With Iron Man being a huge success in 2008, Marvel Studios immediately began working on its first sequel, Iron Man 2. Director John Favreau returned to also direct the sequel, intending to eventually build a trilogy for Tony Stark. From the start, he hoped to eventually build up to The Mandarin to be the main villain in the third movie, but quickly decided on Stane being the first movie’s villain. He felt that The Mandarin would be too fantastical to be in the early days of the MCU. By the sound of that, it’s not hard to imagine that if Favreau directed Iron Man 3, he wouldn’t have included the controversial plot twist with The Mandarin, but we’ll get to that.
During the development of the movie, Favreau openly spoke about how Iron Man 2 would explore Stark’s alcoholism, but it wouldn’t be as intensive as “Demon in a Bottle” from the comics. It would instead continue Iron Man’s origin story, kind of taking place between that and the “Demon” story arc. Lethal Weapon 1 and 2 director Shane Black suggested to both Favreau and Robert Downey jr. that they modeled Stark’s addiction problems on J. Robert Oppenheimer, who became depressed after working on the Manhattan Project.
Pre-production for Iron Man 2 began immediately after the first film’s release. The same month that Favreau signed on to direct the sequel, Justin Theroux signed to write the script, after Downey recommended him after working with the writer on Tropic Thunder. That made for a much smoother screenwriting process than the first movie, where nobody wanted to write it and it ended up being largely improvised on set.
Although most of the original cast returns, Terrance Howard didn’t return to portray James Rhodes. The reasoning is a bit confusing, but it seems to be a combination of Favreau not enjoying working with Howard, and that Howard received the biggest paycheck out of the entire cast in the first movie. In October of 2008, Don Cheadle was hired to replace Howard. While I don’t think that Howard did a bad job in the role by any means, I kind of prefer Cheadle’s performance.
Emily Blunt was initially in talks to portray Black Widow, but was unable to take the role due to a scheduling conflict with Gulliver’s Travels. Blunt’s been interested in appearing in the MCU for a while, but scheduling conflicts keep seeming to pop up. I also remember rumors that she’d portray Captain Marvel, but that’s clearly not happening. Instead, Scarlett Johansson was signed on as the SHIELD superspy, and she’s done a good job in the role. Samuel L. Jackson also almost didn’t return as Nick Fury due to contract disputes making things difficult. Thankfully he and Marvel didn’t only come to an agreement, but Jackson signed to play the character in up to nine films. As far as I can tell, those 9 films aren’t quite done yet.
Filming began in April of 2009, with most of the filming taking place in the LA area. They nearly filmed one scene in the middle of the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix in France, but permission fell through late, so they filmed the racecar scene at a later date with only one car, digitally adding in the rest in post-production. They filmed that scene, and others, at Downey Studios. It’s worth noting that Iron Man 2 was the last released movie filmed there, before they tore down the studio to build a shopping center in its place. I cannot confirm whether it was the last movie filmed there or not. But I can say that other things filmed there included the British Top Gear TV series, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Cloverfield and, uh … Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Possibly the most impressive in-movie location is the Stark Expo, which was filmed in several locations. The main one being at the Sepulveda Dam with a giant green screen, with some shots filmed in an area high school or simply added digitally. The green screen was constructed using hundreds of stacked shipping containers, covered in plywood and plaster, then painted green.
Industrial Light & Magic worked on most of Iron Man 2’s visual effects, creating 527 digital shots for the film. Also like the first movie, Iron Man 2’s soundtrack is largely metal inspired, with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine performing most of the guitar bits.
Iron Man 2 turned out to be another big success for Marvel Studios, earning the fifth highest opening weekend in history at that point, only behind The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and ugh, Twilight: New Moon. It also enjoyed the highest opening weekend for a 2D IMAX film with $9.8 million, surpassing Star Trek’s previous record of $8.5 million. With its total worldwide earnings at $623 million, it was the third highest grossing movie of 2008, behind Toy Story 3 and Alice In Wonderland.
On the downside, critics weren’t as positive about Iron Man 2 as they were about the first. It earned a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.5/10. Roger Ebert gave it a 3 out of 4, saying “Iron Man 2 is a polished, high-octane sequel, not as good as the original but building once again on a quirky performance by Robert Downey Jr.” The Hollywood Reporter went as far as to say that everything great about Iron Man was gone, replaced with a confusing story, irrelevant stunts and misguided plot directions.
I wouldn’t go nearly as far as The Hollywood Reporter, but Iron Man 2 isn’t as good as the first. Sure, exploring Tony’s personal issues on a deeper level works very well. Sure, digging more into the sometimes rocky friendship between Stark and Rhodes does add more to the movie’s emotional core, not to mention that unveiling War Machine in the climax is awesome. It’s also true that Iron Man 2 works better as an action movie than the first. But the story is a bit overcomplicated. There’s the Stark Expo subplot, there’s Tony dealing with how his suit’s source of power is slowly killing him, and how he’s giving away all of his stuff as if he’s preparing to die. There’s the introduction of Black Widow in a movie that leaves no room to explore her as a character. There’s a subplot with Stark’s corporate rival, Justin Hammer.
And of course there’s Whiplash, who is a bit of an obscure villain in the comics, serving as the main villain. If you removed one or two of these elements, the movie would probably be a much more cohesive hole. Perhaps they could have removed the Stark Expo. Instead of Whiplash, they probably should have gone with the more famous Crimson Dynamo, especially since Ivan Vanko in this movie is kind of a combination of both villains.
But despite all of this movie’s faults, it’s still an entertaining watch. Downey is still fantastic in his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, while showing even more venerability than the first movie. Black Widow’s one true action scene is awesome. It’s a visually impressive movie, even earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects (Inception deservedly won that year). It’s also the movie that sets up Avengers more than any other, even if that’s one of Iron Man 2’s faults. I would still recommend this movie to those who somehow haven’t seen it, just don’t expect it to be as good as Iron Man 1.
Next up is Thor, followed by Captain America: The First Avenger. After that, it’s the movie that we all had trouble believing to be even possible, The Avengers.