In Detail: Iron Man – Working On Something Big (54.14 – 01.01.11)

Establishing shot of that beautiful Malibu mansion which, again, is completely CGI, and we’re back into the thick of things. A lighter, more percussion driven backing accompanies us for the moment, with slightly booming violins to accentuate (OST: “Mark II“).

Tony sets up a very fancy looking quasi holographic keyboard – covered in symbols that don’t really make much sense to me, but whatever – and gets working.

TONY:
JARVIS, you up?

JARVIS:
For you sir, always.

TONY:
I’d like to open a new project file, index as Mark II.

Tony sits before an impressive looking computer system, multiple monitors, surveying what are obviously the schematics for the Mark I suit that he wore in the escape from Afghanistan, now looking altogether more complex than it did when it was just seen on ratty paper schematics.

This is Tony’s new workspace, a marked difference to the cave he was previously trapped in. This place is clean, smooth, refined with the jukebox in the back and the extremely advanced holographic technology to aid in the production of whatever Tony is tinkering on. The CGI here is fairly crisp and believable, even if the suspension of disbelief does take a bit of a hammering.

JARVIS:
Shall I store this on the Stark Industries’ Central Database?

TONY:
Actually, I don’t know who to trust right now. ‘Til further notice, why don’t we just keep everything on my private server?

Tony doesn’t know who to trust? Remember, Tony was ambushed by and forced to work on Stark Industries weapons that had somehow gotten into the hands of the Ten Rings in bulk. That’s shady, and we might well understand the conflict this brings out in Stark. Has someone in Stark Industries been involved in double dealing? It wouldn’t take a genius to come up with one particular suspect.

But more than that, Tony is going to be building something, a very advanced piece of machinery, which is going to propel his mission to be a better person and to make the world a better place. That mission is going to have its opponents – like Rhodes, as we saw in the last sequence – and Tony has been left alone to complete it without any distractions or roadblocks. And he’s going to keep it that way.

The shot pans right to take in a new part of the garage, this office/kitchen area. Everything looks homey, and this is almost a place where Stark can live: an important thing to get straight, as we need to believe that Stark could actually stay down here for a very long period of time.

Tony starts interacting with the complex hologram on the table in front of him, removing parts and placing the light based images into a trash can. This is a simple, but underappreciated, visual nicety. Anyone familiar with computers is aware of a recycle bin facility, and so can instantly understand just what it is that Stark is doing, even if the technological sophistication of it is far ahead of what we can actually do ourselves.

JARVIS:
Working on a secret project, are we, sir?

This is the first line from JARVIS that indicates he is more than just a computer program that “runs the house” and does simple tasks. He asks a question that results from something Tony has said, inferring the “secret” nature of it, before displaying some basic inquisitiveness. JARVIS is more than he appears to be.

TONY:
I don’t want this winding up in the wrong hands. Maybe in mine, it can actually do some good.

Hmm. Just what are “the wrong hands”? Stark Industries? Stane? The US military? Or the Ten Rings? Tony has decided to supersede all of them and go it alone, so that he can be the ultimate arbiter of doing “some good”. He has to strike out on his own, lest he be swayed or corrupted by those whom he previously allowed to influence his actions. Tony spins his holographic suit around, considering.

Cut to some of those “wrong hands”. It is the desert, the same smooth sands where Tony made his crash landing during his escape. Only now, there is a lot of people and a lot of movement. Heavily clothed figures, their heads wrapped up by scarves and other material, goggles over their eyes and no skin showing, struggle against a harsh breeze, that blowing sand across the frame, a picture of desolation made worse by the distant twangs and booming percussion of the old Afghan theme.

This is the Ten Rings again, but they’re up to something a bit different this time, digging in the sand, which looks as crazy as Cnut trying to hold back the tide. It becomes clear very fast what they are actually doing: digging up the remains of the Mark I, which Tony was forced to leave behind after his crash landing.

One soldier palms away the sand to reveal another bit of metal, raising it up as dramatically as possible. The sand spills out and we see the facemask of the Mark I, as distinctive as ever. The soldier calls out to someone.

Cut to Raza, alive, but not so well. In truth, I can’t help but be a little underwhelmed by this reintroduction, largely because of overly dramatic turnaround matched with the choice in eyewear: Raza sports a pair of modified sunglasses/goggles that have lenses to the sides of the main ones. They are probably practical enough in the desert, but that doesn’t stop them from looking just a tiny bit ridiculous on his head, almost like he is a child wearing an adult sized pair of sunglasses. This takes away from the momentousness of the reveal, confirming that Raza survived his meeting with the Mark I, and remains a threat to Tony. He hasn’t come away unscathed though, sporting a very nasty looking scar/burn on the right side of his skull.

