In Detail: Iron Man – The Mark II (01.01.12 – 01.07.32)

The very last shot of the last instalment saw Tony Stark, having just tested his flying capabilities, turn to walk offscreen to his right. The first shot of this instalment is a really clever continuance of that, just with a time skip. Tony takes a step, and when it lands he’s in something very different.

Two quick shots show legs being encased in silver metal, screws being twisted, joints being circled, and everything coming together quickly and smoothly with accompanying whirrs and clinks. It’s going to be the recurring visual motif for the actual Iron Man suit: very smooth and seamless movement and coming together, all to exact specifications and measurements, nothing not working flawlessly, so that the entire thing really does seem like a simple extension of Tony’s body, unlike the giant, clunky Mark I.

We go into a brief first person perspective, almost video game like, as Tony picks up the mask for this, the Mark II, and puts it on, the darkness encompassing the screen.

TONY:
JARVIS, are you there?

JARVIS:
At your service, Sir.

TONY:
Engage Heads Up Display.

Now we see another of Iron Man’s signature visuals: the full on look at Tony’s face inside the Iron Man helmet. Obviously, this shot makes no sense when it comes to reality – that far out, we should be outside the suit – but this is standard suspension of disbelief territory really. This shot is clever, as it allows a circumspect look at Tony’s face for any sequences that involve the suit, thereby putting Downey Jr’s acting talent back into the game when we might otherwise have just been looking at an expressionless metal visage. It’s him in the dark, a frontal portrait that keeps us connected to the character, and not stuck dealing with a mask.

TONY:
Import all preferences from home interface.

JARVIS:
Will do, Sir.

It also allows for more visual trickery. For the audience, there is so much stuff onscreen that it is impossible to see it all in motion. Holographic images fly around, circle around Tony’s left eye imparting information that is, for the audience, in reverse. It’s just a little taste of what Tony see’s, and helps to enhance the sense that we are inside the suit with Tony, done even better when we switch back to the first person view:

This is how Iron Man will see the world, with computer imagery that scans the area and collates data in real time, without prompting, one of the most sophisticated pieces of technical accomplishment that we have yet seen.

We move back and forth from Tony’s face to the first person view as Stark continues his walk around. We might start to recognise now the visual hints of flight power in the altitude meters, with the interface looking more and more like that of an airplane cockpit. Which should come as no surprise, given what’s coming next.

TONY:
All right, what do you say?

JARVIS:
I have indeed been uploaded, sir. We’re online and ready.

TONY:
Can we start the virtual walk-around?

JARVIS:
Importing preferences and calibrating virtual environment.

TONY:
Do a check on control surfaces.

JARVIS:
As you wish.

Now we get the money shots, long, patient, intercutting circular pans around the outside of the Mark II, as JARVIS moves it’s various flaps and compartments. Favreau is just showing off his creation to the audience, but how cool is it, this mix of CGI and physical prop making? This is the Iron Man, minus the traditional colours, a sleek, smooth technical masterpieces of battle and flight, as alien looking as it is apparently functional. The remnants of the Mark I are there in small details – like the layout of the mask – but this is a very different entity otherwise. The piercing blue eyes especially, give this contraption a certain human quality that the Mark I did not have, albeit a bit of a warped one. And at its heart, that shining light in the middle of the chest, as symbolic for Iron Man as the “S” is for Superman, or the Bat for Batman. It’s part modern tech, part medieval armour.

We end this little show-off with a zoom in on the front of the suit, almost like the crescendo to a commercial. The music is blaring about now, the Iron Man leitmotif, all heavy electric guitars, crashing cymbals and stabbing violins (OST: “Driving With The Top Down“). This isn’t your classic hero, with the soaring orchestra. This is a new breed.

JARVIS:
Test complete. Preparing to power down and begin diagnostics.

TONY:
Err, yeah. Tell you what. Do a weather and ATC check. Start listening in on ground control.

OK, here we go. JARVIS, as stated, operates in real time, and is already pulling up details of planes in flight before the end of Tony’s sentence, displaying them in holographic form in front of Tony’s eyes, a cutaway inside the mansion. Tension ramping up nicely again.

JARVIS:
Sir, there are still terabytes of calculations needed before an actual flight is…

TONY:
JARVIS…Sometimes you got to run before you can walk.

