In Russia, the media covers Tony Stark's disclosure of his identity as Iron Man. Ivan Vanko, whose father Anton Vanko has just died, sees this and begins building a miniature arc reactor similar to Stark's. Six months later, Stark is a superstar and uses his Iron Man suit for peaceful means, resisting government pressure to sell his designs. He reinstitutes the Stark Expo to continue his father Howard's legacy.
The palladium core in the arc reactor that keeps Stark alive and powers the armor is slowly poisoning him, and he cannot find a substitute. Growing increasingly reckless and despondent about his impending death, and choosing not to tell anyone about his condition, Stark appoints his personal assistant Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries, and hires Stark employee Natalie Rushman to replace her as his personal assistant. Stark competes in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, where he is attacked in the middle of the race by Vanko, who wields electrified whips. Stark dons his Mark V armor and defeats Vanko, but the suit is severely damaged. Vanko explains his intention was to prove to the world that Iron Man is not invincible. Impressed by Vanko's performance, Stark's rival, Justin Hammer, fakes Vanko's death while breaking him out of prison and asks him to build a line of armored suits to upstage Stark. During what he believes is his final birthday party, Stark gets drunk while wearing the Mark IV suit. Disgusted, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes dons Stark's Mark II prototype armor and tries to restrain him. The fight ends in a stalemate, so Rhodes confiscates the Mark II for the U.S. Air Force.
Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., approaches Stark, revealing "Rushman" to be Agent Natasha Romanoff and that Howard Stark was a S.H.I.E.L.D. founder whom Fury knew personally. Fury explains that Vanko's father jointly invented the arc reactor with Stark, but when Anton tried to sell it for profit, Stark had him deported. The Soviets sent Anton to the gulag. Fury gives Stark some of his father's old material; a hidden message in the diorama of the 1974 Stark Expo proves to be a diagram of the structure of a new element. With the aid of his computer J.A.R.V.I.S., Stark synthesizes it. When he learns Vanko is still alive, he places the new element in his arc reactor and ends his palladium dependency.
At the Expo, Hammer unveils Vanko's armored drones, led by Rhodes in a heavily weaponized version of the Mark II armor. Stark arrives in the Mark VI armor to warn Rhodes, but Vanko remotely takes control of both the drones and Rhodes' armor and attacks Iron Man. Hammer is arrested while Romanoff and Stark's bodyguard Happy Hogan go after Vanko at Hammer's factory. Vanko escapes, but Romanoff returns control of the Mark II armor to Rhodes. Stark and Rhodes together defeat Vanko and his drones. Vanko seemingly commits suicide by blowing up his suit.
At a debriefing, Fury informs Stark that because of Stark's difficult personality, S.H.I.E.L.D. intends to use him only as a consultant. Stark and Rhodes receive medals for their heroism.
In a post-credits scene, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson reports the discovery of a large hammer at the bottom of a crater in a desert in New Mexico.Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man:
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts:
Don Cheadle as James "Rhodey" Rhodes:
Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff:
Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer:
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko:
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury:
The director, Jon Favreau, reprises his role as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's bodyguard and chauffeur, while Clark Gregg and Leslie Bibb reprise their roles as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and reporter Christine Everhart, respectively. John Slattery appears as Tony's father Howard Stark and Garry Shandling appears as United States Senator Stern, who wants Stark to give Iron Man's armor to the government. Favreau stated that Shandling's character was named after radio personality Howard Stern. Paul Bettany again voices Stark's computer, J.A.R.V.I.S. Olivia Munn has a small role as Chess Roberts, a reporter covering the Stark expo, Kate Mara portrays a U.S. Marshal who summons Tony to the government hearing, and Stan Lee appears as himself (but is mistaken for Larry King).
Additionally, news anchor Christiane Amanpour and political commentator Bill O'Reilly play themselves in newscasts. Adam Goldstein appears as himself and the film is dedicated to his memory. Further cameos include Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison. Favreau's son Max appears as a child wearing an Iron Man mask who Stark saves from a drone. This was retroactively made the introduction of a young Peter Parker to the MCU, as confirmed in June 2017 by eventual Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, Feige and Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts.
