I didn’t expect it to be like this.
I came into this project with open eyes, knowing that it would get very stupid very quickly. I didn’t realize it would get quite this stupid quite this quickly. To be fair, Iron Man 2 was a mess of a production (and subsequently a mess of a movie), and inconsistent dates in background details that were never meant to be scrutinized and analyzed are the absolute least of the film’s problems, but after two films with relatively solid internal chronology, things go totally off the rails in this one. No amount of No-Prizing is going to get us out of this mess so we’re going to have to fall back on our hierarchy of rules. To reiterate:
Rule #1: Only the movies are canon.
Rule #2: Title cards are always true.
Rule #3: References to dates in spoken dialogue are always true unless they conflict with rule #2.
Rule #4: Written dates that are prominently displayed in the world are usually true, unless they disagree with rules 2, 3, or each other.
Rule #5: Props and background objects that can be tied to a specific date almost never count.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Right off the bat, we have a prologue that seems to take place concurrent with the end of the original Iron Man; which, as you’ll recall, we’ve established as May 25, 2008. I suppose it’s possible that this broadcast is using archival footage and is happening later on, but I don’t read or speak Russian to be able to confirm that, and that’d be a pretty wild leap for the audience to make. No, the implication here is clearly that these are happening at the same time.
Like the opening credits of The Incredible Hulk, we get a sort of collage of newspaper headlines and magazines showing us the passage of time. There’s the same cover of Forbes Magazine that was shown in the first movie, though this time there’s a date – January 1990. Only, the story is about Tony Stark taking over the company in the wake of his parents’ deaths which happened in 1991. There’s no way to No-Prize this so, I’m not even going to try. This was a goof in the props department. Happens all the time, and even if you click on that screenshot to blow it up to full size, the date is barely legible anyway.
We also get a cover of Scientific American dated August (no year), and Iron Man named as Time Magazine’s person of the year (presumably of 2008, but again there’s no year). We also see that Ivan Vanko’s knuckle’s tattooed with the year 1969, but don’t have any context for why that might be significant.
Following the prologue we get a title card establishing that the bulk of the movie is happening six months after the end of the first Iron Man. If one were so inclined, you could possibly try to argue that it’s six months after Vanko finishes building his own arc reactor (the last thing we see in the opening credits), but hold on, we’re going to address that in a minute.
It’s been six months, Tony. Let’s pump the brakes a little here.
Here we establish that the Stark Expo is scheduled to last for an entire year and that the most recent prior expo was in 1974. There was also at least two other expos, one of which was in 1954. That doesn’t really mean anything to us so we’re moving on.
Following the opening ceremonies of the Stark Expo, Tony is subpoenaed to appear before the Senate the following day.
And there we have some dialogue that firms up the six month time jump. It’s been six months since the events of Iron Man, not since the end of the opening credits.
Later in Tony’s garage we get a couple somewhat oblique references to dates. The top left corner of Tony’s computer monitor has an indicator that reads “Monday 02 09”. No punctuation between the numbers, so it’s unclear if that’s supposed to be a date or a time. If it’s a date, we’re in trouble because February is more than six months after the end of Iron Man. The other thing is a countdown clock on the screen displaying information about Tony’s deteriorating health. It’s not clearly defined, but given what happens in the rest of the film, it’s safe to assume that this is how much time Tony has before the palladium poisoning kills him, which in turn sets the timeframe for the entire film: just over one week.
At first glance this is just a throwaway line, but if we read a little bit into it, we can make some assumptions that help solidify the timeline. In the first movie it’s established that Howard and Maria Stark died in December of 1991 and there was a period of time where Obadiah Stane ran the company before Tony took over when he turned 21. We don’t know exactly how old Tony is meant to be, but if we assume he turned 21 in the early-to-mid ’90s and hired Pepper Potts as an assistant shortly thereafter, that’d put her tenure at Stark Industries at around 15 years by late 2008. If we move the setting of this movie up to 2011 as the official timeline suggests, that number moves to 18. Still over ten years, but at that point you’d be more like to say “almost twenty” than “over ten.”
I concede that I’m reading way too much into this one line, but also, like, that’s kind of the point of this silly project.
TV in Tony’s garage shows that there are now 362 days left in the year-long Stark Expo which more or less tracks with the timeline of events so far.
Ivan Vanko’s fake passport. It’s fake, so there’s not a lot of real information we can glean from it, except that it’s later than 2003 (which we already knew) and earlier than 2013 (which we already assumed).
This is a joke. Moving on.
And here’s where things go fully off the rails. When Tony looks up Natalie Rushman’s (a/k/a Natasha Romanoff, a/k/a Black Widow) resume, we have jobs and internships and college degrees dated as late as June of 2010, or two full years after the events of Iron Man. This is completely incompatible with the timeline we’ve established so far as it disagrees with the setting presented in the first film and The Incredible Hulk (we’ll get to that). But at the same time, it also contradicts the official timeline since it has “Natalie” listed as a candidate for Juris Doctor at Harvard, meaning she’s still enrolled, but hasn’t formally finished that degree. Let’s not dwell on this for two long because it’s only going to get stupider.
Like this! Here we have Pepper making a biting allusion to Christine Everhart’s one night stand with Tony in the first movie, but according to our timeline, that would have happened in February of the same year. We’ve got other nonsense to sort out here, but for the moment we can address this with a…
No-Prize: Pepper is misspeaking here, and it’s easy to understand why. This would have happened not only nine months ago, but before Tony went missing, was captured, escaped, came home, completely changed the focus of Stark Industries’ business, became Iron Man, announced that he was Iron Man, made arrangements for the Stark Expo and whatever else might have happened during that time. It’s been a big year. Hell, with the news cycle being what it is in the real world over the last couple of years I’ll find myself forgetting that last week’s news isn’t months old. So much would have happened in those nine months that it probably feels like a year ago.
