A news reporter stands in from of a line of drably clad people, hurrying by her clutching bags to them amid an environment of dirt and debris. Tony Stark is watching the new on Gulmira, and it isn’t pretty.
The 15 mile hike to the outskirts of Gulmira can only be described as a descent into hell, into a modern day Heart of Darkness. Simple farmers and herders from peaceful villages have been driven from their homes, displaced from their lands by warlords emboldened by a new-found power.
Tony is on his sofa, dead centre in front of the television, tinkering with one of his repulsor gauntlet/gloves in an offhand manner, his attention focused entirely on what’s happening in front of him. It isn’t clear how much time has passed from the party to this point, but it can’t have been too long. The metal is actually CGI it seems, and it’s a really neat effect, looking fairly seamless, even on the small screen.
Amid scenes of urban warfare, random gunfire and desperate people, the reporter continues:
Villagers have been forced to take shelter in whatever crude dwellings they can find in the ruins of other villages, or here in the remnants of an old Soviet smelting plant. Recent violence has been attributed to a group of foreign fighters referred to by locals as the Ten Rings. As you can see, these men are heavily armed and on a mission. A mission that could prove fatal to anyone who stands in their way. With no political will or international pressure, there’s very little hope for these refugees.
A few shots of Raza and a Jericho missile system serve to emphasise who is behind all of this bloodshed.
Tony, grimset, stops fiddling with his glove and stands up. The sweatshirt helps to give him a more ramshackle air than how he looked at the party, but it’s the look on his face – anger, disgust, betrayal – that should give the audience serious pause.
Around me, a woman begging for news on her husband, who was kidnapped by insurgents, either forced to join their militia.
This would seem to be a nod in the direction of Yinsen. We know his family is dead of course, but this little aside serves to remind us of the kind of evil the Ten Rings likes to perpetrate.
Tony suddenly raises his arm and, in a moment of emotional destruction, fires off a blast from his repulsor glove, creating a bang and a flash of sparks elsewhere in the garage. It’s a total release of negative energy from Stark, done with the most stern kind of single-mindedness, at once another test and a firm declaration of intent. Tony smiles grimly at the destruction he has wrought, perhaps surprised by the sheer power he is apparently able to wield in just his hands alone.
Around me, a woman begging for news on her husband, who was kidnapped by insurgents, either forced to join their militia… Desperate refugees clutch yellowed photographs, holding them up to anyone who will stop. A child’s simple question, “Where are my mother and father?” There’s very little hope for these refugees, refugees who can only wonder who, if anyone, will help.
Tony advances on the camera now, another hero shot, only this one is much more understated in heroic terms, and more intense. He turns and looks at a reflection of himself in the glass of the garage doors. It is an absolute cliché, to see oneself in the mirror and react angrily, but Iron Man does it anyway, with Tony gazing at his own reflection with anger and a measure of disgust.
The repulsor is thrust up with fury, and the glass shatters amidst the flash and the smoke. Not satisfied, Tony hits the glass to the right, and then spins and hits the one to the left. It is both an expression of rage at his circumstances and a demonstration of the kind of power he has in his arms, mixed in with a just a little bit of the Tony Stark swagger. Having wrecked the entrance to the garage in this demonstration, Tony just walks away, with more than a small sense of determination in his stance.
What follows is the epitome of Iron Man’s CGI style and the films primary “gearing up” sequence. For a full 50 seconds there is no dialogue and barely a glimpse of Tony proper, as he steps onto one of his black grids, now clothed in some kind of all body, skin tight exercise ware, and allows his machinery to encase him in the Mark III. Favraeu delights in showing off all of the little details that he can, of parts fitting seamlessly together, of nuts and bolts getting screwed in tight, of power sources being hooked up and everything working in a flawless pattern. The music for the entire sequence has been building to this moment, very low and understated, but now turning into the dedicated rhythm of the flashier sections, all piercing violins, booming percussion and the twangs of an electric guitar, a tune that ties back, deliberately I would guess, with the same music that accompanied the montages in the cave (OST: “Iron Man“).
Nearly strapped in entirely, we get one last glimpse of Tony’s face before the Mark III engulfs that as well. He is resolute, determined, set on his course, sure of himself and knowing exactly what it is he intends to do from this point. It is a hard and unforgiving visage. When the mask of the Mark III takes over, and we see Iron Man in full for the first time proper, the difference between the human and metal face is not so different. The eyes light up, the music swells, and away we go. The power, the precision and the mental faculty behind Iron Man is brought to life vividly in this tension building moment, a deep breath before a storm.
A brief segway shot shows us Iron Man in flight, blazing through a bright sky and white clouds, zooming up close to the camera so we can briefly see its various flaps moving, before blasting off to our right. The cone of air that erupts from the front indicates the suit is capable of supersonic speeds, and this moment seems to exist just to make that fact about the suit clear: it’s actually going to be important in a few minutes.