Jon Favreau said it was originally his intent to create a film trilogy for Iron Man, with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) becoming Iron Monger during the sequels. After a meeting between Favreau and various comic book writers, including Mark Millar, Stane became the main villain in Iron Man. Millar argued the Mandarin, whom Favreau originally intended to fill that role, was too fantastical. Favreau concurred, deciding, "I look at Mandarin more like how in Star Wars you had the Emperor, but Darth Vader is the guy you want to see fight. Then you work your way to the time when lightning bolts are shooting out of the fingers and all that stuff could happen. But you can't have what happened in Return of the Jedi happen in A New Hope. You just can't do it." Favreau also discussed in interviews how the films' version of Mandarin "allows us to incorporate the whole pantheon of villains". He mentioned that S.H.I.E.L.D. will continue to have a major role.
During development, Favreau said the film would explore Stark's alcoholism, but it would not be "the 'Demon in a Bottle' version". While promoting the first film, Downey stated that Stark would probably develop a drinking problem as he is unable to cope with his age, the effects of revealing he is Iron Man, and Pepper getting a boyfriend. Downey later clarified that the film was not a strict adaptation of the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline from the comic book series, but was instead about the "interim space" between the origin and the "Demon" story arc. Shane Black gave some advice on the script, and suggested to Favreau and Downey that they model Stark on J. Robert Oppenheimer, who became depressed with being "the destroyer of worlds" after working on the Manhattan Project.
Immediately following Iron Man's release, Marvel Studios announced that they were developing a sequel, with an intended release date of April 30, 2010. In July 2008, after several months of negotiating, Favreau officially signed on to direct. That same month Justin Theroux signed to write the script, which would be based on a story written by Favreau and Downey. Theroux co-wrote Tropic Thunder, which Downey had starred in, and Downey recommended him to Marvel. Genndy Tartakovsky storyboarded the film, and Adi Granov returned to supervise the designs for Iron Man's armor.
In October 2008, Marvel Studios came to an agreement to film Iron Man 2, as well as their next three films, at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, California. A few days later, Don Cheadle was hired to replace Terrence Howard. On being replaced, Howard stated, "There was no explanation, apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren't worth the paper that they're printed on sometimes. Promises aren't kept, and good faith negotiations aren't always held up." Entertainment Weekly stated Favreau did not enjoy working with Howard, often re-shooting and cutting his scenes; Howard's publicist said he had a good experience playing the part, while Marvel chose not to comment. As Favreau and Theroux chose to reduce the role, Marvel came to Howard to discuss lowering his salary – Howard was the first actor hired in Iron Man and was paid the largest salary. The publication stated they were unsure whether Howard's representatives left the project first or if Marvel chose to stop negotiating. Theroux denied the part of the report which claimed the size of the role had fluctuated. In November 2013, Howard stated that, going into the film, the studio offered him far less than was in his three-picture contract, claiming they told him the second will be successful, "with or without you," and, without mentioning him by name, said Downey "took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out."
In January 2009, Rourke and Rockwell entered negotiations to play a pair of villains. A few days later, Rockwell confirmed he would take the role, and that his character would be Justin Hammer. Paul Bettany confirmed that he would be returning to voice J.A.R.V.I.S. Marvel entered into early talks with Emily Blunt to play the Black Widow, though she was unable to take the role due to a previous commitment to star in Gulliver's Travels. Samuel L. Jackson confirmed that he had been in discussions to reprise the role of Nick Fury from the first film's post-credits scene, but that contract disputes were making a deal difficult. Jackson claimed that "There was a huge kind of negotiation that broke down. I don't know. Maybe I won't be Nick Fury."
In February, Jackson and Marvel came to terms, and he was signed to play the character in up to nine films. Downey and Rourke discussed his part during a roundtable discussion with David Ansen at the 2009 Golden Globes, and Rourke met with Favreau and Theroux to discuss the role. Rourke almost dropped out due to Marvel's initial salary offer of $250,000, but the studio raised the offer, and in March Rourke signed on. Later that same day Scarlett Johansson signed on to play the Black Widow. Her deal included options for multiple films, including potentially The Avengers. In April, Garry Shandling, Clark Gregg, and Kate Mara joined the cast.
