Making Iron Man 2 Was as Messy as the Finished Film

Iron Man 2 is one of the least-loved MCU movies, and the film's troubled production may be the reason.

War Machine in Marvel's Iron Man 2
Photo: Marvel Studios

Perhaps the least surprising announcement coming out of CinemaCon was the revelation that Kevin Feige and others have gathered at a retreat to plan out the next 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under Feige’s direction, the MCU has developed a reputation for order that mirrors its comic book predecessor. Characters and plot points introduced in one film do not reach their end their conclusion until several movies later.

But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 2000s, the fledging Marvel Studios was still scrambling to establish itself. No movie better encapsulates that scramble than 2010’s Iron Man 2. Although financially successful, the movie disappointed fans with its slapdash script and lack of focus. According to an insider speaking with Vulture, the messy movie fans saw on screen reflected the frantic process of making Iron Man 2.

Greenlit just days after Iron Man opened to raves from critics and moviegoers, Iron Man 2 initially planned to continue the adventures of Tony Stark by adopting the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline from 1979’s Invincible Iron Man # 120-129. But screenwriter Justin Theroux, star of films such as Mulholland Drive and writer of the comedy Tropic Thunder, quickly did away with that plot for something that better suited the upbeat tone of the first movie. The result is a movie that repeats the Tony Stark hubris of Iron Man, but grounds it in the less compelling problem of blood poisoning from the arc reactor in his chest.

According to Vulture, the biggest problem with Iron Man 2’s production comes down to the “triangle of power” that made the first movie such a hit. Today, we think of Feige as the undisputed boss of the MCU. But during the making of the first movie, “[director Jon] Favreau, Feige, and Downey … were equal partners.”

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That dynamic came unmoored while filming Iron Man 2, because while “Marvel could succeed” without Feige or Favreau, “[t]hey could not succeed without Downey.” With this clout, Downey not only secured Theroux’s writer job and Mickey Rourke as the villain (in part by meeting the rest of the fellow troubled actors’ salary demands out of his own pay), but also insisted on an improvisation-heavy approach.

With Downey trying to be loose, and Feige and Favreau forced to play along, the set remained chaotic and the movie unfocused. Theroux had to stay on-set to rewrite the movie on the fly, resulting in stress that “manifested with him in his body,” says Vulture’s insider. The source reports that Theroux had to finish the work from bed, although the writer’s representative insists, “[h]e did not have back pain from production or ‘rushing.’”

For most fans, that frantic movie making process is visible on-screen, making Iron Man 2 one of their least favorite MCU entries. But the movie continues to have a lasting legacy, if only for the fact that the studio no longer has a “triangle of power.” Feige remains in charge of the franchise. And if Iron Man 2 is any indication, that’s a good thing.