Why ‘Iron Man 2′ Is A Weak Link In ‘The Avengers’ Chain

Published 5 years ago by , Updated July 16th, 2014 at 11:10 am,

Iron Man 2 Still War Machine Mark V 570x320 Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain

If you are a regular Screen Rant reader, you no doubt know that I am not yet on this Avengers bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong – I WANT this to be the epic, game-changing comic book movie event that most of you are hoping for… I’m just not yet certain that it’s going to be.

And if Iron Man 2 was anything to judge by, I have logical reason to worry.

Iron Man 2 is officially a box office success, taking the number one spot two weeks in a row and raking in another pile of profit for Marvel Studios. Things are proceeding toward the epic Avengers movie event as planned, I would think. Critically, Iron Man 2 seems to be 75% fan-approved, with our own Vic Holtreman giving it a ‘flawed but fun’ review.

But I’m not drinking this glass of Kool-Aid. Not this time. To me,  Iron Man 2 is a super hero movie where nothing super heroic happens – a movie that totally mishandles its main character in favor of secondary goals like setting up the Avengers movie.

Let me be clear upfront: I “get” the story of Iron Man 2: Tony Stark has revealed to the world that he is a superhero and is addicted to the power and fame that revelation brings him, even though the demands of being Iron Man are literally killing him. With villains circling and death on the horizon, Tony must once again find the will and way to salvation.

Now, there is a time-honored rule of good writing: “Show, don’t tell.” Think for a second about what we are told in Iron Man 2 versus what we’re actually shown, and then tell me that this movie got things right.

Here’s what we’re told at the start of Iron Man 2:

  • The demands of constantly being Iron Man are draining Tony’s life-sustaining power cores faster and faster. It’s basically a death sentence every time he puts on the suit and plays hero.
  • Tony has tried and tried to find a new upgrade for his outdated power core – but darn it, he just can’t do it!
  • The stresses of being a public superhero are wearing Tony down emotionally as well as physically (as evidenced by Robert Downey Jr.’s long stares).

iron man trailer2b Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain

That’s a great premise for a superhero movie – a story about a hero with no secret identity (no refuge), trying to balance a celebrity ego with the great responsibilities that come with great power icon wink Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain . Best of all, with an actor like Robert Downey Jr. (who certainly proved it in the first film), none of these heavy themes have to feel too heavy, or too serious (read: too Dark Knight). Should be awesome! Right?

But here’s what we were ultimately shown in Iron Man 2:

  • How Tony Stark spends his downtime.
  • What a bunch of the supporting players are up to.
  • Eventually how Tony stops playing around and solves his problem.

Before you tear into me, please just think about it. What did you see? Tony opening the Stark Expo; Tony screwing with Congress; Tony getting boxing lessons; Tony at the Monaco races; Tony bumming around the Stark Industries offices; Tony getting drunk at a party; Tony staring off at nothing (the “heavy” moments); Tony eating donuts, while in a giant donut; etc…

Now I already know what some of you are going to try to say: “Dude, that’s the point! It’s about how Tony Stark starts to unravel from the demands of being Iron Man, the pressures of fame, and how he has to mature as a hero!” And that’s a fine story to tell, I don’t disagree – but unless you show the audience what it is, exactly, that’s causing the hero to unravel – the actual trials and tribulations he’s going through -  the story kind of misses its own mark, no?

Continue what Iron Man 2 should’ve been…


Iron Man 2 trailer13 Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain

Where were the scenes of Tony constantly having to suit up to squash another foreign skirmish, or save civilians in peril?  Tony having to drop his life-saving research time and time again to go play the hero?  Where were the scenes of Tony pushing himself to the limit trying to find the cure for his condition – you know, the same tireless drive and inventive ambition that made Iron Man 1‘s second act so interesting? (Instead of a rushed lab scene where Eureka! Tony just invents a new element!) Where was the film that actually made use of the great premise I described?

More to the point: What better way to organically and symbolically introduce the concept of The Avengers than by actually showing the audience just how much time, effort and sacrifice is required to keep the world safe (more than one man can give)? Isn’t that better than having S.H.I.E.L.D. show up at the eleventh hour touting the ridiculous answer to Tony’s problem (a new element? Of course!), while spouting thinly-disguised Avengers promos?

In the end, Iron Man 2 is a movie that tells us being a public hero is hard, but only shows us how a pompous dying hero spends his leisure time. In fact, if you’re keeping count, Tony only suits up four times in the movie: Once to make an entrance, once to make an ass out of himself and twice to save that very same ass (which is really the only thing at stake). Nothing heroic about any of that.

iron man 2 nick fury Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain

In fact, the hero in this superhero movie is SO unheroic that the epilogue to the story is the super team basically telling the hero that he’s not hero enough to join them – a development which now has the geek community wondering if Downey and Iron Man will even factor heavily into The Avengers (as opposed to making a cheap and gimmicky cameo appearance). Great accomplishment.

