Fourteen years after breaking through the zeitgeist, there are still many entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I’ve never seen. Now that I have a brand new 65-inch UHD television in my living room, I thought it might be time to change that.

It’s our third entry in these rankings and we get our first sequel! It’s also the second film on this list I hadn’t seen yet.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screenplay by Justin Theroux
Release Date: April 26, 2010

With Tony Stark now established as the MCU’s pre-eminent billionaire playboy/industrialist and superhero after the first film, the sequel revisits him and answers the question of what the United States government would do with someone like Iron Man. Because the government – or whatever establishment runs that particular hero’s life – is almost always the bad guy in Marvel movies, the answer is clear: they want the Iron Man suit for themselves and they’ll do whatever they can to get Tony Stark to stand down and hand it over.

But Stark, an unrepentant egomaniac, was never going to let that happen.

His refusal to hand the suit over is just one of the struggles Stark must endure in the MCU’s first sequel. He also has an angry Russian teaming up with a rival CEO to try and take him down. What’s worse, the element he uses to power the Iron Man suit – and keep him alive – is poisoning and killing him.

Iron Man 2 is pretty standard sequel fare. Our now-established hero must overcome increasingly difficult odds to prove himself to be the hero. But the Marvel Studios storytelling formula does an admirable job of keeping the sequel’s quality high as they move closer to assembling a superteam, even if we haven’t met most of them yet.

The most immediate threats to Stark come from Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival tech bro CEO who wants the government contracts that Stark has, along with the money and power that brings, teaming up with Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian scientist who is looking for revenge for the death of his father, which he blames Howard Stark for. After Vanko attacks Stark while he’s racing the Grand Prix in Monaco, Hammer gets him out of prison and gives him the resources he needs to build Iron Man-like suits to take Stark out and then sell them to the U.S. government.

Rockwell and Rourke make a fun pairing as Stark’s antagonists here. Rockwell’s Hammer is a perfect encapsulation of the

On the government front, Sen. Stern (Gary Shandling) works with the military to send Stark’s friend Col. James Rhodes to get the suit. While Stern is clearly an antagonist here, even without knowing what we know from later Captain America movies, he has a point when you consider how erratic Stark can be.

Throw in an expanded role for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s MCU debut as Natasha Romanov, keeping an eye on and helping Stark from behind the scenes, and you have a lot of plot for a film that clocks in at just more than 2 hours, including credits. But it all flows pretty well, especially after you have an idea of where everything is headed.

Seeing how well Johansson integrated into the MCU here makes it all the more shocking that it took Marvel 10 years to get a starring vehicle for Romanov, instead of just tacking her on to a bunch of other films. Romanov is easily one of the most intriguing parts of Iron Man 2, and the character was played by one of the most popular actors in the world. A Black Widow film should have been a slam dunk, either in the build-up to Avengers or as one of the first films after the team-up. It’s unbelievable it took them so long to make that film.

Ranking the MCU

Iron Man 2 was a pleasant surprise, as I was a little hesitant about how well the sequel would hold up. I still think the first film is better, but it’s actually pretty close.

  2. IRON MAN 2

Next up, we move to a new corner of the fledgling MCU and visit Asgard.