Pepper comes walking down the stairs towards the basement of the mansion, the shot focusing in on her (very nice) shoes initially, before panning out and taking her all in. We last saw her at the party, when Stark left her on the balcony to go and get a drink. That seems like a very long time ago now. I wonder if it will come up again?
She’s back in more traditional business attire now, though her hair remains resolutely down. A sign that she is designated, visually at least, as the love interest officially? Perhaps. Pepper takes a moment to stare, concerned, at the wrecked windows leading into the basement, all while some deliberately double edged dialogue takes place between Tony and JARVIS offscreen.
It’s is a tight fit, Sir. Sir, the more you struggle, the more this is going to hurt.
Be gentle. This is my first time…
Yuck, yuck yuck. The shot turns to see Tony struggling with the same machinery he used to put the Mark III on, the process apparently not as seamless and free flowing when going in the other direction. Stark is comically spread-eagled while the various robotic arms try and take the suit off, with great difficulty. Potts approaches, apparently unnoticed by anyone.
What’s going on here?
Downy Jr’s reaction is great, first like he almost hasn’t heard anything, then a confused look, and then a very slow turn to Pepper, even as he continues to struggle with the suit. Busted again. There’s a brief moment when he seems to be considering an answer, maybe some kind of clever lie or charming quip, to try and get out of the situation he seems to be in. But then, as he has done before and as he will certainly do again, he does an invisible shrug and just goes with it.
Let’s face it. This is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.
A masturbation joke? Iron Man really is the film that has it all. All that’s left is for a shocked and somewhat outraged looking Pepper to notice the damage the Mark III has taken in battle.
Are those bullet holes?
An awkward conversation awaits. But that will have to be moved to later, because we immediately sideswipe to a very different setting, the tense music returning. It’s Afghanistan, night, and a military encampment, bustling with militia activity, steam rising and voices babbling. We’re back with the Ten Rings it seems, not all dead after the combat in Gulmira.
Into this environment swings something a little alien a convoy of black SUV’s. Waiting with an armed guard is the still disfigured Raza, looking as intense and pissed off as ever. Whose he waiting for?
With a reverberating percussion beat (the start of OST: “Section 16“), Obadiah Stane steps into view, surrounded by his own black clad armed men. He’s no captive or supplicant. We immediately know that this is a meeting between friends, or at the least, non-enemies.
Stane, looking extra distinctive in a simple suit, walks up to Raza, towering over the man with all the gravitas that we have come to associate with him. He gives Raza’s scars an appraising look, but waits for the Ten Rings leader to break the silence, giving him an air of superiority.
Welcome. (Indicating his face) Compliments of Tony Stark.
Stane just smiles before replying, non-caring.
lf you’d killed him when you were supposed to, you’d still have a face.
Well, well, well. So, Stane and Raza were in cahoots to kill Tony from the start. The ambush was no random chance when it came to Tony – he was the target, and Stane wanted him dead. Every moment that we have seen of Stane in this film has been one where he was actively plotting to have Stark murdered. During the awards ceremony, the call after the weapons presentation, at the press conference, the party, he was planning something deadly the whole time, and still is. The Ten Rings were the implement for one attempt, but what else will Stane try? And what else, after the report on Gulmira, does he suspect? It wouldn’t take much for someone like him to put two and two together.
Raza is an arguing mood today:
You paid us trinkets to kill a prince.
So, Stane wasn’t upfront with the Ten Rings about Stark. Double dealing all the time eh? Regardless, Stane isn’t interested in this conversation, and brusquely changes the topic.
Show me the weapon.
Raza says nothing for a short moment, perhaps annoyed at Stane’s attitude, but relents. Stane is ordered to leave his guards outside while the two men have a private chat inside a tent. Favraeu is careful to give us a glimpse of that situation as Stane’s few guards, arms down, are surrounded by many of the Ten Rings militia, all with their fingers on the triggers.
Raza’s tent is a ramshackle affair, broken wood, rags and a battered looking Ten Rings flag all evident. But Stane has eyes for only one thing:
The Mark I, reconstructed as well as it could have been.
His escape bore unexpected fruit.
So this is how he did it.
