Security goes to the movies: Iron Man 2

How Hollywood's new blockbuster reflects today's security industry

The summer blockbuster season officially kicked off last Friday with Iron Man 2, an action-packed superhero flick that had the fifth-highest-grossing opening weekend in Hollywood's history. Whether you like the movie or not, at least one thing about it rings true — the plot and the characters provide a striking reflection of today's tech security industry.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man prepares to fire (© Paramount Pictures)

Spoiler alert: We do discuss major plot points in this article. If you haven't seen the movie, keep reading at your own risk.

Marvel's metallic superhero was first portrayed on the silver screen by Robert Downey Jr. in 2008's Iron Man. In that film, playboy industrialist Tony Stark has a crisis of conscience and brings the manufacture of weapons at his defense company to a halt. To chase down terrorists who have misappropriated his munitions, Stark builds himself an armored, weaponized exoskeleton suit (that can fly!) and becomes Iron Man, making his invention an object of desire to military profiteers.

The sequel is much the same, with more villains, more conniving and more suits. A montage catches us up on what's happened since the previous movie: With no country's military able to match Iron Man's technological superiority, Stark's vigilante action and deterrent policy have brought about a worldwide détente.

Since Stark is the only person who knows what makes Iron Man tick, the world's security rests entirely in his hands. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government wants to reproduce the Iron Man suit for its own militaristic purposes; the debate over private vs. public security forms one of the movie's core conflicts.

Meet the villains: Hacker, security vendor

The scarier of Iron Man 2's two major villains, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) vows on his father's deathbed to kill Tony Stark for the sins of Tony's father, Howard Stark, who didn't share credit with the elder Vanko for inventing the "arc reactor" power generator. In many ways, Ivan Vanko is Tony Stark's evil twin: a brilliant engineer able to craft the most wondrous of devices from the most rudimentary of materials.

Described as a physicist, Vanko also demonstrates a mastery of computer programming, mechanical engineering and martial arts. His creativity under captivity closely parallels that of Tony Stark's in the first film, though their motivations and values set the two apart.

From an IT security perspective, it's easy see the Russian Vanko as a symbol of today's cybercriminals, many of whom are former Soviet computer code writers who now write malware for criminal organizations for fast cash. Vanko's motives are different from those of the typical cyber bad guy, but the comparison is hard to resist.

Vanko's partner in crime is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who, in contrast, shows no aptitude for even basic technology. A rival defense contractor whose products are notoriously unreliable, Hammer will do anything to run Stark Industries into bankruptcy. His petulant, demanding conduct is a caricature of spoiled billionaire behavior, making us wonder how he ever built Hammer Industries.

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