We don’t need to be told where Iron Man is off to of course. Gulmira is a scene of chaos, a fact made clear by the opening shot, which seems to show a Jericho Missile system being fired off in the distance, clouds of dirt and sand thrown up by its detonation. What follows is pure horror: the streets of the town are filthy and bullet swept, swarming with desperate looking people and murderous soldiers. Guns are fired indiscriminately into houses, grenades are thrown. Everywhere there is random violence and screaming, refugees fleeing and sheer misery. Iron Man doesn’t do a great job of explaining just what the Ten Rings’ purpose is with all of this violence, which is a shame, and I guess we are just supposed to assume that it is some kind of powerplay or sectarian issue, which would fit the locale in any event.
Our old friend Bakaar oversees things in the centre of the town, his bulk set against the wistful appearance of falling snow, a desert that seems cold and unrelenting. He screams commands in his language, seemingly uncaring of the violence all around him. Next to him, a family is shepherded away from their home at the point of a gun, stumbling all the way.
The families are apparently being herded into trucks, for what purpose, who knows? But this particular family incur Bakaar’s wrath, apparently for no other reason than their slowness. The father figure, a desperate looking man wrapped up in woollen clothing, is dragged away amid the screaming but unheeded protests of his family, taken against a wall where other men are being forced to cower. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s coming next. The entire scene is a terrible glimpse into the violence and horror that the Ten Rings perpetuates, which we have only had a slight taste of so far, through the attack on Tony’s convoy at the beginning of the film. We already consider them clear and undoubted antagonists, but this whole sequence just drives the point home.
We are treated to the heartbreaking and tension increasing sight of this poor man trying to shove his son away from him when the boy breaks free of his captors, with the entire scene only a few steps away from breaking into gunfire it seems. Bakaar roughly thrusts the boy away, seemingly annoyed at this tiny delay to his plans, and then shows off some of the brutality we have come to expect of him, beating and kicking the defenceless man while he is already down. His point made, he apparently gives one of his underlings the order to shoot the man.
The underling can’t just do it, he has to prop the man up and scream in his face first. A visual confluence of terror and misery is occurring here, between the man’s scared face, the screaming Ten Ring’s soldier and the crying of the nearby family, forced to watch their father’s execution. But there is also a strange whistling, growing in intensity and coming from afar.
Both the young boy and Bakaar look up to the sky. The violins draw out. And in an instant, the Mark III is descending from the sky, righting itself and pounding into the ground, knee and hand first. The metallic ring that echoes outwards serves to remind us that, yes, this is the “Iron” Man.
It is a split second of strangeness. All music and noise stop from Gulmira, the only sound being the whirr of the suit as Stark gets to his feet. Something very odd, practically alien, has entered this situation, and for a very short space of time nobody does anything.
And then the gunfire starts. First up is the underling who had previously been harassing the poor family man. He unloads his weapon on the Mark III, creating a chorus of dings and little else, before Iron Man unceremoniously punches him into the air. He spins ungraciously and crashes into a wall above everyone else. The power of the suit against human targets, mollified by the fact that the target was an unqualified bad guy, has been made clear.
Tony’s only just getting started. He turns, the repulsors makes their little charge noise and then fire at another unfortunate member of the Ten Rings opening fire, who flies backwards and through a wall. Another turn, another ring, another fire, and another hapless bad guy is sent sprawling backwards like he’s just been hit by a truck. And another is then sent flying into some crates. Stark Industries crates.
Is Tony Stark killing these men? The force that is apparently behind the repulsors seems to indicate that yeah, he sure is, or at least injuring them very severely. Do we care? Not really, only insofar as what it says about Tony, not about the fate of this murderous gang. But in these actions, potentially fatal, we are seeing the kind of hero that Tony Stark is setting out his stall to be.
And we see it more clearly in the next moment. The Mark III turns, arms raised, ready to fire, only to be confronted by this:
Ten Rings goons, their guns pointed at helpless women and children, screaming at Tony to, presumably, stand down or else. If we already hated the Ten Rings for their actions in Gulmira – and we did – this action strips away any last shred of sympathy we might have for the armed men now having to face up to Tony Stark’s mechanical monster. Human shields, the last refuge of the most cowardly.
Tony does stand down, lowering his arms and, seemingly, deactivating his repulsors with a flick of his fingers. But that doesn’t mean he is letting these guys get away with it. The Mark III glares at the situation in front of him.
Cut to the HUD display inside the suit, though for the moment we still don’t get to see Tony’s face like we did before. I imagine the point was to actually remove that humanity from the Mark III, and make us see it, temporarily of course, as just this heartless machine of destruction – and vengeance.
The HUD, very quickly, marks the people before the Mark III. The ones with guns are in red and “HOSTILES”. The ones in white, unarmed, are “CIVILIANS”.
