The scene shifts abruptly to a clean looking room somewhere else in the world, where computer monitors display pictures of maps, telemetry, details ion planes and what looks like Afghan landscapes. A lot of voices are going off all at once.
We’re in Edwards Air Force Base, California, made clear both by the caption and the sudden appearance of everyone in the room, all wearing military uniforms. Edwards is quite real, and is the home of a variety of testing units for the USAAF. That makes its apparent command and control of air operations in Afghanistan a little strange, at least insofar as this scene depicts, but we’ll just overlook that little quibble.
What the hell was that? Were we cleared to go in there?
No, they were using human shields. We never got the green light.
Oh, how I do hate this exchange. Part of the whole point of the Gulmira sequence, in my eyes at least, was to show the ability that Stark has to intervene in situations where the traditional authorities would be unable to. The United States was being shown as weak and ineffective at Gulmira, unable or unwilling to get involved. The line above excuses them of everything, justifying a total lack of action on war crimes and atrocities because “human shields” were involved. I just found it a rather childish way to give the US military an out on the story, since there is no way that an American film like this can apparently go too far in painting them as anything less than stellar.
Well, all bar what’s about to happen next. The point stands though, that Iron Man gives the US military an easy out of its responsibilities with that exchange.
The guy in command of this setting looks a little stressed, a Major played by Tim Guinee, who some might recognise from his recurring role on the last few seasons of Stargate.
Put me through to State. They’re going to be all over this.
I bet they are. One of the underlings spots a very fast moving red dot on his radar:
Get those monitors up! We got a bogey!
Nabbed Tony, although the whole point of the scene so far is that the military doesn’t know who just “hit” Gulmira. A rapid flurry of back and forth takes place, as the guys in Edwards do a great job of finding out who wasn’t involved:
Wasn’t Air Force!
We got the CIA on the line?
I’ve got Langley on the line. They want to know if it’s us.
No, it definitely is not us, Sir!
It’s wasn’t Navy.
I need answers! Can I please get eyes on target?
A nice sense of rising tension is being created here with the way that the dialogue unfolds at any rate. The guys in this room, so far, can only lock their eyes on the bigger screens on the wall in front of them, and that rapidly moving red dot of unknown design and construction.
Get me Colonel Rhodes from Weapons Development down here now!
There’s two things with this line. Firstly, it’s OK that Rhodes would be in Edwards, because as a weapons development guy, the main centre for USAAF testing is the perfect place for him to be. But, um, why is he being called into this situation right here? Is there any indication so far that they would need the input or advice of someone from USAAF Weapons Development? I would have thought that the automatic assumption would be that this red dot is some kind of Afghan operated aircraft or drone right? Also, why is the Major demanding that the Colonel appear before him?
In what is basically little more than a filler shot, we see Tony streak through the sky, almost a mirror of his flyby scene in the last sequence. For the moment, he is alone.
Back in Andrews, Colonel Rhodes has arrived. A plaque on the wall seems to indicate that this is CENTCOM, but that’s actually in Florida as far as I know. Anyway, the conversation is all business:
We ran an lD check and cross-referenced with all known databases. We have nothing.
Any high altitude surveillance in the region?
We got an AWAC and a Global Hawk in the area.
AWAC is “airborne early warning and control”, essentially an advanced military radar system. A Global Hawk is an advanced surveillance drone.
So this thing just appeared out of nowhere? How come it didn’t show up on the radar?
Got a minimal radar cross-section, Sir.
Is it stealth?
No, Sir, it’s tiny. We think it’s an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Well, they’re partly right. This little bit seems to be just trying to excuse the fact that these men have called on Rhodes, but I’m still not buying it. Just seems like a bit of a stretch to me.
Colonel, what are we dealing with here?
And then Rhodes snaps his head up, and considers for a moment. The gears are turning in his head, and we can tell that he is remembering a conversation he had previously in the film. A conversation about “working on something big” that came after the idea of “a pilot without a plane”.
Let me make a call.
Iron Man is still flying along steadily, when suddenly a ring tone is heard. It’s somewhat humorous to actually see the Mark III’s head tilt back to check out the noise, before Tony, presumably using some kind of hands free interface, answers.
