In Detail: Iron Man – “Does The Hindenburg Ring Any Bells?” (48.40 – 54.13)

We open on one of the neater moments of Iron Man, a real world tie in to CNBC’s Mad Money, an investment/speculation show that features host Jim Cramer commenting on the world of stocks and bonds in a hyperbolistic and zany fashion, replete with sound effect buttons and manic behaviour. Cramer gives Stark Industries (its stock market acronym apparently being “SIA”) his usual treatment here inside his own studio. According to this interview, Cramer was paid with a Stark Industries baseball cap. I think it’s a great little bit, as it really lays out the gravity of Stark’s decision to move away from military contracts, and the kind of effect such a move will actually have.

Proclaiming on screen as “RAVING MAD”, Cramer is brutal about Stark Industries immediate future, shouting and decrying Stark’s move:

CRAMER:
Stark Industries! I’ve got one recommendation! Ready? Ready? (Pushes sound effect button) ‘Sell, sell, sell’. Abandon ship!” Does the Hindenburg ring any bells!?

We cut to Pepper, who is in Tony’s mansion, watching the TV and looking very troubled by what she is seeing. The shot used here seems deliberately cluttered, with so much crap all over the place, as if to provide a visual representation of Potts’ mind at this moment, trying to deal with the latest in a series of crises. We might also notice she’s in a slightly different outfit to any of the stuff we have seen her in before, a simple black dress, but it remains to be seem whether there is any larger significance to this.

A wider shot shows that Pepper is watching TV on the window of the mansion, a futuristic projection method where you can actually see the ocean in the background. Fancy. Cramer continues his tirade:

CRAMER:
Let me show you the new Stark Industries business plan! (Smashes a cup with a baseball bat). Look, that’s a weapons company that doesn’t make weapons! (Gunshot noises)

Pepper winces at Cramer’s description, probably made worse by the bombastic nature of how he relates his opinion. It really does work quite well as an exposition device though.

A new shot here shows the same table that Pepper is seated at from a different angle, and it looks remarkably less cluttered. Hmm. Pepper’s viewing is interrupted by a call from her boss, made on a very fancy looking tablet computer:

This kind of tech is a good thing to show off, as it exemplifies the kind of person Stark is and the kind of toys that he gets to play with. I mean, look at this thing: picture and picture, automatic transcription, traces location of call, measures volume, has additional contact info ready. I’m only surprised they didn’t take the chance to do more product placement. Oh wait, is that a VTech phone at the top of the shot?

TONY:
Pepper. How big are your hands?

PEPPER:
What?

TONY:
How big are your hands?

PEPPER:
I don’t understand why…

TONY:
Get down here. I need you.

Pepper is clearly mystified about Tony’s request, which certainly does sound quite strange. In the midst of Stark Industries apparent freefall in the stock market, Tony’s focus on the size of Pepper’s hands seems doubly odd.

We’re back in the garage, one of the last places that Tony and Pepper had a proper conversation, with Pepper gaining entry via more fancy technology (though the code to get in being only three digits seems a bit off). Out first glimpse of Tony here shows him shirtless on lying on a gurney, heart monitors beeping and the feel of a hospital coming off of everything. I guess the garage has undergone a bit of a conversion then. We’ll be sticking to this shot for most of the following sequence, and it’s a good one, with plenty of interesting background details without distracting too much from the main focus in the centre.

Tony holds another of the miniaturised Arc reactors, but his gaze is fixed on a clearly apprehensive Pepper, who slowly walks towards Tony, and into focus.

TONY:
Hey. Let’s see them. Show me your hands. Let’s see them.

Pepper puts her hands up, approaching Stark like he has a gun pointed at her. Another shot of Tony from behind Pepper shows a cluttered vista that matches what we saw earlier in this sequence with books, screens and various scientific regalia scattered all around, though the whole place retains a sense of sterility. Behind Tony, our eyes might be drawn to what looks like some kind of robotic arm, which moves very slightly.

TONY:
(Looking at Pepper’s hands) Oh, wow. They are small. Very petite, indeed. I just need your help for a sec.