Raza calls the underling over and takes the mask, staring at with a grim-set expression on his face. I suppose the look of the helmet is supposed to be contrasted and compared to the makeup of Raza’s face, a certain similarity in design between the holes in the metal and the bizarre contraption on facing it. Just what is this warlord planning to do with the dilapidated and torn apart pieces of the Mark I?

We’ll have to wait and see, because a slide cut brings us back to Tony on his basement garage, with an accompanying change in music, now returned to a variation on the main Iron Man Theme. A nice panning shot, right to left, shows Tony, now wearing just a dark sweatshirt, working on what looks like some kind of oversized metal boot, with openings showing a plethora of wires and pistons. The pistons jiggle as Tony works with a soldering iron, assisted by one of the robotic arms from earlier, who is the unfortunate target for some of Tony’s frustrations.

TONY:
Next. Up. Not in the boot, Dummy. Right here. You got me? Stay put. You’re of no benefit at all. Move down to the toe. I got this. Okay, I’m sorry, am I in your way? Up. Screw it. Don’t even move. You…are a tragedy.

He’s quiet as he says these things do, giving out the criticism in a restrained way. His focus is almost entirely on the contraption in front of him, while screens offer a 3D rendering of in the background, that draws the eye away from the clutter on the table in front of Tony. Tony sits back and considers his work, opening up the back of the boot with a click.

Cut to a more low-tech camera angle, almost home video like, with battery life, “REC” status and a timestamp all evident. The slightly dodgy audio quality, pans and zooms indicate an inexperienced cameraman, so it should not come as any surprise to find out that it’s another of the robotic arms, fast becoming Laurel and Hardy-esque, behind it. Tony stands on a grid pattern, his feet ensconced in two of the metal boots he was working on earlier, his left hand holding some kind of controller, and everything hooked up to the light in his chest. He looks altogether over-encumbered and rather strange.

TONY:
Okay, let’s do this right. Start mark, half a metre, and back and centre. Dummy, look alive. You’re on standby for fire safety. You, roll it. Okay. Activate hand controls.

Tony’s tone is flat and even. Just another test, with only his two robotic arms for company, one there for “fire safety”. OK then. Tony tenses up and gets into a slightly hunched stance as we move forward, shifting his body a bit to get used to the weight.

TONY:
We’re gonna start off nice and easy. We’re gonna see if 10% thrust capacity achieves lift. And three, two, one.

It’s a strangely tense moment as Tony counts down, only for the boots to spark into life, throwing him backwards, catapulting, into the slanted ceiling behind him with gusto. What was tense becomes comedic fast, especially as “Dummy” immediately sprays an unseen Tony with flame retardant gas.

It’s a strange little scene really. At first glance, Tony’s been propelled backwards fast enough, and hit a hard enough service, that you might worry he’s killed himself, or at least suffered very bad injuries (what was protecting his head and face?). But the new kind of camera look, the interaction with the “Dummy”, the tenseness and the countdown all combined to make the result work better as comedy, releasing that danger suddenly and shockingly, with the “fire control” moment the icing on the cake. It’s more than a little slapstick, but it does work very well. We just have to forget that Tony should be going through the rest of Iron Man with a smashed face.

Next, Tony, looking none the worse for wear, works on the arm parts of his new contraption, barely taking his eyes off the computer models of these things over another panning shot. The sense is supposed to be that of a driven, determined individual, and that’s what we get. Then, more hologram fanciness, as Tony manoeuvres things into place with a light pen, before demonstrating rather wonderfully that he can actually put his arm inside the thing and move it around, giving us a taste of just what the Mark II is going to look like upon completion. It’s just sort of visual fanciness, but it fits Iron Man really well.

Later, with the music continuing to throb to a montage beat, Tony works with a physical model of his arm device, very similar to the boot in so far as its metal, holey and full of wires. It also has a very bright light in the palm. Tony is interrupted by the only thing that could have gotten his attention you feel, namely Pepper, arriving in the basement with coffee and a nondescript brown package. She sets them aside as she approaches Tony, who’s very engrossed in his work.

PEPPER:
I’ve been buzzing you. Did you hear the intercom?

