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The Ending Of Iron Man 2 Explained

When the original Iron Man film was released in 2008, its popularity made Tony Stark (and, by extension, Robert Downey Jr.) the face of Marvel overnight. Once a mere dwarf in the shadow of superhero titans like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, Iron Man earned his rep as one of the world's leading forces in the field of fictional heroism. The MCU would continue to double down on Downey's beloved portrayal by repeatedly making Iron Man the saving grace for films like Avengers: Infinity War and so forth.

However, between Tony's origins as the weapons dealer-turned-superhero and his final snappy remark at the end of Avengers: Endgame are two important movies that serve as a catalyst for his character. The Tony we see at the end of the first Iron Man isn't the hero who defeats Thanos at the end of Endgame. It takes a lot for him to get to that point, and while Iron Man 3 arguably serves as an equally important step in that journey, Iron Man 2 is the movie where fans first see Tony Stark establish a new legacy for himself.

Legacy is really what Iron Man 2 is all about

If the original Iron Man is a story about a selfish man turning over a new leaf, then Iron Man 2 is about that same man proving to the world that he has changed. The movie's central conflict revolves around Tony and Howard Stark's pasts, and how the decisions they make turn into problems for the future.

The film's villain, Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash, aka Mickey Rourke) is the son of Howard Stark's ex-business partner. After Vanko's father was deported by Howard Stark on charges of extreme avarice, the Russian family held a grudge against the Starks for years. After the events of Iron Man, Ivan comes after Tony with his own arc reactor, an invention Tony previously thought impossible for anyone but himself. All of this happens amid the government's insistence that Tony return to weapons dealing by sharing his suit's technology.

Meanwhile, the true-blue reactor Tony has in his chest is actively poisoning him. As far as Tony is concerned, his days are numbered. Every one of these problems is caused by something he or his father did. Those actions have established a legacy for Tony, and that legacy is subtextually killing him. It's all Tony can do to take that legacy and make something constructive out of it.

How does Tony solve his problems?

Since Iron Man 2 is a movie about legacy, the only way for Tony to fix his issues is by turning his legacy into something positive. Stark Industries made itself infamous for weapons technology, including the Iron Man suit. So, when Nick Fury drops a knowledge bomb on Tony about how his father never finished his advances in energy science and left what was left to Tony (whom he considered his greatest invention), Tony finally has an out. He perfects the arc reactor, curing himself of its poisonous effects, and finally shares his Iron Man tech with the caveat that it's only to be used by people he trusts (i.e. Rhodey).

All this comes to a final head when Vanko, who has created an army of robotic Iron Man knockoffs, is poised to destroy everything Stark has built for himself by staging a terrorist attack at the latest Stark Expo. Without the help of Rhodey (now dubbed War Machine) and his new reactor technology, Stark would not have been able to stop the destruction and put an end to Whiplash's schemes.

By the end of the story, Stark is practically a new man. He's got a new heart, an ally to trust his tech with, and a new job as a consultant at S.H.I.E.L.D. He's set himself up so that his work can actually go toward benefiting the world, even if Fury doesn't want him as an Avenger (yet).