Everything “Iron Man” did well “Iron Man 2” continued and even improved upon. The sequel, which dropped after the lukewarm reception of “The Incredible Hulk,” featured an increasingly S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel centric plot. The introduction of a menacing figure hellbent on dethroning Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), several side plots, and increased character development make this both a fitting continuation of the Stark narrative and solid entry in the Marvel universe.
“Iron Man 2” opens in Russia with a clearly disreputable Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) mourning the loss of his father Anton Vanko (Evgeniy Lazarev). Curiously, Ivan is building an arc reactor, which viewers will recognize as Stark technology. From the onset, there’s an intriguing subplot of revenge against Stark for his father, Howard, supposedly betraying Vanko senior. Additionally, the palladium in Tony Stark’s chest is killing him, unbeknownst to those around him. Returning from the inaugural “Iron Man” is rival inventor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who lucky for us gets substantially more minutes. Although Terrance Howard played a good Lt. Col James Rhodes, Don Cheadle assumed the role to epic proportions. His resigned demeanor compliments Downey Jr.’s taut sarcasm.
As a sequel, “Iron Man 2” further delves into S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel lore. There’s the Howard Stark storyline, which features heavily into the movie. Howard was actually a S.H.I.E.L.D. forefather, and the organization holds a steady presence throughout the film. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) returns, as well as Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Natasha Romanoff aka “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson) graces the big-screen in her first Marvel appearance. Black Widow later blossoms into a prominent character, but she’s relegated to a minor role in the movie.
The historical significance of “Iron Man 2” derives from Howard Stark’s development of the arc reactor, and the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. When Fury reveals that he knew Howard, there’s a sense that everything is coming together faster than a battle between Iron Man and Magneto. At the film’s conclusion Director Fury informs Stark that he’ll only be used by S.H.I.E.L.D. as a consultant due to his troublesome nature. Re-watching this scene now feels doubly hilarious considering his role in kickstarting the Marvel Universe as well as his importance in “The Avengers.”
“Iron Man 2” boosted relation to the Marvel franchise, and it’s noteworthy as the first flick where the sheer scale of the universe came into perspective. There is a clip at the end of “Iron Man 2” where Hulk’s smash fest is broadcast on a TV, but “The Incredible Hulk” was fairly unconnected otherwise. Resuming the feel of a continuous story, “Iron Man 2” built upon and improved pre-existing lore and characters while setting up several future developments. Howard Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s inception eventually evolve, and there’s a post-credits scene per Marvel tradition where Coulson discovers Thor’s hammer. The continued convergence of individual narratives into a unified whole became more evident over the course of “Iron Man 2,” though many of these hints wouldn’t reveal themselves for a few films.