TONY:
Yeah, everything’s… What?

Tony has enough of an attentions span to acknowledge Pepper’s existence, but anything else is unimportant. This isn’t like the scatterbrained nature of their very first conversation in the same place earlier in the film, this is different. Tony is more genuinely distracted, unrelentingly focused on the task in front of him.

PEPPER:
Obadiah’s upstairs.

TONY:
Great.

PEPPER:
What would you like me to tell him?

TONY:
Great. I’ll be right up.

Hmm. Just what Stane is doing upstairs – and why he isn’t allowed downstairs, apparently – is a bit intriguing. Tony, as before, seems unconcerned by Pepper’s concern at this state of affairs, lifting his metal arm off its stand with an effort. Pepper looks at the thing with apprehension.

PEPPER:
I thought you said you were done making weapons.

It’s interesting that that’s where she goes. Rather like Rhodes, she instantly assumes Tony’s new project is some kind of weapon.

TONY:
It isn’t. This is a flight stabiliser. It’s completely harmless.

Tony smashes a big yellow button on the table, a sound of power revving up is heard and then a boom. The arm flashes with a blazing line of light, a high pitched warning sound is emitted and Tony is thrown back amid noises of smashing, breaking a trail of smoke. Pepper covers her ears and cowers.

TONY:
(Offscreen)… I didn’t expect that.

It’s another comedy moment, and this one doesn’t work quite as well as the last, by virtue of simply being more of the same, even with the well timed delivery of Tony’s deadpan last line. Pepper is aghast at the destruction in front of her, and it’s a good one for setting the tone. We can well image her thought process. Just what the hell is Tony doing?

Tony emerges from his garage/basement, our eyes stuck on that magnificent water feature that dominates his living space. Stane sits at the Bluthner piano, his jacket off, a glass of what I presume is scotch at hand. Interestingly enough he’s playing a piece by Antonio Salieri, an Italian composer who is popularly believed to have been a great rival of Amadeus Mozart, thanks largely to the likes of the film Amadeus. So, going by that thought process, Stane is playing a piece by a man who thought himself superior, but was largely considered inferior to his great contemporary. The symbolism is not hard to see for Iron Man.

TONY:
How’d it go?

Obadiah just keeps playing, offering a brief neutral glance at Tony. Tony espies a pizza box on the table, just as Pepper, looking distracted as she types on a laptop, comes into frame. We might also note an interesting addition to the table accompaniments: a backgammon board. We might infer this as a connection to Yinsen and the game Tony played with him in Afghanistan, but deleted scenes might offer a different theory. I’ll get to that in time.

TONY:
Went that bad, huh?

STANE:
Just because I brought pizza back from New York doesn’t mean it went bad.

TONY:
Sure doesn’t. Oh, boy.

There is that strange childish sense to this entire interaction, with Obadiah softening the blow of bad news with New York pizza. Tony digs into the food, his tone indicating he doesn’t really care that much about the topic of conversation. Stane does however, stopping his recital in the middle of a bar.

STANE:
It’s would have gone better if you were there.

TONY:
You told me to lay low. That’s what I’ve been doing. I lay low, and you take care of all…

STANE:
Hey, come on. In public. The press. This was a board of directors meeting.

Obadiah approaches Tony here, drink in hand. He looks more haggard and tiered than we are used to with him at this moment, with creases in his shirt and an exasperated tone in his words. The mention of board of directors changes the mood of Tony instantly. We might wonder why Stane did not tell Stark of this meeting directly though.


TONY:
This…This was a board of directors meeting?

He’s genuinely stunned by this. Tony has repeatedly claimed that Stark Industries is “his” company, so might not like to be reminded that there are other players on that stage.

The camera discards the wide look and moves in closer for the most pertinent part of the conversation. Stane sighs as he prepares to deliver the truly bad news.

STANE:
The board is claiming you have post traumatic stress. They’re filing an injunction.

TONY:
A what?

Tony can’t believe what he is hearing, the concept is so alien to him. The chickens are coming home to roost for his big announcement it seems.

STANE:
They want to lock you out.

TONY:
Why, ’cause the stocks dipped 40 points? We knew that was gonna happen.

PEPPER:
Fifty-six and a half.

TONY:
It doesn’t matter.

Tony is agitated and annoyed by this news, not welcoming Pepper’s input, sweating suddenly, raising his voice. We haven’t actually seen him this out of sorts since Afghanistan. This is clearly a setback that was not expected.