Another of the films more memorable lines. Tony is the genius who built this thing in just a few weeks, and he isn’t interested in more testing. It’s time to take the Mark II out for a spin. Doing this project on his own (minus computer AI’s) gives him that freedom, of not having tests to perform and data to go over. The Mark II is on Tony’s schedule.

TONY:

Ready? In three, two, one.

We pull back from the Mark II, as its feet explode into the bright light and smoke of before, lifting the entire contraption up. The model becomes CGI – a bit obvious now, at least on the small screen – and Tony takes off.

The effect is a rush, a mix of the first person perspective, and the front facing look at Tony’s visage within the shot. Tony’s screaming as the music suddenly breaks into throbbing, fast paced drums. The suit curls around the exit ramp for the mansion, briefly smashes off the wall as it does so, and is then flying out into the open air, the whole thing happening so fast the effect is off a blur. A wide shot shows us Tony blasting off into the night sky from the mansion, like a missile has been fired in the direction of Santa Monica from the location – perhaps a deliberate visual connection to the Jericho missile of earlier, which used the same kind of technology.

A couple of important shots and cut follows. Downey Jr’s selling of this moment is very important, hence the repeated looks at his face inside the suit. He has to show wonder, excitement and maybe even a bit of apprehension at the things that he’s doing. And he has to do this because this whole sequence is in place of action – it’s been a while since the Mark I marched out of the cave in Afghanistan, and it’s going to be a while yet before the next action moment, the fighting at Gulmira. The ride of the Mark II is a substitute for action, but it only involves one man, so it is vitally important that the Stark character is portrayed the right way. I think Downey Jr pulls it off, makes you buy into the fact that this floating head is where it is portrayed to be.

The other shots are the up close looks at the suit in flight, cutting back to the actual model with a CGI background, so we get a greater sense for how the thing operates. The audience has to buy into the idea of suit and of all the things that it will be capable of doing, so showing flaps, pistons of air, altimeters, horizon lines and other flying accompaniments helps with that suspension of disbelief.

We take the team to pull out and see the Mark II curl around in the air, that distinctive trail of smoke behind it, in-between Tony’s looks of amazement and happiness. The thing roars towards the cameras, the west coast of California displayed contrastingly against it in the background.

TONY:
Handles like a dream.

He’s using language more to describe one of his flashy sports cars back in the garage, not one of the biggest breakthroughs in flight technology since the invention of the jet engine. The Mark II flies on, blasting past the camera and swooping over Santa Monica, the lights of the city against it vividly.

Tony does a flyby of some kind of fair or circus on the Santa Monica waterfront, which contains a brightly lit Ferris wheel. It’s a cutesy moment really, with Tony zooming in on a couple of kids on the thing, one of whom drops his ice cream in shock of seeing this flying metal man above.

I remember thinking, at the time, that the kind in question must have been Downey Jr’s son, since they looked so alike, but subsequently found out that the age of the boy in the film) is nowhere near the age of Downey’s Jr son at the time.

The Mark II soars on, completing another of the great money shots, its eyes steely and almost angry looking when the camera is close, only for the entire thing to zoom away and swoop over the city with abandon, the music swelling with more guitar and violin in the background.

Suddenly, Tony takes an upward turn and soars into the sky.

TONY:
All right, let’s see what this thing can do. What’s SR-71’s record?

SR-71 is the code for the Lockheed Blackbird, the USA’s premier stealth reconnaissance aircraft between 1968 and 1998. Its highest recorded sustained flight was at 85’069 feet.


JARVIS:
The altitude record for fixed wing flight is 85,000 feet, sir.

Don’t interrupt me JARVIS! Also, that’s not true. Altitude records are tricky due to various plane and flight types, but the record is certainly above 100’000 ft (and it isn’t held by the SR-71). Not sure how to explain this discrepancy. But we do get to see a great shot of the HUD display showing the Blackbird on the right, juxtaposed with the moon peering down on Tony as his levelness wobbles.

TONY:
Records are made to be broken! Come on!

And off the Mark II goes. But it doesn’t take very long for a problem to appear, as the HUD starts to get scrambled.


JARVIS:
Sir, there is a potentially fatal build up of ice occurring.

TONY:
Keep going! Higher!

