Review: Iron Man 2 in 4K, the Most ‘DC’ of the Marvel Movies

Paramount’s Iron Man 2 is not a movie Disney or Marvel would likely make today. Indeed, tonally it’s not just the most “DC” installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I suspect it actually gave the DC movies some ideas. (Whiplash, for example, was the first supervillain to be re-conceived with metal teeth and prison tats.) It leans the hardest into Tony Stark’s alcoholism and narcissism – an alternate intro opens on him vomiting into a toilet. And it’s more than a little subversive, with Tony coming off as a real-world James Bond type whose ego and carousing actually have real-world, nasty consequences. Could this be why it consistently rates in the bottom three of most MCU rankings?

It’s a little bit that, and a little bit third-act narrative choices. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) starts off as a formidable villain, but during the final fight he’s utterly generic and none of his issues are resolved. Rival arms dealer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, more annoying than I remember) is defeated by Pepper Potts rather than Tony. Rhodey siding with the military against Tony could use more fleshing out. And fans who’d been teased with the Avengers at the end of the first Iron Man were impatient that the second film never gets to them.

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With that said, movies that feel like they’re treading water at the time sometimes look better in retrospect. If the payoff happens in later movies, an exposition installment has more reason to exist. (Time has vastly improved Avengers: Age of Ultron.) And Iron Man 2 introduces the War Machine suit, Black Widow, and at the very end, Mjolnir. It also establishes Tony as a guy who genuinely needs the redemption he’ll ultimately earn some 20 movies later. The immediate resolution is rushed, but the film overall is likely better than you remember.

Iron Man 2

The daddy issues get their ultimate payoff in Avengers: Endgame. Meanwhile, its arc of a high-energy nerd tycoon pitting superhero friends against each other before unleashing a beast on them both is a more streamlined Batman V. Superman. It even gives them a new female super-ally, although it took over a decade to get her a solo film. This isn’t a film your collection can skip, unlike The Incredible Hulk.

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Now on 4K, the upgrade film has lost most of its grain, and flesh tones occasionally look strange as a result, going from overly saturated to washed-out. The night fights play spectacularly clearly, while some of the CG appears more obvious than it once did. The Black Widow and Happy Hogan hallway scenes near the end suffer from stutter-vision that isn’t improved in the same way Infinity War‘s similar fights were in 4K. I suspect Scarlett Johansson was simply newer to action back then, and Favreau not as battle-ready, so the editing over-compensated. It’s the only fight in the movie like that. Digital compositions are as seamless as ever, as Favreau’s original commentary proves. In it, he points out every single continuity error or gaffe; that you’d never notice them otherwise attests to his storytelling skill.

The Blu-ray disc retains the commentary and the SHIELD pop-op modes of viewing, but Iron Man 2 was originally a two-disc Blu-ray like its predecessor, and all of those second-disc extras are gone. A few show up on the digital copy, like some deleted scenes and two featurettes. But for completists, this is a step down. The 4K looks better than the standard Blu-ray, so if the movie is what matters, fine.  If you already have the Blu-ray, maybe hold off on an upgrade. I’m not sure if its a rights issue with Paramount, or Marvel holding off for a rumored box set. I have never owned Iron Man 2 before, so I’m happy to have this one.

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Iron Man 2 was the last Marvel movie to even pretend to take place in the “real world.” As such, it deals with more grounded issues, like a Trumpian rabble-rousing populist taking on the stodgy old government (for better or worse), and the defense industry versus individual liberty. It didn’t yet have Captain America to polarize the debate properly, and Rhodey isn’t the same level of foil. But the seeds are here for all that is to come…before Thor and Loki would arrive and make everything cosmically crazy.