Iron Man 2 ending explained: Caught between a hammer and the Avengers

Caught between The Avengers Initiative and a thunderous hammer, what does Iron Man 2's ending and post-credits scene really mean?
Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 (2010). Image courtesy Marvel Studios
Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 (2010). Image courtesy Marvel Studios /

It's quite the thrill-ride to revisit the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Back before it was a sure-fire titan of Hollywood, it was just a collection of Iron Man movies (and a reboot of the Incredible Hulk). But hey, in all honesty, that was still a pretty good - and successful - look for it.

Iron Man 2 was released in 2010 and it's significant for being the first direct sequel in the MCU franchise, picking the story of Tony Stark up from where 2008's Iron Man left off. It received mixed reviews, with its reputation getting worse over the decade after that as fans deemed it one of the MCU's worst movies (although the past five years have been kinder to it, as more are starting to realize it wasn't so bad after all).

If you have just recently decided to revisit this one, or you simply can't remember how it ended, let's jump into all of the major events that went down in the action flick's closing moments and reflect on what it all meant (and where it all leads).

The Iron Man 2 post-credits scene is a teaser for Thor

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in the process of perfecting the art of post-credits scenes, and after a pretty epic teaser of "The Avengers Initiative" in Iron Man, now was the time to start building towards that larger universe Nick Fury was speaking of. In fact, I dare say the post-credits scene of Iron Man 2 is the one thing that the film did better than its predecessor.

Agent Coulson, who had appeared earlier in the movie, had been reassigned to a mission in New Mexico. After the credits rolled, we got to see a glimpse of that mission, as he travelled towards a huge crater in the Earth. There, he saw a group of people surrounding it. Telling Nick Fury that he had found what he was looking for, the camera panned down into the crater to showcase Thor's hammer - and with that, a loud rattle of thunder can be heard as the screen cuts to black.

Thor, Iron Man 2 post-credits scene
Clark Gregg in Thor (2011) © 2011 - Paramount Pictures /

This is a perfect example of how the MCU could craft a post-credits scene to lead directly into its next installment, because yes, this brief-but-effective scene was a teaser for Thor, which was set for release the next year. And when you have a movie the scale of Iron Man 2 (that went on to gross $623.9 million at the box office), promoting the next installment within it is nothing short of genius.

Thor came out in 2011 and starred Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder. The film revolves around how Thor himself is cast out of Asgard by his father Odin, with both he and his hammer landing in New Mexico. In fact, the Iron Man 2 post-credits scene is recreated in the film, as Coulson turns up and helps SHIELD secure the perimeter in a bid to figure out what the hammer actually is - and where it came from.

Needless to say, this scene received an incredibly positive response from fans in the movie theaters; which it should, because it was a huge deal. Up until that point, the Marvel Studios franchise had remained firmly planted on Earth, so the tease of Thor suggested we were finally going to a different realm in the MCU's next installment. Furthermore, it was also an exciting step on the road towards The Avengers.

Tony is a consultant for The Avengers (but not for long)

Tony Stark's reckless behavior in Iron Man 2 might have been fuelled by what he thought was his own impending death, but that did make SHIELD director Nick Fury question whether he was the right fit for The Avengers Initiative. That's why Black Widow was shadowing him throughout the movie, as she infiltrated his team to keep an eye on him and report back to Fury about Stark's behavior.

Iron Man 2, The Avengers
Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man 2 (2010). Image courtesy Marvel Studios /

Natasha Romanoff's report revealed that Tony was an unpredictable narcissist, meaning that he was a bit of a risk to be directly involved in The Avengers Initiative. With that, Fury told him he would offer him the role of a consultant instead. And that makes sense; because Stark Industries is too powerful a resource not to have on-board at all - something Fury knows about all too well given his close relationship with Tony's father Howard.

This was something of a step backwards from the post-credits scene of the first iron Man movie, as that one suggested that Tony would be the first hero to join The Avengers, but his behavior in this film cost him that opportunity. Or at least it did... until a literal alien invasion forces Fury's hand, and Iron Man joins the newly-established team of heroes in The Avengers.

Iron Man 2 was succeeded by both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, which then paved the way for The Avengers, as Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, and Hawkeye all united to stop a threat that was quite literally out of this world. If you want more Iron Man, be sure to check that one out before Iron Man 3.

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