It’s neat to see Tony’s view actually starting to ice over, matched by the sudden appearance of the freeze on the outside of the Mark II, which actually starts to creek. Tony keeps going though, heedless of the danger.

Just why does he do it? In story terms, we need an exciting perilous moment, and this is going to be it for this sequence, as Tony comes close to killing himself in testing the Mark II. In character terms, it shows Tony’s recklessness and cavalier spirit still firmly intact, as he ignores warnings and nearly destroys himself in trying to break a record that only he would be aware off.

The ice takes over, one of the repulsers blows and the light in the eyes go out. The camera sticks to the face at the moment of its highest point (The “Apogee” you could say), and we get a very brief glimpse of human eyes underneath.

And then the fall. Tony looks down, like a cartoon character, and is suddenly flailing. We might ask just how Tony is moving any part of the suit without power, but up here, with the orange spider web that is California so far underneath, it doesn’t really seem that important. The music has reached a crescendo, but suddenly dies just as the suit did, the only noise being the howling wind of the Earth’s high altitude.

Another great first person show follows, as he see the inside of the mask and the two eyeholes, with the suit spinning so rapidly that you can’t really get a focus on anything outside, aside from the sense of impending doom.

This is Tony without the suit, or at least, a non-functioning one. This is Tony’s weakness. Everybody superhero has one. Tony isn’t nothing without the suit, but when it fails or is absent, he is going to be in serious trouble. This sequence is a demonstration of that.

TONY:
We iced up, JARVIS! Deploy flaps!

Nothing happens and the Mark II keeps plummeting. JARVIS isn’t home.

TONY:
Come on, we got to break the ice!

Who is Tony talking to? Himself it would seem. A few rapid cuts, one revolving around the plummeting CGI Mark II and another up close with the actual physical model, portray Tony’s desperate attempts to get the ice off his suit and restore some power. A manual release opens the flaps, and the ice explodes away from the suit.

An up close of the eyes shows the power is back on. A rapid cut of the system restore on the HUD and the Mark II bursts away again.

But the angle allows for one last thrill, as the curve only just allows Tony to avoid mashing into a Santa Monica road. After startling some incredulous drivers, Tony is away and shrieking in triumph.

It’s an alright “action” moment I suppose, a little contrived (and it looks better in motion than it does in screenshots). But, then again, it is very valuable set-up for a moment coming nearer the end of the film, which will mark a very distinct difference between Tony and Obadiah.

The cymbal heavy music is back, as Tony thunders towards the mansion once more, making sure to “buzz” the camera as he does so. The CGI suit makes its last appearance as he hovers over his roof gracefully.

TONY:
Kill power.

The repulsers (and the music) dramatically cut out, and the Mark II smashes through the roof.

Into the living area, where it smashes through the wonderful piano.

And into the basement, where it comes to lie on the suddenly crumpled wreck on one of Tony’s alarm blaring sports car.

There’s only the coup de grace of “Dummy” offering some fire retardant gas.

And then Tony’s slow head tilt, really imbuing the nominally lifeless exterior of the Mark II with some human emotion. As a comedy moment, this is probably my favourite on in the film – I think it works as both a tension breaker after the action of the previous moments, and as a demonstration of the kind of power that Tony now wields – this thing just crashed through two concrete levels very easily.

And that’s the Mark II. We cut quickly to the aftermath, a different part of the garage. Tony, back in normal clothing, holds an icepack to his head, evidence of the hard landing. Taking a mug from the table, he notices the brown papered package that Pepper previously left on the table, something that the camera didn’t even draw that much attention to earlier.

He unwraps it very carefully and deliberately, with the sequence taking a bit more time than it really has to with this moment, probably because of its importance to Tony.

Inside the paper is a display case, in which Tony’s first miniaturised Arc reactor sits, still glowing. The words “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart” are emblazoned around it. I note that when it is first revealed, not all of the words can be seen, but Tony tilts it so the camera is looking straight down on it. I wonder if that was an improvised movement during filming, or if Favreau just wanted to draw the moment out more.

It’s a very thoughtful and clever gift from Pepper, reciprocating the apparently wonderful gift that Tony got her earlier in the film on her birthday. It’s very personal too, the kind of thing that only someone very close to Stark could get away with giving.