Principal photography began April 6, 2009, at the Pasadena Masonic Temple, with the working title Rasputin. The bulk of the production took place at Raleigh Studios, though other locations were also used. Scenes were filmed at Edwards Air Force Base from May 11 through May 13. The location had also been used for Iron Man, and Favreau stated that he felt the "real military assets make the movie more authentic and the topography and the beauty of the desert and flightline open the movie up". The Historic Grand Prix of Monaco action sequence was shot in the parking lot of Downey Studios, with sets constructed in May and filming lasting through June. Permission to film in Monaco prior to the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix had initially been awarded, but was later retracted by Bernie Ecclestone. The filmmakers shipped one Rolls-Royce Phantom there, and filmed a track sequence in which race cars were later digitally added. Tanner Foust took on the role of driving Stark's racing car. Also in June, it was reported that John Slattery had joined the film's cast as Howard Stark. Olivia Munn was also cast, in an unspecified role.
A massive green screen was constructed at the Sepulveda Dam to film a portion of the Stark Expo exterior, with the rest either shot at an area high school or added digitally. To construct the green screen, hundreds of shipping containers were stacked, covered in plywood and plaster, and then painted green. For the conclusion of that climactic scene, which the crew dubbed the "Japanese Garden" scene, a set was built inside Sony Studios in Los Angeles. Filming lasted 71 days, and the film's production officially wrapped on July 18, 2009. A post-credits scene depicting the discovery of a large hammer was filmed on the set of Thor, and some of it was reused in the film. Jon Favreau revealed that the scene was filmed with anamorphic lenses to match Thor, and was directed by Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor.
In January 2010, IMAX Corporation, Marvel, and Paramount announced that the film would receive a limited release on digital IMAX screens. It was not shot with IMAX cameras, so it was converted into the format using the IMAX DMR technology. The film underwent reshoots in February. Olivia Munn's original role was cut, but she was given a new role during the reshoots.
Janek Sirrs was the film's visual effects supervisor, and Industrial Light & Magic again did the majority of the effects, as it did on the first film. ILM's visual effects supervisor on the film, Ben Snow, said their work on the film was "harder" than their work on the first, stating that Favreau asked more of them this time around. Snow described the process of digitally creating the suits:
On the first Iron Man, we tried to use the Legacy [Studios, Stan Winston's effects company] and Stan Winston suits as much as we could. For the second one, Jon [Favreau] was confident we could create the CG suits, and the action dictated using them. So, Legacy created what we called the "football suits" from the torso up with a chest plate and helmet. We'd usually put in some arm pieces, but not the whole arm. In the house fight sequence, where Robert Downey Jr. staggers around tipsy, we used some of the practical suit and extended it digitally. Same thing in the Randy's Donuts scene. But in the rest of the film, we used the CG suit entirely. And Double Negative did an all-digital suit for the Monaco chase.
ILM created 527 shots for the film, using programs such as Maya. Perception worked on over 125 shots for the film. They crafted gadgets, such as Tony Stark's transparent LG smartphone, and created the backdrops for the Stark Expo as well as the computer screen interfaces on the touch-screen coffee table and the holographic lab environment. In total, 11 visual effect studios worked on the film.
A soundtrack album featuring AC/DC was released by Columbia Records on April 19, 2010, in at least three different versions: basic, special and deluxe. The basic edition includes the CD; the special edition contains a 15-track CD, a 32-page booklet and a DVD featuring interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and music videos; and the deluxe includes a reproduction of one of Iron Man's first comic book appearances. Only 2 songs on the soundtrack actually appear in the movie. Although not included on the soundtrack album the film includes songs by The Average White Band, The Clash, Queen, Daft Punk, 2Pac and Beastie Boys.
The film score was released commercially as Iron Man 2: Original Motion Picture Score on July 20, 2010, featuring 25 tracks. John Debney composed the score with Tom Morello.
Iron Man 2 premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on April 26, 2010, and was released in 6,764 theaters (48 IMAX) across 54 countries between April 28 and May 7, before going into general release in the United States on May 7, 2010. In the United States, it opened at 4,380 theaters, 181 of which were IMAX. The international release date of the film was moved forward to increase interest ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup association football tournament.
At the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, a five-minute trailer for the movie was shown. Actors portraying Stark Industries recruiters handed out business cards with an invitation to apply. A website for Stark Industries went online, with an attached graphic of a "napkin memo" from Stark to Potts announcing that Stark Industries no longer made weapons. Another section featured an online application. It was confirmed that the first theatrical trailer would premiere in front of Sherlock Holmes (another Robert Downey, Jr. film). This trailer was released online on December 16, 2009. A new trailer was shown by Robert Downey, Jr. on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on March 7 after the Academy Awards. Promotional partners included Symantec, Dr Pepper, Burger King, 7 Eleven, Audi, LG Electronics and Hershey.
