is America and you’re a CEO we’re basically at your beck and call.”
Rhodey and Tony destroy the last of the Hammeroids but they didn’t realise that they were just the warm up before the final boss fight. Vanko arrives and oh are you fucking kidding me?
That’s the Iron Monger armour! That’s just the Iron Monger armour with some lightning whips! Obadiah Stane could sue if he wasn’t dead, may he rest in peace. Anyway, they fight and fight and fight some more until Tony and Rhodey combine the power of their repulsors to create a big feck-off explosion and defeat Vanko. Lying bleeding and burnt on the ground, Vanko whispers to Tony “You lose.”
Vanko starts a countdown for all the Hammeroids to explode but Iron Man and Rhodey just…you know, fly out of there and Vanko is left going “Oh yeah, they can do that. Shit.” and then he gets blown up. Tony flies Pepper to safety and they land on a rooftop. She tells him can’t handle this anymore and she resigns and then they kiss and it just comes out of fucking nowhere. It actually makes less sense for them to end up together after two movies than it did after just one.
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger based in Dublin. The blog updates with a new review every second Thursday. Original artwork for this blog was commissioned from the oh-so talented Julie Android, whose artwork is now available for purchase on T-Shirts, mugs, hoodies and more at the Unshaved Mouse online store. Check it out!