TONY:
We own the controlling interest in the company.

STANE:
Tony, the board has rights, too. They’re making the case that you and your new direction isn’t in the company’s best interest.

Obadiah has his head down as he says this, his words coming out slow, again like a parent explaining something to a child. Tony doesn’t respond well.

TONY:
I’m being responsible! That’s a new direction… for me, for the company!

Stane has a shocked look of surprise on his face when this gets delivered, perhaps a bit sceptical of Tony’s words. He clearly doesn’t think Tony’s ideas are that responsible. Tony gets increasingly flustered, and suddenly turns to Pepper, struggling to explain himself properly.


TONY:
I mean, me on the company’s behalf, being responsible for the way that…(stands up, annoyed) This is great!

Pepper doesn’t give him the support Stark is apparently seeking, and he storms off. Things have turned rather abruptly against Tony, and a little sub-plot of his mental fitness (especially in Pepper’s eyes) is now progressing.

Stane stops Tony for one last verbal showdown, but Tony has already retreated, content to head back to his garage and go into isolation again.


STANE:
Tony. Listen. I’m trying to turn this thing around, but you gotta give me something. Something to pitch them. (Points at Tony’s chest piece) Let me have the engineers analyse that. You know, draw up some specs.

TONY:
No. No, absolutely not.

STANE:
It’ll give me a bone to throw the boys in New York!

TONY:
This one stays with me. That’s it, Obie. Forget it.

Tony is being remarkably narrow minded really. He’s asked Obadiah to sort out the mess he created with his “change of direction” but is refusing to actually help him out, even after suggesting that the new direction involve his breakthrough into Arc reactor technology. Stark has nothing to show on that score. We know why Stark is being so obtuse – he needs his reactor to power his secret designs – but at this moment in time, this act could be disastrous for his company. That’s all notwithstanding our suspicions of Stane’s true motivations.

Weirdly, the scene turns strangely comedic, in a moment that I imagine was probably ad-libbed between Downy Jr and Bridges:

STANE:
(Takes pizza box from Tony) All right, well, this stays with me, then. Go on, here, you can have a piece. Take two.

It’s a strange epilogue to what was a very tense moment between the two earlier. Tony heads back downstairs, and Obadiah can’t resist a parting shot:

STANE:
You mind if I come down there and see what you’re doing?

TONY:
Good night, Obie.

Has someone – namely Pepper, or maybe Rhodes – tipped Stane off as to what Tony is doing in his basement? Who knows? Tony is apparently spending a lot of time down there, so his absence from the real world is probably becoming notable.

We cut back to the garage, now with what looks like a curving upward entrance tunnel in frame, a bit closer to Tony’s wondrous collection of awesome looking vehicles. The camera around Tony, flanked by his robotic arm companions. He looks even more ready for business than ever – full sleeved shirt, dark colours, slight curl of hair falling down on his forehead and metal contraptions encasing his arms and feet – and it’s a feeling matched by the hard, intent character of his voice as he dictates to his non-living friends.

TONY:
Day 11, test 37, configuration 2.0. For lack of a better option, Dummy is still on fire safety. (To Dummy) lf you douse me again, and I’m not on fire, I’m donating you to a city college.

Still some time for a little levity, but after the last test and its unintended consequences, we can easily buy the serious way in which Stark talks.

TONY:
All right, nice and easy. Seriously, just gonna start off with 1% thrust capacity. And three, two, one.

Through the more normal camera eye of before and a dead ahead shot, we see Tony lift off the ground, more gently than last time, hovering in the air for a few moments. Our eyes are drawn to the bright lights emanating from his appendages, that give up a vapour or smoke that dissipates quickly. His movements in the air are jerky and awkward, but relatively stable, like a newborn calf trying to walk for the first time. He crashes back to earth, flinging up some sparks, but stays on his feet. Success! We’re seeing the progression of Tony in action.

TONY:  [To Dummy, following closely with the fire extinguisher] Please don’t follow me around with it, either, ’cause I feel like I’m gonna catch on fire spontaneously. Just stand down, if something happens, then come in.

The humour here is a bit better, less slapstick, a nice temporary relief in the face of the worry Tony might be about to hurt himself again, aided by the anthropomorphised robotic arms downward angle, indicating sadness.

A lovely wide shot follows, which might be the most expansive look at the garage yet, showing all of its clutter, technological sophistication and signs of wealth in one go, with Tony right at the centre of it all.

