Road to Infinity War – Iron Man 2, or, Proof of Life

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.


Note the cool explosion behind the member of Slipknot.

I’ve traditionally been an Iron Man 2 apologist pretty much exclusively because I adore Sam Rockwell, but in the context of its seventeen cinematic peers it’s hard not to look at the film both as an annoying holding pattern or sorts and a weird glimpse into a darker timeline in which The Avengers fell flat on its face.

Iron Man 2 isn’t my least favorite Marvel movie, but it’s hard to argue with those who insist it is the worst the MCU has to offer because, quite frankly, the film not only stumbles in its own right, it also could have never been made and Avengers would have been the exact same movie.

There’s something to be said for Tony Stark taking up responsibility for his sins and working to make the world a better place in Iron Man only to have the world say “it just ain’t that simple” in Iron Man 2, but here that compelling nugget of an idea is drowned in weird subplots of Tony dealing with a terminal illness, begrudging his father, discovering a brand new element and walking by Easter eggs for each of the other Avengers. It’s a lot. It was a ludicrous movie at the time and now, in retrospect, it feels like Iron Man 2 was just a proof-of-life commercial meant to remind audiences Iron Man was great, we liked Robert Downey Jr., and Avengers was definitely going to happen. For the purposes of the grand narrative of Tony Stark, a particularly compelling, decade-long character trajectory, Iron Man 2 can be entirely omitted.

On top of all that, Jon Favreau’s camera leers at Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow with a particularly potent shamelessness we’ve luckily not seen the likes of again. And Iron Man DJing? And the Iron Man Rockettes? Iron Man 2 makes a lot of stylistic choices leave it feeling more dated than even its predecessors.

Watching it in hindsight and taking in the bloat this solo character outing displays, its hard not to appreciate The Avengers’ success even more, because three films in to the MCU the franchise’s massive, global success was far from certain. Avengers could have so easily repeated the sins of Iron Man 2 on a grander scale, and without Sam Rockwell!

It can be hard to remember going into Infinity War, but there was a time when eyeing the prospect of an Avengers film and a shared cinematic universe felt like preparing to watch a neighborhood kid jump over a bunch of other neighborhood kids on a bike, and Iron Man 2 was and is a super rickety ramp.

That being said, this is a goofy, fun and utterly watchable film. Seriously, Sam Rockwell knocks it out of the park and his scenes with Mickey Rourke are a delight. The racecar sequence is exciting and fun and the final shootout, while only like 45 seconds long, is pretty dope. And of course Don Cheadle makes his debut in Iron Man 2, introducing one of the MCU’s most consistent supporting players and immortalizing Terrance Howard’s “next time baby,” which is absolutely my most-quoted line in MCU history.

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