I said it’s Rhodes.
Speak up, please.
The joke here being, of course, that Tony knows exactly who is calling and is just screwing with Rhodes. Typical Tony. Well, for once in the film, he’s about to regret being so snarky of his supposed best friend.
What in the hell is that noise?
Oh, yeah, I’m driving with the top down.
Tony’s behaviour towards Rhodes here is fairly glib, and it starts out with this excellent line, that will lend itself to Iron Man’s main theme. The tone is of someone trying to come up with an obvious lie, and not really caring about it.
Yeah, well, I need your help right now.
It’s funny how that works, huh?
Oof. Tony and Rhodes did not leave each other’s company the last time on the best of terms, we know this, but this line gives an indication of just how annoyed Tony was with the total dismissal that was shown to him by Rhodes. Rhodes, for his part, ignores the jibe and stays on message with a certain military focus.
Yeah. Speaking of funny, we’ve got a weapons depot that was just blown up a few clicks from where you were being held captive.
Well, that’s a hot spot. Sounds like someone stepped in and did your job for you, huh?
Mixed in with the bare attempt to lie his way out of what has rapidly become an interrogation, Tony lets another arrow fly at Rhodes, and the military in general, exulting in the fact that he was able to sort out a problem that they couldn’t (or at least in his mind – the longer term consequences for Gulmira are not something that Iron Man is going to be looking at too much). We should also take a moment to appreciate the intelligence of Rhodes, who has successfully guessed that Tony is responsible for whatever has been going on in Gulmira, though he hasn’t found the whole truth yet.
Why do you sound out of breath, Tony?
I’m not, I was just jogging in the canyon.
I thought you were driving.
Right, I was driving to the canyon, where I’m going to jog.
This quick back and forth is obviously meant to be more than a little comedic, thanks largely to Tony’s terrible efforts to cover himself. In truth, that aspect of it is also foreshadowing to the final moments of the film, evidence that having a secret alternative identity is not something that Stark is terribly interested in pursuing. For now, it is blatantly clear that Tony’s lies are fooling no one.
You sure you don’t have any tech in that area I should know about?
Suddenly, the blurry grey image of the Mark III appears on the screen in Edwards. Busted.
Bogey spotted! Whiplash, come in hot.
Okay, good, ’cause I’m staring at one right now, and it’s about to be blown to kingdom come.
Rhodes is refusing to tolerate any of Tony’s nonsense today, set on his idea that his friend has just sent what is presumably a UAV of some kind into an active war zone as part of his own personal vendetta. That explains the vehemence in this last line. There’s no way Rhodes suspects that it is Tony inside this thing, whatever it is.
Back in the sky, Tony is suddenly not alone . “Whiplash” is revealed as two USAAF F-22 fighter jets, the same kind that are proudly displayed in model form outside of Stark Industries. Tony’s radar isn’t quite as good as it could be apparently, because the two planes have apparently been able to sneak up behind him. Part two of this action sequence is about to start.
That’s my exit.
End of conversation, as Iron Man twirls offscreen to our right, the F-22’s in pursuit. A very different action environment to the last one has now begun, as Tony faces off against what are, we can infer from that model, something he had a hand in creating, and that he can’t really fight back against.
The F-22’s curl after the Mark III, your classic fighter jet shots here, birds eye looks from cockpits mixed with exterior glimpses of the chase.
Ballroom, this is Whiplash One. I’ve got the bogey in my sights.
Whiplash One, what is it?
I’ve got no idea.
You have radio contact?
Non responsive, sir.
Then you are clear to engage.
Back in the air, we’re back inside the suit, where Tony HUD helpfully gives the option for supersonic flight. That’ll do nicely.
Iron Man streaks away faster than he was going earlier, to the shock of the chasing F-22’s. He’s lost in clouds, but technology has no such constraints.
That bogey just went supersonic. I got a lock!
And now there is a missile streaking towards the Mark III, the two points getting closer and closer. The music is back on now too, giving the entire sequence an additional kick (OST: “Gulmira“) with the throbbing percussion.