However, I know all about the power of geek denial; I’m not fool enough to think I can change your opinion on Iron Man 2. I know people will say “They didn’t have the budget!” or “Downey still made it fun!” and all those other… excuses. However, I’m looking ahead and wondering “If these lead-in movies don’t get the core stories of these heroes right, how will “The Avengers” be able to successfully demonstrate (read: show us)  what unites them?”

avengers thor captain america iron man Why Iron Man 2 Is A Weak Link In The Avengers Chain

Please remember that in the end, Marvel Studios is trying to change the game: How movie franchises are built, marketed, watched and ultimately purchased on home video. But it’s still an experiment in progress, with Murphy’s Law dangling just above it. You start having weak links in the chain, and suddenly it’s harder to sell people on the idea of buying the entire Avengers saga on Blu-ray and such.

Iron Man 2 may not be a disaster, but on that rainy day years from now, when I decide to have an Avengers Saga movie marathon, Iron Man 2 is one entry I can surely skip – and that’s just not good enough. In my opinion, if you are going to take the lead-in approach, each individual chapter needs to be good; there can be no weak links in the chain.

How about you? You want to tear my head off now or do you agree that Iron Man 2 was a misfire – as both a superhero movie and an Avengers lead-in?

BONUS: For some specific examples of Iron Man 2′s story mistakes, check out a great post by our friends over at UGO.

Iron Man 2 is in theaters now.

The Avengers will be in theaters on May 4, 2012

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  1. I liked IM2 Wally but I gotta say I think TDk is the best comic film. I don’t think all films should be as dark and gritty as TDK was but I think all films should try to have the same level of depth. Empty souless films suck for example Transformers.

  2. It’s not that it lacked in action, something was missing. I mean, they tried to make Tony look like this selfish, self-serving arrogant character, but somewhat failed to tackle his alcoholism (he drinks, but, he’s not an alcoholic). There was too much going on. And I hate recasting. I love Don Cheadle, but I really preferred Terrence Howard as Rhodes… I don’t know. I just found I liked his vibe better in the role. It was watchable, but can I sit there and watch it over and over again? Nope. I’d watch the scene after the credits though…

  3. I think so far Avengers is looking quite good. It’s got a great cast, great build up, and as long as they don’t introduce too many more characters, I think it’ll be good.

  4. I enjoyed the movie half heartedly, and it left me not really liking Tony Stark anymore.

    I’ll have to agree with Outlaw on this one. Uggg.

  5. Two major problems I had (which UGO fans also noted) are about Rhodey. For one it took Stark some practice to fly the suit, Rhodey just jumps in and is a master immediately. Secondly, how did Rhodey plug it in, he has no arc reactor in his chest.
    Glaring oversights I say!

    • In the first film, Tony pretty much handled the suit with ease his first first time despite the adriline rush. And he doesnt need a arc reactor in his chest, the arc reactor is what would power the suit. Its why Stane stole tony’s from his chest in the first film to power up his Iron Monger suit since his scientists couldnt develope the arc technology the same way tony did.

  6. Hey there,
    I agree with you that the film didnt quite have the same feel as the first.
    It felt (how I like to say) as if it was a expansion pack, not a sequel.

  7. It’s pretty interesting reading this article after re-watching IM1, IM2 and then seeing the Avengers. I’m not an Iron Man fanboy or Marvel drone by any means, but this author’s tone, reasoning and argument is pretty ridiculous.

    The author seems pretty bent on saying that Iron Man 2 was critically flawed – I on the other hand think it did exactly what it needed to do (entertain while pushing the bigger story forward). It wasn’t perfect and I’d change a few things here and there but nothing major. When it comes to sequels, trilogies, etc there are always stronger and weaker siblings. I agree that the second Iron Man was not as good as the first but that by no means makes it a failure in the series – my opinion is that the first Iron Man was fantastic and the second was great too.

    I would have been very disappointed if the 2nd movie were anything like the movie the author described he wanted or expected – that would have given us a “monster of the week” feel to the Iron Man franchise and basically another Iron Man 1. Doing THAT would have been a failure. Iron Man 1 was awesome, but if I want to see that movie again I’d watch that specific movie again. Instead of counting the times Tony suits up or having Tony throw on the suit to go “save civilians”, do mini-fights, explosion explosion, watch him struggle with the stress, etc … we’re shown a different movie from the first which is a good thing.

