Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Recap: "Iron Man 2" Part 1: Iron Curtain

When we last left our hero, he had informed the entire world that he was been flying around as a superhero. I'm sure no harm will come of that.

I'd joke, "Why don't you just give your home address to the villains, Tony?" but he does just that in Iron Man 3.
The film begins with audio from the press conference at the end of the first Iron Man as the Paramount and Marvel logos do their thing. A sharp memory will no doubt pick up that the words being said are not the exact same words from Iron Man, but still very similar. It’s like the end of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies where they have the audio from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, except they leave out Gandalf’s line of “You haven’t aged a day.” And seeing as how my sister regularly watches The Fellowship of the Ring, I can recite that scene by heart and it feels like I’m blacking out for a second when they skip that line in The Battle of the Five Armies.

…Oh, yeah. I was talking about Iron Man 2, wasn’t I?

As the audio continues, we cut to the movie proper. But the movie proper doesn’t show us the last scene from Iron Man. Rather, we keep hearing the dialogue from it as we cut to Moscow. Because in post-Soviet Russia, movie play you.

The reason for the dissonance soon becomes clear as we see that Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) press conference is being broadcast with Russian dubbing on a TV inside an old man’s shabby bedroom.

Tony Stark: “I am Iron Man.”

The news visibly troubles him, and he calls out for his son, Ivan (Mickey Rourke). The older man is on his last legs as he talks to his son in Russian.

Old Man: “That should be you.”
Ivan: “Don’t listen to that crap.”

The old man knows that death is near, so he gives his son one final gift.

Old Man: “All I can give you is my knowledge.”

With his final words, he passes away as Ivan begins to mourn in the traditional Russian way.

Did I say "Russian"? I meant "Irish."
After Ivan finishes cursing the heavens in agony, he gets out some old Stark Industries blueprints for a rather familiar device. The names listed as the Project Designers on the blueprints are Howard Stark and Ivan’s recently-deceased father, Anton Vanko. In the comics, Anton Vanko was an evil Communist in a suit of armor called the Crimson Dynamo. But here, he was the other man who built the first Arc Reactor.
In a montage paralleling Tony’s creation of an Arc Reactor in a cave with a box of scraps, Ivan Vanko soon surrounds himself with headlines and newspaper articles about Tony Stark as he builds a small reactor of his own.

"Rob Down"? I don't think that writer's an entirely unbiased source.
As Ivan smiles at what he has created, we cut to the title. Six months later, as a helpful caption informs us, Tony Stark is blasting "Shoot to Thrill" while jumping out of a plane. This raised a lot of contention among movie goers. Not because of the scene itself, but because an alternate take where Pepper kisses his Iron Man helmet before tossing it out wasn’t used. Tony’s subsequent overly-casual declaration of “You complete me” was one of the most popular parts of the Iron Man 2 trailer.

I'm going to get a lot of shady Google searches involving the words "kissing" and "helmet," aren't I?
Apparently, the filmmakers loved this scene too, but they didn’t want to spoil the grand unmasking of Iron Man. Mainly because that alternate opening scene had Tony's grunts of anguish play over the opening logos, only to reveal....

An average Tuesday in the life of Tony Stark
So instead, Iron Man leaps out of the plane, dodging explosions (mostly) before landing not in a battle zone, but on the stage of the Stark Expo, where a machine unsuits him, leaving him in a tuxedo between a screaming crowd and a bunch of backup dancers with sexy “Iron Man” outfits.

Random Audience Member: “Blow something up!”
Tony Stark: “Blow something up? Already did that.”

And as the laughter dies down, he begins his presentation.

Tony Stark: “I’m not saying that the world is enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted peace because of me.”

Good, because that would be wholly unrealistic, considering the fact that at the very least, Emil Blonsky is probably leading men into Brazil at the exact same time you’re saying those words.

He goes on to “not” say that he’s the greatest phoenix metaphor in human history before getting down to business. For the next year, and for the first time since 1974, the brightest minds on the planet have come together to create a bright, beautiful tomorrow at the Stark Expo. And Tony kicks the opening off not with more sexy ladies and Iron Man tricks, but archive footage of Howard Stark giving an introduction to the first Stark Expo. Howard talks about the wonders of tomorrow before showing off a model of the “City of the Future.” If you had the thought that Howard Stark looked a bit like Walt Disney, then congratulations. That’s what they were going for.