Author Alexander C. Irvine adapted the script into a novel, also titled Iron Man 2, that was released in April 2010. Prior to the film release, Marvel Comics released a four issue miniseries comic book titled Iron Man vs Whiplash, which introduced the film's version of Whiplash into the Marvel Universe. A three issue prequel miniseries titled Iron Man 2: Public Identity was released in April.
An Iron Man 2 video game was released by Sega on May 4, 2010 in North America, written by The Invincible Iron Man scribe Matt Fraction. The Wii version was developed by High Voltage Software and all console versions were published by Sega, while Gameloft published the mobile game. The game's Comic-Con trailer showed that the Crimson Dynamo was set to appear as a villain. Cheadle and Jackson voice their respective characters in the games. The trailer revealed that A.I.M, Roxxon Energy Corporation, and Ultimo (depicted as a man named Kearson DeWitt in a large armor) are enemies in the game as well as reveal that the wearer of the Crimson Dynamo armor is General Valentin Shatalov. The game received generally unfavorable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 41% for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
On September 28, 2010, the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The film was also collected in a 10-disc box set titled "Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled" which includes all of the Phase One films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was released on April 2, 2013.
Iron Man 2 earned $312.4 million in the United States and Canada, as well as $311.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $623.9 million. Since the film was included in a predetermined legacy distribution deal that was signed before the Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel, Paramount Pictures distributed the film and collected 8% of the box office, while the remaining portion went to Disney.
Iron Man 2 earned $51 million on its opening day in the United States and Canada (including $7.5 million from Thursday previews), for a total weekend gross of $128 million, which was the fifth-highest opening weekend ever, at the time, behind The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 3, The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. It also had the highest opening for a 2010 movie. The film yielded an average of $29,252 per theater. IMAX contributed $9.8 million, which was the highest opening weekend for a 2D IMAX film, surpassing Star Trek's previous record of $8.5 million. Iron Man 2 was the third-highest-grossing film of 2010 in the United States and Canada, behind Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland.
Iron Man 2 launched in six European markets with number-one openings on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, for a total $2.2 million. It earned $100.2 million its first five days from 53 foreign markets for a strong average of $14,814 per site. IMAX Corporation reported grosses of $2.25 million. This surpassed the previous record-holder for an IMAX 2D release, 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($2.1 million). It was the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2010 internationally, behind Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Inception, Shrek Forever After, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 73% approval rating with an average rating of 6.5/10 based on 278 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "It isn't quite the breath of fresh air that Iron Man was, but this sequel comes close with solid performances and an action-packed plot." Metacritic gave the film 57/100 based on a normalized rating of 40 reviews.
Brian Lowry of Variety stated, "Iron Man 2 isn't as much fun as its predecessor, but by the time the smoke clears, it'll do". Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said, "To find a comic-book hero who doesn't agonize over his supergifts, and would defend his constitutional right to get a kick out of them, is frankly a relief". David Edelstein of New York Magazine wrote, "It doesn't come close to the emotional heft of those two rare 2s that outclassed their ones: Superman II and Spider-Man 2. But Iron Man 2 hums along quite nicely". Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars out of 4, stating that "Iron Man 2 is a polished, high-octane sequel, not as good as the original but building once again on a quirky performance by Robert Downey Jr". Frank Lovece of Film Journal International, a one-time Marvel Comics writer, said that, "In a refreshing and unexpected turn, the sequel to Iron Man doesn't find a changed man. Inside the metal, imperfect humanity grows even more so, as thought-provoking questions of identity meet techno-fantasy made flesh."
Conversely, Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter stated, "Everything fun and terrific about Iron Man, a mere two years ago, has vanished with its sequel. In its place, Iron Man 2 has substituted noise, confusion, multiple villains, irrelevant stunts and misguided story lines."
After the release of Iron Man 2, The Walt Disney Studios agreed to pay Paramount at least $115 million for the worldwide distribution rights to Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. Disney, Marvel and Paramount announced a May 3, 2013 release date for Iron Man 3. Shane Black directed Iron Man 3, from a screenplay by Drew Pearce. Downey, Paltrow, Cheadle, and Faveru reprised their roles, while Ben Kingsley played Trevor Slattery, Guy Pearce played Aldrich Killian, and Rebecca Hall played Maya Hansen.