No real information here except that Tony’s last vacation was in 2006 (or 2007 (or 2008)).
Here we get some more information on Papa Vanko and Ivan. We get their birthdates (1943 and 1968 respectively), and we learn that Anton Vanko was in the U.S. between 1963 and 1967 and that at some point Anton Vanko served 15 years in a Russian prison.
We also get a date on the computer monitor establishing the setting of the movie as May 6, 2010, which… well, at least it’s consistent with Pepper’s comments about Christine Everhart and Natasha’s fake resume.
The attack at Monaco happened “yesterday.” Again, helping to establish the timeline of this movie, but not so much its place on the broader timeline.
Once again Tony is checking the levels of palladium in his blood, but this time the reading says “Last 7 days.” It’s not entirely clear what that means. Is that how much it has risen within the last seven days? Is it a reference to him being within his last seven days of life? That would be consistent with the countdown clock from earlier.
Further driving home the point that Tony thinks he’s about to keel over, but also establishing that this is happening on his birthday. We don’t exactly know when Tony’s birthday is meant to be but it’s apparently either in November or May.
More backstory on the Vankos. Anton Vanko was imprisoned for 20 years after he returned from the U.S., giving a possible explanation for the 1969 tattoo on Ivan’s knuckles.
Documents from the S.H.I.E.L.D. archives supporting information we already know (although the newspaper headline is dated three full years after Vanko defected, but whatever. Maybe it was classified).
A reference to Justin Hammer’s presentation and the climax of the film being one day away. At this point it’s not entirely clear how much time has passed over the course of the film so far.
Yet another reference to the 1974 Stark Expo along with a line of dialogue indicating it’s been “almost 20 years” since Howard Stark died in December if 1991. This is vague enough that this works for basically any theoretical version of the timeline.
More jokes. Moving on.
Like last time, this isn’t doing much to establish the timeline of this movie, but it links it in time to a future movie, in this case Thor.
And here we have the same mysterious “Mon. 02 09” from earlier in the film. If it’s a date, it’s not only contradicting dates shown throughout the rest of the film, but also the fact that any time has passed since last time we saw this readout. If it’s a time, I guess that works in theory, but there’s no way to say at this point.
Howard Stark had Anton Vanko deported in 1967, so 40 years would be 2007, but again this is broad enough that it could cover every conceivable version of the timeline.
So, this is a problem. Earlier in the film, on the day Tony tells Pepper he’s naming her as CEO, we see this same Stark Expo page with the countdown set to “362” days left. So far, everything else in the film has indicated the events have happened over about a week, but according to this it would have been 19 days.
And here we have spoken dialogue confirming it’s only been a week. The internal timeline of this movie is anything but consistent, but according to our hierarchy, this is the most authoritative evidence for the events of this film.
That news broadcast on the right display is the same one from The Incredible Hulk. The assumption here has always been that these two things are supposed to be happening simultaneously, but maybe there’s a different answer. S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping tabs on people with superpowers and is compiling data on them, and if we’re jumping ahead a bit, by the time The Avengers rolls around, we know they have a file on Banner, so maybe this isn’t happening live, but it’s just one aspect of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Avengers Initiative data that happens to be playing while Tony sits there.
And here’s a second line of dialogue to establish that this happens over the course of a week in case there was any doubt.
And finally we have a post-credits tag to firmly establish that the end of Iron Man 2 is happening concurrent withThor.
So let’s try to sort through this. Basically we have two options here. We assume that the one instance of an actual date shown in the first Iron Man is true and therefore disregard the multiple dates shown in Iron Man 2, or we do the opposite and move Iron Man up in the timeline from May of 2008 to December of 2009. That also moves The Incredible Hulk up as well, and that movie had a pretty consistent internal timeline. Iron Man 2‘s is anything but consistent.
There are other things as well, like if we’re moving Iron Man up to December of 2009, that would mean the climax of the film happens on Christmas Eve and the press conference the following day would be on Christmas itself, which is kind of a wild assumption to make. Not to mention that the 24h was a date suggested by Coulson as a time to meet. It also means that the MIT commencement speech Pepper was “haranguing” Tony about was almost a full year away instead of just a few months.
The bigger issue for me, though, is why would we mistrust the timeline of a movie that is completely internally consistent in favor of one that’s anything but. I suspect this argument is going to bite me late on, but if Iron Man 2 can’t even decide if it’s taking place over one week or 20 days, why should we move two other movies around to try to accommodate it. No, we’re sticking with the first Iron Man being May of 2008, which makes Iron Man 2 November.
I also want to take this opportunity to make something clear: the whole idea of this dumb project involves getting into silly minutia that doesn’t matter and shouldn’t matter to almost anyone watching these movies, and I don’t want to ever mistake my frustration at the inconsistency of dates on computer displays for actual critique of the films. I’m sure there will be plenty of these sorts of continuity errors in even the best of these movies, it just so happens that the first one to have a high concentration of these also happens to be kind of a lousy film. But one is absolutely not because of the other – they’re completely independent from one another. Iron Man 2 could have the best, most rock solid internal continuity of any film ever made and it still wouldn’t make a it a particularly good movie. This isn’t CinemaSins here, folks, and it never will be.