On an unrelated note, this was the first Marvel film made after Disney bought the company.
Walt Disney was many things to many people. Animator, monopolist of childhoods, black magic practitioner. But the man was also a futurist. I mean, he dedicated an entire section of Disneyworld for “Tomorrowland,” you could see the history of invention on the Carousel of Progress, and then there’s Epcot (which the Stark Expo is directly based on). A lot of people only know it as the section of Disney with that big golf ball thing, but Epcot was intended to be an experimental community where staff would live, work, and relax all on site. There’s a reason it was named the “Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow.” After Walt died, the Disney Corporation decided that it didn’t really want to run a city, and turned it into a more conventional attraction.

I could talk forever about Epcot, the Stark Expo, Walt Disney, and Howard Stark, but Tony is backstage, worriedly taking a sample of his own blood with a small medical scanner. Apparently, Tony’s blood toxicity is up to 19%.  No wonder Tony Stark is starting to get worried about what he leaves for future generations. He’s dying. The film finishes up, and we get a first-person view from Toby’s perspective as his bodyguard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) takes him through the excited crowd. After Tony interacts with a few cameos, including Larry Ellison (“The oracle of Oracle”) and Stan Lee pretending to be Larry King…

"You creator takes many forms, Tony Stark. 'Nuff said!"
…He arrives at his car, where a beautiful young lady stands waiting for him. As he gets in the car, she serves him a subpoena. Apparently, he’s being ordered to appear before the Senate at their little meeting about the whole “Tony Stark is flying around fighting terrorists” thing. The next day, the hearing kicks off the same way you’d imagine.

Senator Stern: “Mr. Stark.”
Tony Stark: “Yes, dear?”
Senator Stern: “Can I have your attention?”

I can only see this ending well for everybody.

The guy in charge of the hearing, Senator Stern, is played by Garry Shandling.

The character pretty much only exists because Howard Stern likes Garry Shandling.
Senator Stern: “Do you or do you not possess a specialized weapon?”
Tony Stark: “I do not.”
Senator Stern: “You do not.”
Tony Stark: “I do not. Well, it depends on how you define the word ‘weapon.’”
Senator Stern: “The Iron Man weapon.”

This is actually an important character moment for Tony Stark. In his own mind, he no longer makes weapons. And yet, as Obadiah pointed out last film, the Iron Man suit is the greatest weapon ever invented.

Tony Stark: “It’s a high-tech prosthesis. That’s actually the most apt description I could make.”

But that’s because Tony Stark sees the armor in two different ways compared to the rest of the world. First of all, it’s a tool. Even a simple hammer can be a weapon in the wrong hands. The suit isn’t for the primary purpose of attacking people, that’s just something it can do. Like how when you buy a hammer at a hardware store, you don’t need a weapons permit, despite the fact that you can use it to bash people’s heads in.

"My hammer requires a weapons permit."

"Aye. In order to lift Mjolnir, the weapon must first permit you to do so."

"It is a play on words!"
Yeah, I got that. Thanks.

"You are welcome."
Anyway, the hearing continues as Senator Stern declares his goal to get Tony Stark to turn over the “Iron Man weapon” to the United States of America. This ties into the other way Tony sees the Iron Man suit.

Tony Stark: “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.”

And this is actually seen in how he uses the suit. Think about it. The Arc Reactor in his chest not only powers his heart, it powers whatever suit he’s wearing, too. Tony Stark is Iron Man. Tony could easily stick a separate reactor into each suit to lessen the strain on the one in his chest, but he doesn’t. Because then he would end up with an Iron Man suit that could be worn by anyone, including those who would wield it as a weapon. Why doesn’t Tony consider the Iron Man suit a weapon? Because the only man who can wear the thing won’t use it as one. Well, he will. But only to defend, not to attack or invade.

"What could possibly have led you to believe that the thing I regularly use to blow up tanks is a weapon?"
But Tony, being Tony, proceeds to make jokes, insult Senator Stern, and generally be obstinate, despite Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) giving him the look of a disappointed mother. So Senator Stern decides to fight fire with fire. As it turns out, Tony Stark wasn’t the only young, snarky weapons maker in the United States. So when Stark quit the business, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) was more than willing to step up to the plate.

In the comics, Justin Hammer was an elderly businessman who funded technology-based criminals in exchange for some of the profits. Here, he's younger, hipper, and basically what Tony Stark used to be, only a doofus. Which is why they cast Sam Rockwell, who was actually up for the port of Tony Stark in the first film.