This is only a first, crude effort. Stark has perfected his design.
Stane, much like Stark in earlier scenes, doesn’t even seem to be listening to Raza, circling the armour and admiring it. But with this dialogue, we can confirm that Stane is aware that the Mark III in Gulmira was also Tony’s design. Raza continues, even as Stane continues focusing on the armour.
He has made a masterpiece of death. A man with a dozen of these can rule all of Asia. And you dream of Stark’s throne.
Raza, always thinking of conquest. He’s misjudged, completely, Tony’s intent in designing the suits (and maybe overestimated how powerful they are – Asia is a big place). His last remark does get Stane’s attention.
Raza moves to pour a drink, acting far more friendly than we have ever seen him, as he blathers on about his vision. Stane, meanwhile, checks out the hole where the arc reactor has to go, which is empty. A crucial missing piece. The “golden egg”.
We have a common enemy. lf we are still in business, I will give you these designs as a gift. And in turn, I hope you’ll repay me with a gift of iron soldiers.
Stane gets in close to Raza and gives him a pat on the shoulder. And then he slips a small device out of his head, with glows red and emits a shrill tone. Blue glowing earplugs light up in Stane’s ears, and Raza is suddenly paralyzed, wheezing, unable to move and with strange blue colours emerging in a pattern on his face. Stane speaks Urdu in a low voice to the immobilised Raza.
STANE (in Urdu):
This is the only gift you shall receive.
This is an important villain defining moment in Iron Man. Up until now, you could be forgiven for thinking that Raza remains the primary antagonist, perhaps with Stane as his greedy, power hungry patsy (in fact, this is exactly how Iron Man 2 would go with similar characters). You could see a finale where Raza wears the Mark I and pays Stark a visit, and the two have a final confrontation.
Not anymore. Stane asserts a tremendous dominance on Raza here, getting him out of the picture, and does so with an amazing ease. Stane is our primary antagonist. This scene has made that crystal clear.
Now it is Stane’s turn to monologue, his fancy piece of tech having turned Raza into a shuddering zombie.
Technology. It’s always been your Achilles’ heel in this part of the world. Don’t worry. It’ll only last for 15 minutes. That’s the least of your problems.
Stane gives the horrified Raza a condescending pat on the head and departs. Outside, he surveys the changed situation:
More of his men, and the Ten Rings totally subdued, all having been done very fast and very quietly. But Stane doesn’t even give his guards the benefit of a grin or a happy look, he’s already walking away.
Crate up the armor and the rest of it. All right, let’s finish up here.
Offscreen, a cacophony of gunfire erupts. The Ten Rings, and Raza, are disposed with, coolly, clinically, and with just the barest amount of fuss. Tony Stark shut their offensive operations down and called it a day. Obadiah Stane surgically destroys them, and with patently little effort. He is the only bad guy now, and has stamped his narrative authority by rudely getting rid of the “little bad”.
In his SUV, Stane has a one-way phone conversation as the piercing violins return.
Set up Sector 16 underneath the arc reactor, and I’m going to want this data masked. Recruit our top engineers. I want a prototype right away.
A prototype? Just want is Stane, the man obsessed with weapons, going to make of Stark’s Mark I?
Sometime after their previous conversation, Pepper steps back into the basement, the expression on her face practically unchanged. Tony fiddles with the Mark III, presumably banging out the dents, but notices her fast.
Hey. You busy? You mind if I send you on an errand? I need you to go to my office. You’re going to hack into the mainframe and you’re going to retrieve all the recent shipping manifests. This is a lock chip. [hands her a USB stick] This’ll get you in. It’s probably under Executive Files. lf not, they put it on a ghost drive, in which case you need to look for the lowest numeric heading.
Stark’s tone is remarkably normal, for a man who was just discovered getting out of an advanced battle suit. Potts listens patiently, but seems mostly uninterested in the finer details of what Stark is proposing.
And what do you plan to do with this information if I bring it back here?
Same drill. They’ve been dealing under the table, and I’m going to stop them. I’m going to find my weapons and destroy them.
