With Disney+ going live in recent weeks, many are revisiting the Marvel classics (or at least this reviewer is). The MCU kicked off thanks to Iron Man aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his story came to a heart-breaking finale in last year's 'Avengers: Endgame' (do I really need to put a spoiler warning?). Before that Tony had his three solo outings with the first 'Iron Man' in 2008, 'Iron Man 2' a couple of years later, and 'Iron Man 3' in 2013. When you watch them as a trilogy (even with 'The Avengers' and other Marvel movies in between), they make for a solid series. But is there one that stands out as the best?
With 'Iron Man 2' recently turning a decade old, one gets to thinking if it is, as many fans would have it, the best solo outing for Stark. Mind you, others would say the first is the best movie and as far as superhero origin stories go, it's a strong one.
Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark is note-perfect as he presents the character as a fully fledged, war profiteering business magnate and inventor. He adores the glamour of his celebrity status, a quality which never really changes. He justifies his military funding through a manipulated sense of morality, but his journey in 'Iron Man' - being kidnapped, seeing the horrors of war first-hand and becoming a hero - change him. Stark also begins to reconsider his playboy ways as he teases the idea of a romantic relationship with Pepper.
'Iron Man' is a beginning, not a culmination. It has its flaws, chief among them bad guy Obadiah Stane (played by a miscast Jeff Bridges), probably the weakest antagonist of the series. It also has some great action sequences that still really hold up, most notably the mid-air sequence in which he's attacked by two fighter jets. But for 'Iron Man 2', everything, including the character development and the action (heck, even the soundtrack) would be kicked up a notch by Jon Favreau (who directed both '1' and '2' as well as playing Happy Hogan for Marvel).
First off, 'Iron Man 2' has the best villain, even if Mickey Rooney's Ivan Vanko is leaning somewhat into a Jack Sparrow aesthetic. It's also a little over-reliant on that east versus west, America vesrus Russia dichotomy. Still, there's something deliciously classic Hollywood about the rivalry. Moreover, Rooney is great in the part and brings an intriguing depth and complexity to the character (as well as, humour - "I want my bird").
As a lead up to 'The Avengers' and follow-up to 'Iron Man', the movie knows where it stands, but it also shakes off the shackles of responsibility and sincerity of its predecessor. There's a greater sense of fun and silliness compared to the first movie - it's established from the opening sequence with the women dancing in sexy Iron Man suits.
Still more elements of note in the second Stark venture is the introduction of Don Cheadle as Rhodey, and Black Widow (that hallway fight sequence remains a highlight for the character). You've got Sam Rockwell in there, as well as the only sequence in the series that really address our hero's alcoholism (it features considerably in the comics). High points also include that car race sequence and Tony and Pepper's first kiss.
Plus, lest we forget, you've got the frickin' awesome AC/DC soundtrack.
Some things never change, such as Tony's obnoxiousness. 'Iron Man 2' commences with his arguing in court that he can privatise peace (this preceding 'Civil War'). And while it's the least heavy-handed in the series, its deeper themes and explorations keep you emotionally invested. Like its previous and next chapter, it considers Tony's fascination with mortality. In this installment, the device that's keeping him alive is also killing him. '2' also considers Tony's obsession with his father's legacy. In many ways then, it is the most satisfying of the three 'Iron Man' movies, which is enough, arguably, to consider it the best.
Lastly we look at 'Iron Man 3, which opens with Tony suffering from PTSD after the events of 'The Avengers'. Of course, the man is no stranger to being vulnerable in the series. Still, your heart pours out for him more than ever. While Guy Pearse gives a highly commendable performance and makes for a great villain, and you've got some great action scenes such as the attack on Tony's house, the flaws of take three are too numerous to ignore.
Aside from the Mandarin being a major let-down for fans, you've also got Rebecca Ferguson's character being essentially pointless (reportedly her character was originally meant to be more significant but got whittled down). The bad guys' storyline is just a bit too sci fi and wanky. More annoying still is Shane Black reeeeally trying to make 'Iron Man 3' a Christmas movie (having made such alt Xmas flicks as 'Lethal Weapon' and 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang').
There's a bit too much waffle to get to that finale which is, I'll grant you, spectacular. Problematic though it is, it's a good, fitting finale to the trilogy, without being the ending to Tony's story, which would come with 'Endgame'.
So there you have it, we too regard 'Iron Man 2' as the best in the series. Let us know which is your favourite and why in the comments.