And people say that Iron Man 3 had characters that looked nothing like the source material.
Tony Stark: “Let the record reflect that I observed Mr. Hammer entering the chamber and I am wondering if and when any actual expert will be in attendance.”

Justin plays it off with that old Sam Rockwell charm.

Justin Hammer: “I may not be an expert. But you know who was the expert? Your dad!”

Oh, yeah, he’s going there.

Justin Hammer: “We all know why we’re here; in the last six months, Anthony Stark has created a sword with untold possibilities. And yet, he insists it’s a shield.”

Actually, it’s an armor.

This is a shield.
Justin Hammer: “I’d love to leave my door unlocked as I leave the house. But this ain’t Canada.”

Hammer brings up the valid point that Tony Stark will not always be able to foresee every threat, and that letting Tony keep the armor private is asking the world to trust their safety to a single man. And for the final blow, Senator Stern calls in Col. James Rhodes, who is framed from behind so that people out of the loop are surprised when Don Cheadle shows up and not Terrence Howard.

Tony Stark: “Hey, buddy. Didn’t expect to see you here.”
Rhodey: “Look. It’s me, I’m here, deal with it. Let’s move on.”

Clever, movie.
Rhodey, as the official military liaison to Stark Industries, has compiled an assessment of the Iron Man suit. He’s asked to read a specific selection from his report, which is dubious evidence at best and Rhodey even calls him out on it before being forced to proceed. And yes, the paragraph Rhodey is asked to read does call Iron Man a threat to American security.

At least Don Cheadle doesn't think Iron Man's a robot anymore. So that's a step up.
Despite Stern’s insistence that Rhodey shut up after he reads the paragraph, Rhodey manages to say that his appraisal recommends including Tony in the already-established chain of command.

Tony Stark: “I’m not a joiner, but I’ll consider Secretary of Defense, if you ask nice.”

And despite Rhodey’s continued protests, Senator Stern continues by showing satellite surveillance footage of other nations apparently attempting to build their own suits. With a little hacking into the screens, Tony reveals that every single foreign nation trying to create an Iron Man suit is failing miserably. Even Justin Hammer’s attempt, where the pilot’s spine was twisted 180 degrees.

Justin Hammer: “I’d like to point out that that test pilot survived.”

So it wasn't manslaughter, it was a fate worse than death. That doesn't make it better.

Tony makes one last grand statement about successfully privatizing world peace to thunderous applause before peaceing out, homeskillet. Over in Moscow, Ivan Vanko watches this on his TV as he puts the finishing touches on some kind of electrified whip suit.

And I'm sure there's absolutely no risk of accidental electrocution.
The next day, Stark is back home in sunny Malibu inside his new Iron Man armory as JARVIS congratulates him on how the hearing went.

JARVIS: “And may I say how refreshing it is to finally see you in a video with your clothing on, sir.”

Tony pours himself a glass of the green smoothie he was drinking in one scene of Iron Man and asks JARVIS how much he has to drink to keep the poison at bay. As it turns out, the very thing that’s keeping Tony alive is killing him. Remember when Pepper was poking around in Tony’s chest in the first movie?

This lovely scene.
Pepper: "Oh, God, there's pus!"
Tony: "It's not pus, it's an inorganic plasmic discharge; it's from the device, not from my body."

Apparently, it’s pretty unhealthy to have Palladium residue leaking into your heart. Tony’s blood toxicity has already risen to 24%. And Tony’s constant use of the Iron Man suit is making things even worse. At this rate, he’ll be dead before the final act. Pepper seems to have objected to taking Tony’s reactor out any more, so he easily pops it out himself this time to replace the palladium core once again. And there’s nothing he can replace it with, either. Palladium is the best element to power the reactor, and yet its continued usage is literally killing him.

Visible Vein Syndrome. I see it all the time. The only known cure is a last-ditch effort.
Pepper Potts enters the armory to ask what the heck Tony was thinking. Not because of the Senate hearing, but because Tony donated his entire modern art collection to the Boy Scouts. They banter back and forth in the usual way for a bit. He wants to hang up an Obama poster-style painting of the Iron Man suit, and Pepper claims that the Stark Expo is a waste of time and money. Pepper criticizes the way he’s been running the company, so he decides to hand the whole thing over to her. It looks like he’s doing it on a whim, but I don’t think he is. This is the Tony Stark who’s looking towards the future, knowing that he’s going to die.
There’s a master plan at work.