TONY:
And again, let’s bring it up to 2.5. Three, two, one.

The result is a bit different this time. Tony wobbles in the air, moves strangely, and then takes off from the launch pad, after a brief up close look at the boots in operation. The sharp twangs of tight violins and occasional electric guitar serve to try and make this scene tense in a way, a substitute for the relative lack of action in the second act (and we’ll be seeing the biggest example of that shortly), but it doesn’t quite work. In the end, Tony is only a few feet off the ground, and seeing him scorch his material belongings is still more comedic than anything

TONY:
Okay, this is where I don’t want to be! Not the car, not the car! Yikes!

The flashy vehicles get a bit damaged as Tony struggles to get any kind of control into his flight pattern, heading straight for a workstation where notes go flying. But here he does take a measure of control, and I think it is another important moment.

He flings his arms up to push himself backwards, already getting a better feel for how the suit is going to operate in practise, positioning himself back onto the launch platform. He looks a bit ridiculous in doing so, but it’s a still a defining instant, when he stops flailing around like a child and takes some power over his own machine and, thus, his larger plans.

Chuckling nervously, he finds himself back over the launch pad, and with some clever movements, settles into a gentle, stable rotation, the musical tenseness lessening into some light violin chords as an accompaniment. Tony is in command, in a way he hasn’t been since he returned to the United States. The ignition goes out and Tony falls again, just catching himself from collapsing backwards. He looks around, as if to check whether what happened was just a dream, seeing “Dummy” ready to open fire, its “head” looking up like a happy dog.

TONY:
No! Ah ah ah!

This time, it’s a comedic moment we can fully enjoy. The purpose of these things is obvious: it gives Downey Jr something to interact with other than JARVIS’ voice when he is constructing the Mark II, something real the audience can see and try to relate with. They only have a few more moments in the story, but they’ll actually be important.

The test, and this sequence, ends with some simple, stirring words from our hero:

TONY:
Yeah, I can fly.

He says them as both a boast and as a bare statement of fact. It’s a great line, summing up Tony Stark’s attitude towards what he just accomplished – look at me and how great I am. No belaboured wonder at the possibility of flight, just four words that could almost be interpreted as a challenge towards anybody – Stane, Pepper or Rhodes – who might try and stop him.

And with that, we are halfway there.

For The Film

We’re into what Blake Snyder would call the “Fun and Games” section of the film, where things become a bit more relaxed, especially in a visual sense, and where the production team has the leeway to have a bit more fun. Tony starts construction on the Mark II, giving the audience plenty of laughs along the way. More seriously, the conspiracy noose around Stark continues to tighten with greater audience suspicion falling on Stane as we move forward. By the end of this sequence, Stark has taken a greater step towards becoming a hero, with more control over both his designs and his larger plans.

Characterisation

Tony Stark

He’s trying to take more control of life, and move ahead with the promise he made to himself in Afghanistan, to become a better person. But it’s not easy. He finds obstacles on all sides, between the sketchy nature of his early designs and the reality of corporate politics. Tony is frustrated by having to face such an enemy, and is, so far, blind to the possibility that those closest to him might be at the heart of the conspiracy against him. But still, he’s coming together more, with greater confidence, panache and belief that his plan for the suits can actually turn into something worthwhile.

JARVIS

This section is the first indication that JARVIS is more than just a computer program, as he asks questions and even makes some approaches towards humour.

Raza

Still kicking, but with a serious reason to want some payback on Tony. He’s getting the Mark I back together, and that can’t be good.

Pepper Potts

She grows increasingly concerned about Stark and what he’s up to, worry being etched all over her face as she sees his constructions in the garage. Later, she tries to ignore Tony’s apparent lack of care for his company, only interjecting to point out how bad the stock drop is. It’s clear she isn’t completely onboard with the new direction Tony’s life has taken.

Obadiah Stane

On the surface, he’s trying to do things Tony’s way, but is frustrated by what that actual means in practice. Underneath it all, he’s still the Salieri to Tony’s Mozart, annoyed at playing second fiddle and, we can probably begin to infer at this point, working against him behind the scenes. He’s getting more and more curious about what Tony is working on as well, which won’t lead to anything good. He wants the miniaturised Arc reactor, and it won’t be long before he won’t take no for an answer.

Next time, Tony takes the Mark II out for a spin.

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

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One Response to In Detail: Iron Man – Working On Something Big (54.14 – 01.01.11)

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

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