It’s been something of a glaring weak spot in the MCU series to date, this weird and not entirely coherent nugget of poor decisions that gave the series a stumbling start into it’s long culture-dominating run. There wasn’t great uproar at the kit-bashed villain Ivan Vanko, who combined Crimson Dynamo with Whiplash to create… well whiplash with a different alter-ego, but there was definitely something lost in the rushed heap of Avengers seeds and hastily put-together plot that made for a pretty disappointing experience when held up against the rest of the series.
I’ve had some ideas on how the film might have been done differently, I also read this article by ScreenRant, turns out we agree on a few things, but here I get a little more specific.
Act 1 – Iron Under Pressure
Let’s kick off in a very similar fashion, Tony Stark is depositioned, we get a look at the Iron-Man rivals around the world shortly before an assassination attempt in Monacco by a vengeful Ivan Vanko, let’s even keep the whiplash rig as-is. Remove the Stark-Expo, we already know that Justin Hammer is an idiot who can barely match Stark tech, and the Monacco scene is all we need to set up Tony’s obsession with the limelight and self-destructive tendencies. Let’s instead have Tony putting down a few of the Iron-Fakes, despite his bravado, and still trying to act as world-police as a one man band.
As he works more and more, he stresses himself to the point of self-destruction, turning to the booze (which is a story that is woefully underplayed in IM2), causing him to drive away the two people who actually care about him. Maybe tie the alcoholism to the increasing power-core issue rather than giving him two problems at once and skipping over the “new element” scene later… I digress. Peppa takes control of the company to give him one less thing to stress about, an act of care and consideration while the stresses between them mount ever higher.
We end with Ivan being deported, as he would have been from the start, rather than being pulled out of prison by Hammer.
Act 2 – An Arms Race
Vanko is Russia is a monumental problem for Stark. Imagine a Mandarin style propaganda piece in which we see Vanko building the Crimson Dynamo, an honest rival to the Iron Man suit, lending yet more credence to Rhodey’s comment: “You said that nobody could possess this technology in 20 years – guess what, someone else had it yesterday!” ramping up the pressure, driving Tony to greater heights of self destruction and zealotry, attacking Russia directly and nearly causing an international incident! It gives the US government all the justification it needs to authorise Rhodey to confiscate a heap of suits.
Oh and by the way, who do we see stood side by side with Vanko? One agent Romanov. Let’s play the Red In The Ledger card, shall we? We have our doubts about Natasha Romanov from later films, but her role in Iron Man 2 means we basically trust her implicitly, removing a lot of the wonderful ambiguity of the character. If she works with Vanko and the Russians and then later turns out to be a SHIELD agent feeding information back to Director Fury, she’s set up as the far more interesting character we get to know in later films. That, and she’d be far more useful than she is on an extended psych eval on Stark.
Throw in a fight with the Crimson Dynamo, and if you must seed the film with Avengers tie-ins, maybe allude to a HYDRA involvement in Russia’s efforts to compete. Here is where you introduce the notion of Howard Stark and Anton Vanko – perhaps even a Hank Pymm name-drop – as an MCU Manhattan parallel, and rather than the oddly contrived “new element” torch passing scene, perhaps instead we can allow Tony to see his father as just another version of himself, grimly determined, a little haphazard, hugely self centred, and bearing the weight of responsibility of his own creations.
Iron Man 1 worked well as a critique of America’s involvement in the Middle East, why not play to the very obvious Cold War references that were abandoned from the comics? Instead we currently have a story about yet more American industrialists meddling in the affairs of nations and international warfare.
Act 3 – Grudge Match
Having resolved his daddy issues for now, and after a sincere but as ever fumbled attempt to reconcile with Pepper, Tony approaches Rhodey asking for help taking on Vanko, who Tony now knows – courtesy of some hastily delivered intel from Romanov – is out for personal revenge rather than international dominance. He has gone rogue from HYDRA/Russia, whichever we choose, has a host of remote control Dynamo units, and his own Whiplash rig, and has returned to the US.
As part of the grand finale, Tony realises he can’t work alone, must learn to play well with others – behold, the exact Avengers tie-in you were working on the whole time!
The US military in their newly acquired and badly Hammer-modded Iron Man suits are taken apart by Dynamo units and Vanko in his Whiplash rig (which I feel should stay small and light, it looked way better than the weird whip-tank thing). All this lacks is a formative location, in the absence of the Stark Expo there’s no place of suitable significance to host the fight, but that never got in the way of Iron Man 3, I’m sure we can find somewhere that is neither a busy highway or a cargo ship to have an epic showdown.
I’d gladly take feedback on this one. I think there are plenty of improvements that could be made to this film, there are plenty of reasons to love Iron Man 2, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little hindsight discussion.
Reintroducing a little cold war legacy to Vanko is a lot more true-to-character than the kitbash of Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, and more in keeping with the finger-pointing lessons of the first and third Iron Man films. Ok, these are titanic all-consuming blockbusters, but we can still include some artistic story-work, and I think we lost a lot of that in the making of this hasty sequel.