Step One: Like how the inventor of dynamite tried to redeem himself by instituting the Nobel Prize, Tony Stark brought back the Stark Expo to try and give the world a legacy of invention instead of a legacy of death.

Step Two: Making Pepper Potts the head of Stark Industries. It’s hard enough keeping the government’s hands of the Iron Man suit, somebody trustworthy needs to be put in charge of the company ahead of time. And let’s face it, being a secretary, Pepper Potts was not in line for the position. But because she was basically running the thing for Tony for ten years, she’s the perfect person for the job.

Pepper: “Have you been drinking?”

The logical response.

Tony Stark: “I have actually given this a fair amount of thought, believe it or not.”

And let’s just say that Pepper wasn’t the only successor he chose, but I’ll get to that eventually. He opens some champagne to celebrate as we cut back to Russia. A man (a member of the Ten Rings, according to Jon Favreau) hands Ivan some papers in a back alley. Ivan takes a look, revealing them to be false identification and tickets to the Monaco Grand Prix under the name "B. Turgenev," which Iron Man fans will no doubt recognize as the second Crimson Dynamo from the comics.

Back at Stark’s home, he and Happy are sparring in a boxing ring as Pepper enters to inform Tony that his someone from legal has arrived for the official paperwork of handing the keys to the company over to Pepper.

Tony: “What’s your name, lady?”
Natalie: “Rushman. Natalie Rushman.”

Yeah…. There’s a bit of a difference between watching this movie back in 2010 and watching this movie now. See, “Natalie Rushman” has since appeared in two movies under her real name (three, once Age of Ultron is released). And since you’re reading this Recap, then you’ve obviously already seen the film or you have no problems with spoilers.

“Natalie Rushman” (Scarlett Johansson) is really Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow. You can thank the higher-ups at Marvel for her inclusion, as they wanted Iron Man 2 to start setting things up for The Avengers.

Tony invites “Natalie” into the ring to take a look at her, and asks Happy to give her a lesson as he goes off to talk to Pepper.

Tony Stark: “Who is she?”
Pepper: “She is from legal. And she is potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you keep ogling her like that.”

Tony, being secretly on the verge of death and all, decides that she’s the perfect candidate to be his new personal assistant. He Googles her bio, and finds that she’s ridiculously capable. She speaks several languages, including Latin….

Tony Stark: “Who speaks Latin?”
Pepper: “No one speaks Latin. It’s a dead language.”

…she modeled in Tokyo (cough, Lost in Translation, cough), and as Happy learns when he tries to teach her to never take her eye off her opponent, she can kick some major butt. She slams Happy to the ground with her legs and gets right back up to do her job.

Usually, pulling such a stunt on the director gets you fired.
The paperwork is soon completed and “Natalie” is sent off back to legal, despite Tony’s protests. Soon, Tony is off to the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. If you don’t speak French, that means the Grand Prix of Monaco Historique. Tony’s fancy car pulls up to the Hotel de Paris and he enters. Something is clearly up, as he randomly tells Pepper to just “go with” anything that happens in the next 20 minutes. Like “Natalie” suddenly showing up to be Tony’s personal assistant.

“Natalie”: “You have a 9:30 dinner.”
Tony Stark: “Perfect. I’ll be there at 11.”

Pepper meets with a cameo of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX which, despite its awesomely sci-fi name, is a real company that has a statue of Iron Man at the headquarters, complete with company ID.

The world is awesome place sometimes.
After the cameo ends, Tony and Pepper head off and run into Justin Hammer, who brought his girlfriend along. It’s Christine Everhart, from the first Iron Man. Her actress, Leslie Bibb, started dating Sam Rockwell in real life shortly after Iron Man. When the filmmakers found this out, this scene was immediately added in.

Hammer brags that she’s doing a spread on him for Vanity Fair.

Pepper: “Well, she did quite a spread on Tony last year.”
Tony Stark: “And she wrote a story, as well.”

Pepper heads to the washroom as Christine starts up some awkward questions regarding Justin, Tony, the Senate hearing, and the fact that Justin recently got his contract with the military revoked. Hammer lets it slip that he’s hoping to present something at the Stark Expo, and Stark promises him a slot as he heads to the washroom himself.  Tony takes a blood scan, and the toxicity’s up to over 50%. He looks at himself in the mirror.