Pepper is barely listening to Tony though, her gaze fixated on the round bit of metal implanted in Tony’s chest, now lacking the previous glow.

PEPPER:
Oh, my God, is that the thing that’s keeping you alive?

Her tone is a mixture of fascination and horror, seeing something so alien in the place where it is placed.

TONY:
It was. It is now an antique.

Tony’s words come out slow and deliberate, descriptive terms he has long since decided upon. He looks to the new reactor in his hands.

TONY:
This is what will be keeping me alive for the foreseeable future. I’m swapping it up for an upgraded unit, and I just ran into a little speed bump.

Uh oh. Pepper already looked apprehensive about this whole situation, now she starts to get more outwardly worried.

PEPPER:
Speed bump, what does that mean?

TONY:
It’s nothing. It’s’ just a little snag.

Tony twists and then removes the reactor from his chest, the light shining out as he does so. Pepper looks even more horrified at this than before, as Tony hands her the thing that was just inside his chest.

TONY:
There’s an exposed wire under this device. And it’s contacting the socket wall and causing a little bit of a short.

PEPPER:
What do you want me to do?

Tony lays back a bit after removing it, suddenly seeming a bit out of breath and in pain. The removal of the magnet seemingly has had an immediate effect.

TONY:
Put that on the table over there. That is irrelevant.

PEPPER:
Oh my God…

These are tasks that are certainly not in Pepper’s job description. But Tony hasn’t even gotten to the fun part yet.

TONY:
I want you to reach in, and you’re just gonna gently lift the wire out.

Pepper looks aghast at this, and we can’t really blame her.

PEPPER:
Is it safe?

TONY:
Yeah, it should be fine. It’s like Operation. You just don’t let it touch the socket wall or it goes ‘beep’

PEPPER:
What do you mean, ‘Operation’?

TONY:
It’s just a game, never mind.

In truth, this is a comedy scene for the most part. There’s little genuine peril – we all know Tony isn’t dying in this room less than an hour into the film – and this whole bit seems to serve, in character terms, as a way to get Tony and Pepper closer.

TONY:
Just gently lift the wire. Okay? Great.

PEPPER:
You know, I don’t think that I’m qualified to do this.

TONY:
No, you’re fine. You’re the most capable, qualified, trustworthy person I’ve ever met. You’re gonna do great.

Pepper is nervous, yanking her hand away from the tube in Tony’s chest. Tonty responds with a litany of compliments. There’s an obvious sense of Tony just humouring Pepper and babying her through this task, but at the same time there is also a sense of honest in this declaration, that Tony really does think these things about Pepper, tilting his head and with the tone of someone explaining the patently obvious. Has his experience in Afghanistan made him into a more openly affectionate person? It wouldn’t be the greatest leap.

There is still a certain tenseness to the scene as Pepper puts her hand into Tony’s chest. The length she has to go is extreme – in reality, I think her hand should be poking out the back of Tony’s body – but plays up the comedy angle. This is further done by the sound effect of some kind of gunk, making this a gross-out moment as well.

TONY:
Is it too much of a problem to ask? ‘Cause I’m kinda in a jam here…

PEPPER:
Okay, okay.  Oh, there’s pus!

TONY:
It’s not pus. It’s an inorganic plasmic discharge from the device, not from my body.

PEPPER:
It smells!

TONY:
Yeah, it does.

Tony is calm, rational, and comfortable in explaining just what it is Pepper has her hands engulfed in. Pepper, for her part, has a wrinkled, disgusted looking face. It is a bizarre scene, and it’s only going to get weirder (and more obviously comedic).

TONY:
The copper wire. The copper wire, you got it?

PEPPER:
Okay, I got it! I got it!

TONY:
Okay, you got it? Now, don’t let it touch the sides…(It does, Tony cries out in pain for a moment)…when you’re coming out!

PEPPER:
I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

TONY:
That’s what I was trying to tell you before. (Pepper pulls the wire out) Okay, now make sure that when you pull it out, you don’t…(Pepper gives the wire a yank removing the magnet at the end) There’s a magnet at the end of it! [Pepper pulls the magnet out] That was it. You just pulled it out.