Stark is set in his voice and doesn’t look at Pepper as he says these words, though we can all feel the argument that is building up. Tony has realised that he can’t do all of this on his own. Rhodes is already involved, but Pepper is a different challenge to approach.
Tony, you know that I would help you with anything, but I cannot help you if you’re going to start all of this again.
Pepper’s voice is the voice of reason here. What she is seeing from her boss – the press conference, the isolation in the basement, the dance at the party and now this – is so alien and confusing that it’s easy to believe that she might think Tony has gone off the deep end.
But Tony has a response ready, and it is as close a manifesto of his new life and vision as you are going to get in Iron Man:
There is nothing except this. There’s no art opening. There is no benefit. There is nothing to sign. There is the next mission and nothing else.
Stark bares himself here, reaching for the hero’s pedestal and seeing if Pepper will come along. The mention of “art opening’s” is a specific call back to the first scene between Tony and Pepper when they discussed his art collection, and now Tony is rejecting the person that he was at that time, the irresponsible and blasé playboy, trying to show Pepper the new man that he has become, a man taking responsibility for the messes he has helped to create. And that man has a mission, which comes before all other things. This is the argument, and Stark is ready for it, a mixture of pleading and anger on his face. Losing Pepper’s support would be unbearable for many different reasons.
Is that so? Well, then, I quit.
She turns and walks away, seemingly rejecting Tony’s vision. It’s too much for her, to see the man she once knew so changed. But Tony isn’t giving up so easily.
You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction. And now that I’m trying to protect the people that I put in harm’s way, you’re going to walk out?
It’s an emotional, bitter attack on Pepper’s integrity, trying to implicate her in everything that Tony once did, one that doesn’t paint Tony in too good a light really. But it’s one of the only cards he has left to play. He can’t understand why Pepper won’t get onboard. Pepper, for her part, isn’t having any of it.
You’re going to kill yourself, Tony. I’m not going to be a part of it.
We might remember seeing Pepper upon Tony’s initial return from Afghanistan, crying as he emerged from the airplane. She thought that she had lost him then, and it showed. Now, as far as she sees it, Tony is asking her to step back into that kind of situation, where she will inevitability have to suffer through the loss of Stark, something that is far more personal than either would care to admit right now.
Tony sits down, emotionally exhausted by the conversation thus far.
I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do… And I know in my heart that it’s right.
Now this is an emotionally fraught declaration, which calls back to Tony’s escape from the cave and his final conversation with Yinsen. He sees a higher purpose in what he is doing, one that he genuinely believes in, heart and soul. He knows that he isn’t insane and doesn’t want anyone to think that of him.
Pepper listens to this last argument silently, and then takes a deep breath, stunned by the conviction in Stark’s words. She walks back and takes the “lock pick”, and looks down at Tony.
You’re all I have, too, you know.
And with that, the connection between the two characters comes full circle from the moment that Tony made the same statement to Pepper earlier in the film. It has been obvious for a while that these two have a deeper connection than might first appear, but it was one that Tony was acknowledging more and more, not Pepper. Pepper, in fact, seemed dazed and uncomfortable with facing up to that attraction. But now, here, with Tony baring his heart and as vulnerable as we have seen him since the cave, Pepper reciprocates a bit of that affection. These two, in this world, facing these problems, really do have to rely on each other a lot. For Pepper, Stark is now more than just an employer, just as she is far more than an employee to Stark.
She takes the lock chip, for Tony, and walks away. Tony, realising the depth of what took place, watches her go with a smile.
No waiting around for this plot point, as we cut to Pepper inside Stark Industries, heading straight into Tony’s office. Just another normal day for Potts, or at least that’s how she’s trying to portray it. It might have worked a bit more effectively if there were more people around for her to be fooling, but she is Stark’s assistant: her being here isn’t that much out of the ordinary really.
Pepper slips into Tony’s gorgeously expansive office, which offers a breathtaking view of Stark Industries behind an otherwise very simple desk. A few leather chairs and a few tables, some pictures of the company’s former glory days, overall this really doesn’t seem too much like the office of the man that we have come to know so far in Iron Man. But then again, maybe he doesn’t spend much time here.