Tony Stark: “Got any other bad ideas?”

"What do you, the viewers at home, think?"
We then cut to Tony Stark in a racing suit, hopping into a racecar as Justin Hammer spins a yarn to Christine about how he and Tony are the bestest buddies. True story, Tony was supposed to drive the one that was bright, Iron Man red, but Robert Downey Jr. demanded to drive the blue one. Pepper tells “Natalie” to get Happy as Christine goes off to deal with the newly developing story. The race soon begins in full force as a familiar-looking technician makes his way to the track. He steps out onto the road and activates his Arc Reactor and whips, burning the suit away. He slices a bright red car in half, thus validating RDJ’s choice to hop in the blue one. Happy arrives with an odd briefcase, and he and Pepper drive off to the track to help Tony.

Awesomeness incoming.
Speaking of Tony, he approaches turn 13, Louis Chiron, and gets the front of his car sliced off, spinning him out across the track. A pile-up takes care of the cars in back as Ivan slowly walks over to Tony.

No joke here, I just really like the look of this outfit.
Meanwhile, Pepper and Happy fumble with the brief case for a bit as they zoom across the track. Ivan slices at Tony’s car once again, but Tony managed to free himself of the wreckage and hit him with a bit of car. Ivan takes this in stride and starts with the whips some more. Tony plays possum until the last second, tricking Ivan into whipping at a gasoline leak, which sets Tony’s arm on fire, but lets him back away a little bit.

Luckily, Happy arrives to hit Ivan with the car as Pepper hands off “the football,” a nice reference to the first meeting between Happy and Tony under similar circumstances in the comics. Tony takes the briefcase and flips it open, revealing something that Iron Man fans haven’t seen since the 60’s or 70’s. The Mark V, aka the “Briefcase Armor.”

It is a play on words!
In the comics, Tony Stark’s bulky armor was actually completely flexible and could fold up and fit into a briefcase like a tuxedo. It’s a silly idea, but the film brings it back as a thinner armor made up of folding plates that slide over a metal framework. Not the big, bulky standard armor, but a better-than-nothing option. And for me, the fact that the coloring matches my favorite armor from the comics, the Silver Centurion suit, just drives the point home.

Look at this beautiful thing.
The Mark V is my favorite armor in the entire film series. And it seems to be the most beloved armor in this film, seeing as how it got the privilege of being on the DVD case instead of the armor Tony uses during the final battle.

Stop! In the name of love!
Iron Man and Ivan… well, Tony’s all suited up now, so let’s call Ivan by his villain name of “Whiplash.” Iron Man and Whiplash fight. Now, you might be asking why Whiplash is lashing those whips around to the rhythm of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley. (It was played on-set to help Rourke get the rhythm down.)

I mean, we’ve seen the power of those repulsor blasts. Why not just hook the Arc Reactor up to a laser and just shoot him? As counter-intuitive as it may seem, long-range weapons are a bad idea against Tony Stark. Sure, Whiplash was targeting Tony at his most vulnerable, but he needed a back-up plan in case he had to fight an armored-up Tony. Iron Man pretty much depends on long range repulsor blasts. So Ivan designed a weapon which could grab Iron Man at mid-range and pull him in close, where the advantage would belong to Whiplash.

And that's exactly what happens.
He manages to get his whip around Tony’s neck and start strangling him. But Tony’s a smart guy. He knows that his usual tactics are useless, so he instead walks up to Whiplash and punches him in the face before ripping out the reactor powering the Whiplash suit. Ivan spits blood and laughs at Tony as the police take him to prison and still claims victory.

Ivan: “You lose, Stark!”

Back at the hotel bar, Justin Hammer’s getting some ideas….

Coming up in Part 2! Dynamos, deception, and drinking! Lots of drinking.


  1. I know we're suppose to be impressed how awesome Black Widow was when she defeated Happy, but I can help but point out they were suppose to be boxing. What Natasha did was counterpart of winning arm wrestling by headbutt.

    1. Well, I'm sure Tony would call it "mixed-martial arts," as he was doing something similar a minute earlier, but that's a good point. In fact, it's kind of a plot point.

      Not only does it foreshadow that she's not all she appears to be, it's indicative of her character. She fights dirty, and she fights to WIN. Like when Indiana Jones shot that sword guy.

      However, it does paint a picture of her as someone who isn't willing to take a hit to keep her cover....