In a blink of an eye, two very small launchers emerge from the Mark III’s shoulders and fire off…something. Bullets, darts whatever. The Ten Rings soldiers fall instantly, never having any time to pull their triggers. It seems clear that Tony has just shot dead these men. And, to be brutally frank, it was not an unjust act. The launchers – whatever they were – slide back into the compartments they came out of.
There is another moment of stunned silence. Then the young boy who had previously ran to his father breaks free of his grasp and runs to his “Papa”. The music starts to return here, all of the rest having been done without sound and very, very quickly, as if to add to the sense that it was all really happening.
Iron Man thuds away off camera, only the eyes of the boy embracing his father watching him go. This reunion is the payoff for Tony’s intervention, marking it even further as right and correct, but there is more to do.
Cowering in one of the bullet strewn buildings is Bakaar, peeping out of the corner and then trying to call somebody on a satellite phone, dialling rapidly. And then a hand comes through the wall.
The power of Iron Man is being shown again, and Bakaar has around a quarter of a second to stare, wide-eyed, before he is actually being dragged backwards through the concrete and then flung out into the open space.
Poor Bakaar. Tony takes off, pausing to hover just long enough to say the action sequences only line of (English) dialogue:
He’s all yours.
Stark flies away. The crowd look down on a suddenly terrified Bakaar, and the last shot we get of the fat bully is him cowering as numerous boots step towards him. Alone and in the hands of those he was just about to murder? I think it is safe to assume that we won’t be seeing Bakaar again.
Tony flies off into the sky, blazing away over the Afghan landscape and through wispy clouds, a triumphant shot if ever there was one. Down below, gazing on what I assume is the rest of Gulmira, Iron Man’s HUD spots the Jericho Missile system that the Ten Rings have apparently been able to construct out of the Stark Industries materials they somehow managed to obtain.
But then there is an explosion, a flash of light, the black soot of smoke, and Iron Man is plummeting to the ground, landing with a thud on a distant shot, a heavy battle tank in the foreground, the impact blast of Stark’s fall in the background. It’s a hell of a shot for a tank to make on a target moving that fast and that far away.
The Mark III crawls out of the impact crater through a wreath of smoke. The difference in appearance is plain, as the helmet of the suit is now blackened and smoked. It still has that angry look though.
Iron Man faces down the tank on the other end of the street. It is another moment of silence, an old fashioned show down. The tank fires, and Iron Man, almost gracefully, stands aside and watches the shell rush by. Then he puts his arm up, a little missile pops out, it fires, and a ringing ping comes from the tank.
Iron Man turns and walks away, not even looking as the tank erupts in an explosion, and the throbbing soundtrack returns with gusto. It’s a hell of a cliché moment (to the extent that there is even a song about it that references this moment) bit this little bit of action serves to, firstly, show Iron Man as not completely all powerful – he can be brought down – but also, secondly, he is still amazingly powerful, with Tony Stark’s swagger added to proceedings as well.
The Mark III is covered in bullet dents and scorch marks, but Stark isn’t finished yet, even as the Ten Rings open up again. It’s all to no avail. Iron Man floats into the sky once more, the HUD identifies the Jericho’s, and one repulsor double shot later, our screen is swallowed by a fireball. Mission accomplished. A militia like this is simply incapable of stopping Tony. The throbbing guitar (the beginning of the next part of the OST: “Gulmira“) accentuates this.
Somewhere nearby, a convoy of trucks comes to a stop, and we’re treated to Raza gazing out at the destruction that has been wrought.
But this is all about Tony Stark, his moment, and our last glimpse of this sequence is the newly born Iron Man streaking away out of Gulmira, his task done.
For The Film
This is our first proper action sequence since the escape from the cave, and is also our first look at the proper Iron Man in action. This whole affair is about building Iron Man up and up, both in terms of the power he can wield and in the righteousness of his cause. Faced with betrayal from those close to him and the spread of his enemies elsewhere, Tony fully accepts the role he has been building towards, and goes out to clean up the mess his company has helped create. He does so decisively, laying waste to the Ten Rings operation in Gulmira, and saving lives in the process. He isn’t all powerful, but this sequence leaves us in no doubt as to the immense power that Tony is now able to use.
Tony starts this sequence is a dark place, bereft of allies and witnessing the crimes that his company has a hand in. He decides to rise to the occasion and take his secret projects to their logical conclusion. His efforts are a huge success, and his crusade against the Ten Rings is as justified as they come. A lot of payback on Raza and his men has been gained, and the Stark Industries weapons that were threatening the land have been dealt with. Tony is getting stuff done.
Fat, stupid, cowardly Bakaar. We see him doing what he does best – bully and taunt – and is satisfying to see him undone in the manner that he is. Bakaar, apparently, dies the coward that he is.
Only a brief glance at him, witnessing what Iron Man has done to his operation in Gulmira. He might be down, but he’s not out yet.
Next time, Tony takes on the USAAF.
To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.
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