Pepper gets right down to business, using the “lock pick”. It’s the standard Hollywood hacking nonsense, with lines of unintelligible code and flashing windows saying “security breach” while Gwyneth Paltrow does her best to look interested and engaged. I’ve never been satisfied with the way that the entertainment industry depicts hacking, even if I understand the reasoning for it: there needs to be action and movement, noises for the audience to follow, so that there is a sense of urgency created. “Real” hacking would not really do that. So, instead, we get this.
Pepper fins the shipping manifests that Stark is after, but then stumbles onto something else: Stane’s “Sector 16”, with blueprints showcasing what appears to be the Mark I only more streamlined and not so ramshackle looking.
Sector 16? What are you up to, Obadiah?
Who are you talking to Pepper?
Next up is something a bit more visually interesting: a video of Tony Stark being held captive by the Ten Rings, the same image we saw a very long time ago at the start of the film. We would have long forgotten the image of Tiny tied to a chair while armed men make declarations around him for a camera, but its reintroduction here is actually to tie up a small plot hole that this very video created: who was it made for?
Pepper uses some nifty translation software to get the English version of Raza’s words, and it isn’t pretty listening.
You did not tell us that the target you paid us to kill was the great Tony Stark. As you can see, Obadiah Stane…
Oh, my God.
…your deception and lies will cost you dearly. The price to kill Tony Stark has just gone up.
I’m actually not that sure about this revelation. It makes little impact on the plot beyond Pepper’s shocked reaction here and in the remainder of the scene, and the coming interaction between Tony and Obadiah in the mansion will actually do pretty much the same thing – confirm to the main characters that Stane is a bad guy – in a bit of a better way. In point of fact, this scene and this moment is when the film actually starts to go off the rails a bit, just as we are nearing the third act. It’s unfortunate, but the crafting of a finale routinely creates some logic holes that can’t be easily filled. Here, Favreau and his team need to set Pepper on a course of enlisting S.H.I.E.L.D help to take Stane down, but they don’t have the time (or, if I was being meaner, the skill) to make us understand why she doesn’t inform Tony of what’s really going on with Obadiah until it’s much too late.
Back in the scene, Pepper starts downloading the files when she suddenly gives a startled jump, as Obadiah Stane appears in the doorway.
So, what are we going to do about this?
The question is framed directly at Pepper, deliberately like an accusation, as Stane calmly walks into the room holding a glass. The implication is that Pepper shouldn’t be here, but then again, neither should Obadiah.
Pepper starts open mouthed at Stane, barely hiding her unease, as the rest of the files are moved onto her external hard drive. Stane, in standard movie villain fashion, starts pouring himself some booze from an ornate collection of glassware just off to the left of the room. Such a trope has been employed for a long time, to give whatever character who is doing it an air of power, superiority and just some movement in an otherwise dialogue-filled scene.
I know what you’re going through, Pepper. (Picks up whiskey bottle, sniffs) Tony. He always gets the good stuff, doesn’t he?
Stane’s demeanour gets a bit creepier and intense here, as he barely breaks eye contact with a very nervous Pepper, practically leering at her as he sniffs at the whiskey bottle and offhandedly mentions Tony’s predilection for quality. He pours another glass, as Pepper hides her hard drive with a newspaper, rather clumsily.
Stane comes closer to Pepper, and she gets the computers screensaver going, to mask the download. Stane is obviously suspicious, and continues speaking in a lackadaisical way, more intent on catching Pepper out than anything, the strained violin strings adding to the tense atmosphere.
I was so happy when he came home. It’s was like we got him back from the dead.
He walks behind Pepper and takes a seat next to her, looming over her really, talking as if he and Pepper are close friends and confidantes.
Now I realise, well, Tony never really did come home, did he? He left a part of himself in that cave. Breaks my heart.
Stane is playing the grieving friend to a tee here, and appears to be sounding Pepper out, perhaps seeing if she can be turned to his line of thinking on Tony: that he is not all there and cannot be trusted to run his own company, the line we know Stane is trying to convince others of as well. But Pepper, terrified by the threat Stane poses to her directly, isn’t of a mind to just agree with him.
Well, he’s a complicated person. He’s been through a lot. I think he’ll be all right.