PEPPER:
Oh, God!

TONY:
Okay, I was not expecting… Don’t put it back in! Don’t put it back in! The copper wire. The copper wire, you got it?

So, Pepper isn’t so good at operation. Tony keeps the demeanour of a patient teacher throughout all of this, but even his cool has its limits, as his voice starts to tense up even as the machines around him start beeping.

PEPPER:
What’s wrong?

TONY:
Nothing, I’m just going into cardiac arrest ’cause you yanked it out like a trout…

PEPPER:
What? You said it was safe!

The delivery of Tony’s line – a barely restrained annoyance that Pepper didn’t follow his instructions exactly – is perfect, and also serves to remind us of Tony’s attitude towards other people sometimes, and how difficult to can be for geniuses to get others to think on the same level that they do.

TONY:
We gotta hurry. Take this. Take this. [He hands Pepper the new reactor] You gotta switch it out really quick.

PEPPER:
Okay. Okay. (She starts the procedure and then pauses) Tony? It’s’ going to be okay.

TONY:
What? Is it?

PEPPER:
It’s’ gonna be okay. I’m gonna make this okay.

Pepper’s concern, and her belated self assurance is actually kind of adorable, and equally good is Tony’s deadpan reaction. He just wants her to put the reactor in him, fast, and she’s trying to make him feel better unnecessarily. It’s just basic comedy, but it still works.

TONY:
Let’s hope. Okay, you’re gonna attach that to the base plate. Make sure you…(Pepper installs the new reactor, eliciting a brief gasp from Tony)…Was that so hard? That was fun, right?

PEPPER:
Are you okay?

TONY:
Yeah, I feel great. You okay?

At Pepper expression, half horrified, half relieved, as she holds up a hand covered in “plasmic discharge”, Tony just bursts out laughing. He’s still that carefree guy in a lot of ways.

PEPPER:
Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever ask me to do anything like that ever again.

She’s half joking/half serious when she says this, but what it not joking at all is Tony’s reply.

TONY:
I don’t have anyone but you.

The two spend a few moments, and a few cuts, just staring at each other. The smiles and laughter are gone, and the scene is suddenly tense in a different way. We might remember the conversation between Tony and Yinsen back in the cave:

TONY:
Got a family?

YINSEN:
Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?

TONY:
Nothing… no.

YINSEN:
No? So you’re a man who has everything…and nothing.

Tony seemed genuine disturbed for a moment during that conversation, perhaps thinking about the emptiness of his life back home. He doesn’t have anyone…except Pepper, whose voice he remembered at a desperate moment. She’s his assistant, but we’ve seen already that they are a bit more than that. Friends at the very least, and confidantes of a kind (one way of course). Tony treats Pepper in a way he doesn’t really treat anyone else. Now, Tony is willing to literally put his life in Pepper’s hands and trust her to not screw up, but larger expressions of affection still leave both parties feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

Tony gets up and cleans himself off. Pepper is left holding the older reactor.

PEPPER:
What do you want me to do with this?

TONY:
That? Destroy it. Incinerate it.

Tony is purposeful blunt as he says these words. Pepper is a little surprised.

PEPPER:
You don’t want to keep it?

TONY:
Pepper, I’ve been called many things. ”Nostalgic” is not one of them.

Certainly, we haven’t seen many signs so far that Tony has any kind of sentimental nostalgic quality to him, so I suppose this makes sense. But then again, it kind of doesn’t, and we’ll see why in a second. Tony and Pepper close off their conversation with a repeat of their previous way of addressing each other:

PEPPER:
Will that be all, Mr Stark?

TONY:
That will be all, Miss Potts.

They’re just staring at each other as they say this, with barely a smile on either of their faces. Pepper walks off, holding the reactor with both hands, considering. Tony, after a brief admonition of the robotic arm, watches her go wistfully, tapping the reactor in his cheat like a nervous tick. There’s something there alright, but it will take just a bit longer for it to come out properly.

Those words to the robot arm are notable enough though:

TONY:
Hey, Butterfingers, come here. What’s all this stuff doing on top of my desk? That’s my phone, that’s a picture of me and my dad. (Points to the rest) Right there. In the garbage. All that stuff.

