MCU Sequels: How do they stack up against their original films?

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Credit: Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures; from Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2

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The first sequel in a franchise can sometimes be tricky since the studio and filmmakers need to avoid repetition without losing the primary ingredients of the original; a reason that audiences are likely to return for a second helping. A sequel is also inevitably compared against its predecessor, which was not particularly beneficial for Iron Man 2.

The MCU’s first film made a huge impression on audiences and critics, so the Iron Man follow-up had high standards to live up to. Going into Iron Man 2, it was a good sign that Jon Favreau would again be at the helm, then there was Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell signing on for villainous roles, Scarlett Johansson making her Black Widow debut, and Samuel L. Jackson on board for more than just a cameo. Despite these elements, Iron Man 2 could not reach the original’s heights.

Looking at some of the components piece by piece, there really is plenty to admire about Iron Man 2. Vanko confronting Stark at the Monaco racetrack was electrifying, even if the other Whiplash sightings were less than stimulating. On the other hand, every second that Sam Rockwell was on screen was filled with unbridled enthusiasm; he played Justin Hammer as a corrupt, unpleasantly conceited foil to Tony Stark.

Also, as previously mentioned, this was Black Widow’s coming out party. Who doesn’t love the scene where the lethal SHIELD agent takes out a pile of thugs while Happy is trading punches with one guy?

Don Cheadle comfortably fit into the War Machine’s armor, taking over for Terrence Howard with minimal distractions. Iron Man and War Machine flying side by side was such an exciting occasion and foreshadowed the many MCU superhero partnerships to come.

Foreshadowing future events is a common complaint about Iron Man 2, however that never bothered me too much. Maybe Fury and Coulson were tasked with setting the table for the main course, but in the process they were developing their characters and forming relationships. Think about Pepper and Rhodey, who were vital in Iron Man 2 yet the former had a small role in The Avengers while the latter did not appear at all – clearly they weren’t stepping stones that led to a larger film.

The sequel was not a failure; if anything it failed to meet expectations. The writing was not as sharp and focused as Iron Man and the main villain was two-dimensional. It lacked the sense of wonder and elation that Iron Man spontaneously discharged at a time when no one knew how good an Iron Man movie could possibly be.

Robert Downey Jr. was just as magnetic and shot out his lines with similar wit and wiliness, but the sequel didn’t afford him the same amount of freedom to completely unleash his ultimate Stark-ness. Between the screenplay and the editing, Downey Jr’s overall presence was chipped away slightly too much.

Iron Man 2 is not the best #2 in the MCU, however it is an entertaining sequel that I will always enjoy watching.