Stane slurps away at his drink as she comes out with this, and the scene really is all about what isn’t being said. Stane goes a bit more creepy with his rejoinder.
You are a very rare woman. Tony doesn’t know how lucky he is.
Having the villain hit on the hero’s love interest is fairly standard stuff, and it seems positively lazy here really. Nothing more is really made of it, but Stane’s lines and body language in this scene have been all kinds of overbearing and uncomfortable. Pepper feigns delight at the compliment and makes her excuses, secretly grabbing the hard drive with the cover of the paper. She heads for the door, while Stane stays sitting, thinking, contemplating.
Is that today’s paper?
See, this starts the problem with Stane. If he knows what Pepper is actually carrying, then he shouldn’t be so obtuse about it, he should be demanding it back from her. Instead, the two play out this bizarre little dance of deception.
(Walking over to Pepper) Do you mind?
Not at all.
(Takes paper) Puzzle.
Hmm. Pepper walks out of the office, intently watched by Stane all of the way. She still has the hard drive of course, secreted in her hand. Stane is left alone, and checks the computer, discovering the truth.
His reaction is one of restrained anger and desperation, now fully aware of what just happened. He gets up and goes after Pepper, but it’s too late: she’s already heading out the door and is able to grab some company for protective purposes, as we see Agent Coulson sitting down in the lobby.
Ms Potts? We had an appointment. Did you forget about our appointment?
Nope, right now. Come with me. We’re going to have it right now.
Yeah, walk with me.
I’m going to give you the meeting of your life. Your office.
The two walk off, Pepper looking harried and Coulson confused. She risks a glance over her shoulder, and Stane looks down on her from an upper floor, unable to do anything to stop her leaving. The game is up.
And with that, comes the big plot problem, which is Obadiah Stane’s behaviour from this point on. It’s all over for his schemes. His gun running operation is known by both Tony and the US government now, with the proof to back it up. It’s incontrovertible. You’d think he’d be all about either burning off any of the evidence that remains within his power and fighting the coming charges, or getting the hell out of the country as fast as he can.
But Stane isn’t going to do any of that, and this simple fact lies at the heart of some of Iron Man’s more serious problems. But we’ll leave discussion of that for another time.
For The Film
We’re basically just inside the third act/finale now, as Stane becomes readily indentified as the primary villain and events begin to become a bit more accelerated. This section serves to maximise that revelation, and to give a bit more time to the Tony/Pepper relationship, with a bit more reciprocation from Pepper. Tony isn’t alone in his mission anymore, and needs to start trusting more people. The stage is set for the ending, and an inevitable confrontation between Tony and Obadiah, their opposing world views and their opposing suits.
His first proper mission completed, Tony has to try and get Pepper onboard here, to get her to understand that his crusade is coming from a real change in his mindset, and not just his own unique brand of insanity. He appeals to her sense of right and wrong, and we all know that when he does he is doing more than just reaching out to a potential ally.
Still helping Tony out, and still showcasing that inbuilt sense of humour.
She’s initially willing to walk away from Tony when she gets the bird’s eye view of what he’s been up to, angered and concerned at his reckless behaviour. But she comes to understand quickly, that Tony’s actions have much more meaning to them than she first realised. She admits a depth of feeling for Tony and then carries out his request, putting herself in danger during the confrontation with Stane, but managing to extract herself with daring.
The cats out of the bag now. Stane reveals himself as Iron Man’s primary villain, and does so with a bang, destroying Raza and what is left of the Ten Rings before attempting to outdo Tony in the armoured suit department. With Pepper he is cold and calculating, immensely creepy in his attitude, but he is unable to stop her from getting the truth about him. He’s running out of options, and his next actions will be those of a desperate man.
His relationship with Stane is defined, and his grand dreams of becoming a bigger fish are elaborated upon. But it’s all for nought: Raza grand delusions blind him to the ambush, and he (presumably) dies, having lost everything.
Waiting patiently for his scheduled interview with Stark, Coulson gets dragged into Pepper’s subterfuge, and will play a larger role in the finale.
Next time, Stane gets his own prototype up and running.
To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.
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