MCU Mondays: Iron Man 2 - Sons Without Fathers
Iron Man 2 is my least favorite Marvel movie to date. It has a lot of potential that’s wasted and then buried under overzealous attempts at cinematic world-building. Since it was built on the backs of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk it was the first of the Marvel movies that, at its genesis, was figured to be a success and so it was if the producers just crammed as much into as possible. Not only does the movie suffer, but a terrific plot about sons and fathers is pretty much destroyed in the process.
The chief antagonist in this film is the poor, evil, tattooed, Russian version of Tony Stark (he also has bad teeth). Unlike Tony, who inherits his father’s wealth and company, Ivan Vanko inherits his father’s misery and failures. “That should have been you,” Ivan’s father, Anton, says on his death bed, pointing to Tony Stark on an ancient television set. And moments later, sitting next to his dead father, Ivan fully embraces that lie and, in a scene mirroring Tony’s cave sequence in Iron Man¸ Ivan uses his father’s stolen knowledge to forge his own vengeful destiny.
Meanwhile, Tony has his own daddy issues. He’s in the middle of producing/hosting an extravagant “World’s-Fair-meets-Disneyland” extravaganza called the Stark Expo. Why? Because it was his dad’s unfulfilled dream. It’s how Tony is trying to simultaneously complete, live-up to, and top his dad’s legacy as an inventor and businessman. Having removed himself from the weapons industry, the only place where Tony could really say he’d outdone his dad, he has to try and emulate the old man where he can. He’s also fending off attempts by the US Government to seize the Iron Man tech and attempting to counteract the radiation poisoning resulting from his use of the suit.
Also, Sam Rockwell.
It was Dr. Gregory Thornbury, president of King’s College in NYC, who, while speaking of Dr. Who, said that a character in that vein operating without the authority of a father is, in that area, emulating the spirit of the antichrist. For much of Iron Man 2 Tony and Ivan, while at odds, are running on parallel tracks to their own destruction because they are both sons without fathers. They both possess great power but are without any absolute, guiding principles or figures to assist in their wielding of that power. Consequently, Ivan uses it to try and destroy his enemy out of a false sense of justice. Tony’s power destroys his house, his company, and his relationships.
It’s not until late in the film that Tony reconnects to his late father and comes to know him more and differently than he ever had before. The man Tony has described as cold and calculating connects with his son through a lost archive of films and notes and, in doing so, saves Tony twice over. Once from his radiation poisoning and also from the destructive path on which he’d set himself.
Add in the bonus father-figure of Nick Fury, and Tony now has a semblance of what Jesus describes in John 5:17-24. In that passage Jesus describes his complete dependence upon the Father’s will and the Father’s words. “The Son can do nothing,” Jesus says, “unless it is something He sees the Father doing.”
He’s talking about Himself there, quite clearly, but it’s also true about God’s lesser sons, those of us He’s adopted through His Begotten Son. We, too, can do nothing without the Father, without His will and words. Yet, like Iron Man 2, we spend much of our running time as if we were sons without fathers, heroes without purposes, empowered individuals with no greater purposes than our own ends instead of echoing and emulating Jesus by daily confessing, “This son can do nothing unless it is something he sees the Father doing.”
 I saw him quoted as saying this on Twitter when he was speaking on a conference, so I can’t give a reference.