Tony smiles a little smile at the sight of the thing, his sentiments summed up by the soft violin that plays over this moment. There is clearly something between Tony and Pepper. It’s friendship, at the very least, and maybe something more.

A sideways cut, left to right, practically Star Wars-ish in its make-up, follows. A sinister change in the music, and we’re suddenly back in Afghanistan. In a tent somewhere, emblazoned with the Ten Rings flag, Raza calmly smokes a cigarette and observes two of hiS flunkies trying to piece the Mark I back together, which is a difficult task considering the broken down nature of the thing.

They struggle over schematics, while Raza just stares down, that inhuman, insane stare, this time marked by the shadow over one eye.

And Favraeu then compares this with the next shot, much as he did in the last sequence, a slow close up of the Mark II face mask, whose eye holes bear an uncomfortable similarity to the shadow over Raza’s right eye.

At this point, a new audience might well think that Raza is the films primary bad guy, with these cutaway moments showing his survival, his acquisition of the Mark I remains, and his efforts to turn it back into a workable device with which to seek revenge on Tony Stark. That won’t be the case, but Iron Man is keeping this portion of the plot boiling effectively.

The Mark I mask suddenly fades into a computer representation of Mark II in Tony’s basement, a clear connection drawn in the evolution of the design.

Tony sits at the centre of a web of screens and technology, once again at the core of everything’s attention, dictating to his creations about his greatest creation:

TONY:
Notes. Main transducer feels sluggish at plus 40 altitude. Hull pressurisation is problematic. I’m thinking icing is the probable factor.

This is another example of Tony at work. The previous sequence showed him whooping and hollering as he buzzed around the sky, but he actually was paying attention to the various flaws and faults in this machine, and is willing to correct them properly.

JARVIS:
A very astute observation, Sir. Perhaps, if you intend to visit other planets, we should improve the exosystems.

This is the first out and out time that JARVIS exhibits a proper personality. It’s beyond simple intelligence, this is the computer program being sarcastic and telling a joke. JARVIS has some life in him, like an intangible C-3P0, just with a bit more bite. The last line, considering Tony’s activities in The Avengers, is strangely prophetic. I don’t know if Favreau had any idea where Marvel Studios were going, but it is quite the coincidence if not.

Tony ignores the jibe while drinking down some kind of horrible green exercise concoction, still all about the work.

TONY:
Connect to the sys. co. Have it reconfigure the shell metals. Use the gold titanium alloy from the seraphim tactical satellite. That should ensure fuselage integrity while maintaining power-to-weight ratio. Got it?

It’s the last of the fine tuning. The “gold titanium alloy” section will be used as one of the films last jokey lines, way later.

JARVIS:
Yes. Shall I render using proposed specifications?

TONY:
Thrill me.

As JARVIS goes about painting in the computer model gold and coming up with a render for what will be the Mark III, Tony looks between his monitors at a big TV on the wall, whose volume suddenly increase – whether this is actually happening in the scene or if it’s just an aural choice for the audience is unclear.

A blonde showbiz reporter –”Zorianna Kit”(!) – stands on a red carpet, addressing the camera in between shots of apparent VIP’s arriving at some gala event.

KIT:
Tonight’s red-hot red carpet is right here at the Disney Concert Hall, where Tony Stark’s third annual benefit has become the place to be for L.A.’s high society.

Tony looks momentarily confused by these words.

TONY:
JARVIS, we get an invite for that?

JARVIS:
I have no record of an invitation, sir.

He picks up the Mark II face mask, now covered in engineering scrawls, still more interested in that than anything on the TV. He holds it up to his face, like a kid with a new toy he can’t quite part with, watching the TV through the eye holes.

KIT:
…hasn’t been seen in public since his bizarre and highly controversial press conference. Some claim he’s suffering from posttraumatic stress and has been bedridden for weeks. Whatever the case may be, no one expects an appearance from him tonight.

The report includes a screenshot from the mentioned press conference, purposefully picked to make Tony look as manic as possible, especially next to the composed, reassuring Obadiah Stane. Tony drops the mask – was he hiding from what people thought of him? – and adopts a grumpy disgusted look, one probably born both from anger at the report and the realisation that his current existence is feeding such stories.