The missile is closing in when the suit side pockets suddenly eject dozens of little red lights, which trail behind briefly, detonating the missile and producing a shockingly orange and fiery explosion. The Mark III is catapulted forward, Tony screaming, but alive. The chasing planes dodge the fireball, but aren’t fooled:
Wait a second. Bogey deployed flares!
Iron Man is tumbling to the earth, repulsors going off at random intervals in a desperate bid to retain control, Tony screaming all the while. He eventually does, and curls away, but the F-22’s are on his tail almost instantly, an incessant pursuit that shows no signs of letting up.
The missile option having been tried and failed, the pilots go for good ol’ fashioned guns. Stark is lined up in the crosshairs, and a steady stream of ammunition is sent flying out of the Raptors.
Tony dodges and yells as best as he can, but it’s painfully clear that he is unready for this kind of combat, especially with forces that he can’t shoot back at. Taking a few hits and with bits of metal flying off the suit, he makes a desperation manoeuvre:
They deploy and the Mark III comes to a dead stop, the camera moving away from him, him and the suit suddenly very small in the background, the F-22’s streaking past on either side.
Back in Edwards, the red dot vanishes.
That thing just jumped off the radar, sir. The sat visual has been lost.
No way that’s a UAV.
What is it?
I can’t see anything. Whatever it was, it just bought the farm, I think bogey’s been handled, Sir.
Rhodes, despite the apparent good news, does not look one bit at ease with what transpired, even if the sense of relief in the room is palpable. And then his mobile phone starts ringing, with a high pitched tone version of the Iron Man theme we heard earlier in Vegas (of course). Tony Stark, down as “The Starkster” and with an image taken straight from that Vegas outing – a million miles away from where we are presently for Tony – is calling.
Also, let’s thank LG and Verizon for coughing up the money for this sequence!
Rhodes takes a moment and steps aside before answering the phone, fully aware of the conversation he is about to have, and all that it entails.
Hi, Rhodes, it’s me.
I’m sorry, it is me. You asked… What you were asking about… is me.
Tony sounds pained, but Rhodes is in no mood to mollycoddle him over what has just happened, reacting with a quiet fury at the stunt his friend has apparently just pulled. But he still doesn’t grasp the full details:
No, see, this isn’t a game. You do not send civilian equipment into my active war zone. You understand that?
Back in the sky, we get that frontal look at Tony’s face inside the Mark III, now looking strained and under pressure, the HUD flickering alarmingly.
This is not a piece of equipment. I’m in it. It’s a suit. It’s me!
Must be hard thing to admit, but Tony isn’t getting out of this without help. Rhodes is left dumbfounded by this revelation.
Rhodes, you got anything for me?
Rhodes just stares back at the Major, his phone left hanging in his hand.
Back in the air, the F-22’s are ready to return to base, when one of them spots a certain something hanging on the bottom of the other.
On your belly! It looks like a…man!
An Iron Man? Glad they resisted the need to namedrop the superhero title.
Shake him off! Roll! Roll!
Rhodes can only look on in impotent horror as the F-22 banks and rolls, Tony desperately trying to cling on. But the manoeuvre is botched – as Iron Man finally lets go, the other F-22 is unfortunately placed right behind.
Iron Man, in no control, flies back and smashes through the wing of the first F-22, which is suddenly spiralling itself (interesting sidenote, this shot is recycled twice in rapid succession from different angles, so fast you don’t really notice in the playing of the film normally). Edwards looks on, baffled, with nothing they can do to stop the horror. The F-22 now, aflame down one side, is seemingly doomed.
The pilot attempts some brief control but has no choice but to “punch out” after a few terrible seconds. His canopy explodes out and he is ejected, but straight into the fire and smoke slewn slipstream of his doomed jet, which explodes shortly afterward. A shaky cam zoom up shows the pilot, still in his seat, plummeting to the ground without anything stopping him.
Whiplash One down.
Whiplash Two, do you see a chute?
Negative! No chute, no chute!
The unfortunate pilot, in a great series of shots that stay locked on him even as he falls, struggles with his chute release, which is hopelessly jammed. The men and women in Edwards look appalled, now apparently having to witness the inevitable death of one of their fellow airmen.