Starting a running joke where Tony is adversarial to the anthropomorphised robotic arm, Tony lectures the device on the cleanliness of his work station. He puts only two things aside when it comes to the cleanup: his phone and the previously seen picture of him and his father working on vehicles when Tony was a child. Didn’t Tony just say that he isn’t known for being nostalgic? It isn’t quite true. Tony has kept this picture for a reason, and continues to give it a great deal of worth.

An establishing shot of an airbase, complete with taxing fighter and another C-130 in the background, follows. We cut inside a hanger, the frame dominated by two aerial vehicles, another F-22 and a Global Hawk drone. Rhodes, now in a plain military uniform, leads what we can easily assume to a be a group of cadets or trainees through the hanger in the lower part of the shot, but the framing is clearly meant, initially at any rate, to draw the eye away from them. The choice of a manned and unmanned aerial vehicle for this is a deliberate one.

RHODES:
The future of air combat. Is it manned or unmanned?

An important topic for the US Air Force. The shot changes to take in Rhodes and his class at a closer length. The overalls indicate an informal atmosphere, but the various decorations and insignia remind us that we are still in a military setting. This is a rare look at Rhodes the teacher, addressing the class of prospective pilots (presumably) like a university lecturer, complete with hand movements and grand pronunciations.

RHODES:
I’ll tell you, in my experience, no unmanned aerial vehicle will ever trump a pilot’s instinct, his insight, that ability to look into a situation beyond the obvious and discern its outcome, or a pilot’s judgment.

It’s the basic argument over the use of unmanned craft, and their perceived negatives. Iron Man is going to be exploring this concept a little bit, as the interruption of Rhodes teachings will make clear:

TONY:
Colonel? Why not a pilot without the plane?

Tony, dressed in a leather jacket that almost makes him look like a fighter pilot from World War Two, emerges to Rhodes’ right. His difference in appearance in comparison to everyone else is, well, stark. He isn’t just a civilian in a military setting, but a very flashy civilian in a military setting. Though, in some ways, he still seems small next to other people, still recovering, at least in some shots.

Tony’s actual words set up the reason why he is here to meet Rhodes, and give a very definite hint for what is to come. Manned or unmanned? Why not eliminate the plane and just keep the man?

RHODES:
Look who fell out of the sky. Mr Tony Stark.

Rhodes introduces his friend like the celebrity he is, and doesn’t seem unduly surprised to see him there despite his words. Tony shakes hands and immediately becomes dominant in the scene.


TONY:
Speaking of manned or unmanned, you gotta get him to tell you about the time he guessed wrong at spring break. Just remember that, spring break, 1987. That lovely lady you woke up with.

RHODES:
Don’t do that!

TONY:
What was his name?

RHODES:
Don’t do that.

TONY:
Was it Ivan?

RHODES:
Don’t do that. They’ll believe it. Don’t do that.

Just friendly banter to set the scene, albeit still friendly banter that is entirely at Rhodes’ expense. Stark still cannot help but be the dominant one in this relationship and it really, really shows sometimes. The class laughs at Stark’s stupid joke/story, as does Rhodes, laughing it off. Still, the atmosphere seems oddly strained, maybe because of Stark’s last public appearance and what it entailed.

RHODES:
I’m surprised.

TONY:
Why?

RHODES:
I swear, I didn’t expect to see you walking around so soon.

TONY:
I’m doing a little better than walking.

RHODES:
Really?

Rhodes is immediately intrigued by Tony’s last words. If he was a dog his ears would have pricked up. He knows Tony well enough that when he says something like “I’m doing a little better than walking” it means he must be working on something.

TONY:
Rhodey, I’m working on something big. I came to talk to you. I want you to be a part of it.

Tony is strangely hesitant here, with some notable pauses between sentences, as if he himself is unsure whether he should be approaching Rhodes with this. We’ll learn a bit more about why Tony isn’t full of trust in the next entry.


RHODES:
You’re about to make a whole lot of people around here real happy, ’cause that little stunt at the press conference, that was a doozy.