On the reporters last line, Tony actually bites his lip. He has an idea forming.

JARVIS:
The render is complete.

Tony is treated to the computerised representation of the Mark III, which doesn’t look all that different to the Mark II really. The gold colour that coats it is rather garish and unnatural, something Tony isn’t slow to point out:

TONY:
A little ostentatious, don’t you think?

JARVIS:
What was I thinking? You’re usually so discreet.

The deadpan delivery of JARVIS’ line are probably what makes them so great, as well as this weird sense that he’s one of the only “people” in the world who can talk to Tony like this and get away with it – because Tony probably made him this way.

Proof of which is probably that Tony, once again, isn’t even listening, instead turning to look at the hot rod car that he was working on much earlier in the film.

TONY:
Tell you what. Throw a little hot-rod red in there.

It’s interesting that he looks to the car. Remember, once again, that car has a greater significance to Tony than just being a fancy toy. It’s something he and his father worked on together, and the only image we have of him and Tony in the same place is them working on it when Tony was just a boy, an image Tony singled out for saving earlier. In many ways, Iron Man is a story about the legacy of Howard Stark, and whether it will be his son Tony carrying it forward with confidence, vigour and humanitarian interests in mind, or the cold hard bottom line philosophy of Obadiah Stane.

On a design level, this exact moment is the equivalent of Peter Parker looking at his spider doodles, on Bruce Wayne finding a bat in his mansion, even if it is a bit more understated than those. Here we have Tony Stark, deciding what kind of hero he is going to be in terms of looks, which will match his personality: larger than life, colourful and memorable.

JARVIS:
Yes, that should help you keep a low profile.

Never change JARVIS.

Tony beholds the final render, a much slicker looking combination of gold and dark red, marked by some low guitar. This is the one.

TONY:
Hey, I like it. Fabricate it. Paint it.

JARVIS:
Commencing automated assembly. Estimated completion time is five hours.

Tony glances at his watch to confirm the time, which just so happens to be a BVLGARI timepiece, in another moment of garish product placement. That Mark II sequence wasn’t cheap you know!

TONY:
Don’t wait up for me, honey.

A classic Tony line ends the sequence, as the music swells and our hero decides to go out and re-enter the world.

For The Film

As already stated, this sequence provides a substitute for an actual action scene. It’s been around 20 minutes since the Mark I escape and it’ll be a bit longer until the Gulmira fight, so this is just a fill-in, a moment designed to show off what the Iron Man suits can do as they evolve and to get the audiences heart racing a bit. The standard visual cues and motifs for the suit when it’s in action are established, as are a few other things that are going to be important later. A brief cutaway also keeps us informed about how the Ten Rings are getting on.

Characterisation

Tony Stark

This section serves to reinforce some things about Tony that were presented already, but might have been forgotten. Namely, that incredibly confidence that he was showing off before his kidnapping, that sense that he could take on the world and win. He takes the Mark II out for a death defying test drive, heedless of all warnings from JARVIS or risk of discovery, and nearly gets himself killed in the process. But, he’s Tony Stark. He lives, excelled and did it all his way, taking control of his life and the world around him like he used to do. By the end of this sequence, he’s ready to step back into the world as the playboy, or at least a slightly nicer version of that previous persona.

JARVIS

At this point, JARVIS has evolved from house controlling computer to snarky assistant, dishing out a few sarcastic quips even as he puts the final touches on the Mark II and the Mark III. His role is that of the naysayer, constantly trying to bring Tony back down to earth, and getting deadpan satirical when his advice is constantly rejected. So JARVIS is comic relief and little more, but effective comic relief.

Raza

Having confirmed his survival, we now see Raza rebuilding his operation even as he rebuilds the Mark I. That intense stare betrays some plans forming, plans that Tony Stark’s surviving designs are going to be at the heart of. The Ten Rings’ future operations will involve the Mark I in some sense.

Pepper Potts

While not appearing directly in this sequence, Pepper still has a role to play, as Tony unwraps the gift she previously left him. It’s a present with a great deal of thought put into it, one of personal affection. It indicates the depth of feeling that Pepper actually has for Stark, as well as a little bit of her sense of humour.

Next time, Tony goes partying and some painful truths are revealed.

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 – The Mark II (01.01.12 – 01.07.32)

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

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