He’s not beyond hope yet though, because a white streak of smoke and a red flash is hurtling towards him.
Sir, I’ve got a visual on the bogey.
Whiplash Two, re-engage. lf you get a clear shot, you take it.
Rhodes, shaken out of his stupor, tries to intervene, much quieter than he was doing before.
Major, we don’t even know what we’re shooting at. Call off the Raptors.
That thing just took out an F-22 inside a legal no fly zone! Whiplash Two, if you have a clear shot, take it!
We’ll just ignore the fact that the Major just ignored the Colonel. Back in the skies, Tony closes in on the stricken pilot.
You’ve been re-engaged. Execute evasive manoeuvre.
Like the missile streaking towards him before, Tony gets closer and closer and finally gets to the pilot. With the strength of the suit, the chute release gets ripped out, and the pilot is saved, Iron Man streaking off after confirmation.
Good chute! Good chute!
Edwards erupts in cheers. It’s another important moment on the road for Tony to become a hero. In Gulmira he was on the offensive, dealing death to nasty people and helping some others in the process. Here, he saves someone from a terrible death very directly, and in a manner where he put his life on the line selflessly.
The Mark III spirals away, almost like a victory manoeuvre.
Tony, you still there?
Oh, my God, you crazy son of a bitch. You owe me a plane. You know that, right?
Yeah, well, technically, he hit me.
It’s nice that the tension has broken and that the two can joke about the enormity of what just transpired. Rhodes is laughing heartily though, seemingly just grateful that the pilot was saved.
So, now are you going to come by and see what I’m working on?
No, no, no, no, no, no, the less I know, the better.
It’s an interesting volte face from Rhodes here, who is essentially covering his own ass after his slightly strange behaviour in Edwards during this sequence. You would think that he would still be intolerant of the idea of Tony sending his own equipment – and himself – into an active war zone though.
Tony continues to waltz around clouds and mountains.
Now, what am I supposed to tell the press?
Training exercise. Isn’t that the usual BS?
It’s not that simple.
Blackout. Cut to Rhodes in full dress, in front of a podium.
An unfortunate training exercise involving an F-22 Raptor occurred yesterday. I am pleased to report that the pilot was not injured.
It’s still probably one of the best jokes in the film, even if it contributes to making Rhodes look more and more like an idiot in the face of Tony’s genius.
Watching Rhodes on TV is none other than Obadiah Stane, presumably in his own home. It’s a lavishly decorated place, with a mahogany aesthetic that is at (I would assume deliberate) odds with the Malibu mansion of Tony. Exotic art work, animal pelts, an extravagant looking chess set, fancy scotch bottles and some very nice looking pyjamas mark this whole place out, Stane in his castle and looking every bit the King. But, watching Rhodes talk, he’s clearly unhappy.
As for the unexpected turn of events on the ground in Gulmira, it is still unclear who or what intervened, but I can assure you that the United States government was not involved.
Stane continues to watch, perplexed and annoyed. The plot thickens.
For The Film
This sequence continues from the Gulmira action scene, but allows Tony to show off what he can now do in a different environment. He also gets to play the hero even more, doing an unreservedly good act in saving the pilot. We are also reintroduced to the Stark/Rhodes relationship, which has now evolved to a new place. But, it is still mostly just about action, as this will, essentially, be the last of it until the finale.
Stark is returning home victorious already, but gets the chance to do an even better job here. He has some issues to work out with Rhodes, and an unjustified high horse attitude in that regard, but is still showing off the kind of man he intends to be from this point on: someone who can and will put his own body on the line to save others.
Rhodes initially retains some mistrust and anger towards Stark, but when it becomes clear that his friend has personally stepped into a very dangerous situation, that changes. At first Rhodes is dumbfounded at the situation, but when he sees the kind of hero Stark can be, he becomes more positive towards his friend once more, and is now prepared to help him on his crusade.
Stark’s trusty electronic butler is along for the ride, but doesn’t get much characterisation here.
We only get a brief look at him, but what we see is grand, opulent, but also troubled. The action at Gulmira is vexing for Stane, and we might well wonder why.
Next time, Tony faces some revelations that are more unpleasant.
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