Rhodes is all smiles now, delighted to see Tony, apparently, come back to his senses. He obviously expects some kind of military project, and scornfully mentions Stark’s performance at the press conference. We should remember the look on Rhodes’ face at that conference, which was bordering on disgust.

TONY:
This… is not for the military.. I’m not… It’s different.

He’s hesitant again for this bit of dialogue, but seemingly has no interest in maintaining the illusion that everything is back to normal in the world of Tony Stark.

Rhodes’ expression turns to appalled, and the conversation immediately has a very nasty undertone to it. He can’t contemplate that Tony is turning his back on the military.

RHODES:
What? You’re a humanitarian now or something?

Rhodes is actually angry, which might be a bit of a surprise, but makes sense. He’s career military, fairly high ranking in the air force, has risked his life to find Tony in the desert. Now Tony is blowing the military off in a very casual manner, and here is Stark himself asking Rhodes for help to work on new projects. Stark’s actions must seem very insulting to a man like Rhodes at this moment in time. Moreover, Rhodes has borne the brunt of some of Stark’s cruel jesting at times during this film, so this sudden volte-face in his personality must seem even more surprising.

TONY:
I need you to listen to me.

RHODES:
No. What you need is time to get your mind right. I’m serious.

Tony is almost pleading with his words, but Rhodes, for a change, interrupts him and adopts a condescending tone, clearly thinking that Tony has still not recovered, mentally, from his ordeal in Afghanistan. He isn’t interested in whatever Tony is working on, and the implication is that he believes Stark’s newfound pacifism to be a temporary thing.

This annoys Tony, who puts on an obviously fake smile and then visibly seems to suppress a scowl, choking down whatever angry words he has in his throat. The conversation, on his part is over. The old Tony might have had a biting retort, but not the modern Stark. Maybe he is just hurt and stunned that Rhodes is blowing him off so quickly, but actions do have consequences.

RHODES:
It’s nice seeing you, Tony.

Rhodes is already walking away as he says this. Tony will be alone as he moves forward, lacking the support of even the man he considers one of his closest friends.

TONY:
Thanks.

He says the words like a whisper, terse and annoyed. Whatever the “something big” is, Tony is going to be doing it solo.

For The Film

This brief sequence is a sort of transition period, before we get into the real fun and games of constructing the new suit. Two key relationships involving Tony Stark have to be reintroduced and defined for the rest of the film. In the first, his closeness and reliance on Pepper is elaborated upon, with Stark giving serious hints that his feelings for her go beyond the professional. Secondly, his friendship with Rhodes takes a turn for the antagonistic, with their respective world views no longer meshing as well as they did before. In a larger sense, Stark has been left alone to continue his great work, surrounded by people who claim to care about him, but whom he does not trust enough to actually make them a part of the project he is about embark upon.

Characterisation

Pepper Potts

She remains in a very concerned state, with both Tony and the fate of his company. She is surprised by the depth of trust Tony has with her, but is understandably horrified by the exact task that her boss has in mind for her in this sequence. Still, there is an obvious depth of feeling there, though she is clearly a bit shocked to be presented with the reality of it so obviously.

Tony Stark

Stark has plans, and has the means to carry them out. He involves Pepper in his minor surgery, showing a large degree of trust in her, before the expression of some deeper feelings that leave both him and her a bit uncomfortable. A lack of sentiment sees him throw the old reactor away, but there are still signs that he retains some nostalgia. With Rhodes, he tries to open up and involve his friend in some of his grander schemes, but is hurt and angered by the rapid refusal and dismissive attitude.

James Rhodes

“Rhodey” is initially happy to see Tony and his advanced recovery, and visibly delighted and intrigued when he mentions a new project. But he quickly becomes angry, dismissive and hostile when Tony maintains his new stance on the military, curt and flippant as the two part, seemingly on bad terms.

Next time, Tony begins constructing the Mark II.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

This entry was posted in In Detail, Reviews, TV/Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to In Detail: Iron Man – “Does The Hindenburg Ring Any Bells?” (48.40 – 54.13)

  1. Pingback: In Detail: Index | Never Felt Better

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