    Being “shown” everything in story telling would be cumbersome and boring. I don’t need to see Tony fighting the little battles and dealing with the stress, – instead, I pretty much assumed from the moment I sat down that all of that was going on without even being told. But those things are told or implied as forms of exposition and that works better than watching them so we can focus on the rest of the story. Obviously Tony has stayed busy between where we left off in IM1 and where we meet up in IM2.

    Having SHIELD, Fury and Black Widow in IM2 was a must – without them the Avengers would have felt awkward.

    I for one will miss Favreau as the director of Iron Man 3 and hope the new guy will deliver the same tone as the first two movies. Conversely I don’t think I’m alone in saying: thank god Whedon directed the Avengers! He may have been the only person possible of delivering a phenomenal movie. As great as Favreau is and was to the first two Iron Man’s, he has been quoted as ‘not really understanding the mashup of all of the characters’ and that ‘marvel probably doesn’t understand either’. Firstly Marvel obviously does ‘get it’, as evidenced by how great the Avengers was, but the fact that he doesn’t is exactly the reason he had no business directing the Avengers or sadly IM3.

    • I agree with most of the criticism in this article, except for the complaint that Tony Stark only suits up four times in the movie. In case no one remembers, he only suited up four times in the first movie as well (once in the Mark I, once in the Mark II, and twice in the Mark III). There are a lot of reasons why Iron Man 2 wasn’t as good as the first movie, but the lack of suiting up isn’t one of them.

      Sort of like when everyone complained that Superman Returns was boring because Superman didn’t throw a single punch in the whole movie. At the time, no one seemed to remember that Christopher Reeve never threw a single punch in Superman: The Movie either. Again, SR wasn’t as good as the original for a lot of reasons, but that’s not one of them.

      • I think the point the author was trying to make about the four suit ups was that none of them were as important in the second movie. Once to make an appearance, once to party, once for his own safety, and finally once to “save the day”

  8. Oh, God. I could argue about this for ages, but I’ll try to keep this brief.

    Iron Man 2 was never about a struggling hero, but I can see how someone would think it was a “weak link” if they looked at it that way. It was a movie about a hero giving up.

    Considering everything we’re told in the beginning of the movie, Tony has been “struggling” for quite a while already. That’s why we don’t see much of it in the film. Because the struggle is already over. He tried everything in his power to reverse his condition. His time is running out. He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He thinks that he’s screwed – that there’s no way out for him. THAT’S WHERE THE MOVIE BEGINS.

    Think about it. All of the pieces are there. He brought back Stark Expo because he knows he won’t be around for much longer and he wants to do as much as he can for the future. This was illustrated pretty clearly for me after he gave his opening speech and then went backstage to check his blood toxicity levels. (“You have this percentage of life left before you DIE.”) Come on, people. It’s not rocket science.

    His next move was to sign over his company to Pepper, ensuring that Stark Industries would be taken care off properly after he was gone. And then there’s Rhodey. Look how close the man is to a suit of his own! Tony trusts him so much that he is able to go down into the lab whenever he feels like it and put on a suit. Later in the film, Agent Romanov revealed that there were security protocols in place that would restrict anyone from wearing the suit UNLESS TONY PERMITS IT. He GAVE Rhodey the suit. He meant for Rhodey to take over after he was gone – not before – but his poor behavior and lack of ability to tell anyone what he’s feeling forced Rhodey’s hand.

    Really, it’s pretty obvious that Tony had already given up on himself and formulated a rough plan on how to keep things going once he died. In the beginning, everything was going swimmingly. He stopped the government from taking his suit, Pepper was settling into her job as CEO, and Rhodey was still firmly on his side. The problem was that was ‘Whiplash’ came out of nowhere and ruined everything. He did what villains are supposed to do and made everyone doubt their great hero, which was the VERY last thing that Tony needed. Everyone misconstrued Tony’s behavior as the actions of a rich douche with a huge ego.

    Everyone but Nick Fury, that is. Because Nick Fury knows his s***, and when he saw that there was something seriously wrong with Tony’s behavior, he sent his top agent to assess the situation. It’s like Coulson said, “We need you.” Once Fury learned of Tony’s dilemma, he gave Tony exactly the right push he needed to save his life – which not only saved the world from ‘Whiplash’, but also made Tony realize that he didn’t have to do everything alone. Thus, we have our movie.

    Was it a perfect execution? No. Was it bad enough to warrant articles like this? I don’t think so. The big problem was that people expected this movie to be something that it wasn’t. It wasn’t a movie about a superhero struggling to save the day. It was about a hero who COULDN’T find a way to save the day.

  9. Boy, how wrong do you feel after Avengers?

  10. Interesting read. I disagree, but respect the opinion & reasons given. I’d love to know how they feel now, 4 years later, & after the Avengers movie, with Age of Ultron just a few more months away :)