3) Iron Man vs Iron Monger
- Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. You know the drill by now. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
- Armed with: The same “Mark III” Iron Man armor we saw earlier. However, the ARC reactor powering it has been stolen by the villain, and Tony is making do with the early, inferior and much-depleted version.
- Obadiah Stane, a man with a name so overtly evil-sounding his parents could only have done worse if they’d named him something like “Lord Malacath.” Aka Iron Monger, though he’s never called that in the movie; the character’s comic book title is only used in a single oblique reference. Tony’s business partner and quasi-mentor, who had secretly contracted the Ten Rings to murder Tony. Played with gusto by national treasure Jeff Bridges.
- Armed with: the Iron Monger armor (Mark… Zero, I guess?). A larger, more powerful and less colorful version of Stark’s own suit. Stane had previously recovered the remnants of the Mark I armor, and you can really see where he built directly off of that design whereas Tony went in a much different direction. The Iron Monger suit looks like the original Iron Man on steroids, and kitted out with more traditional heavy weapons, including a gatling gun and missile launcher– a contrast to the sleek, futuristic tech of the Mark III.
The fight largely takes place on a crowded highway, so there’s lots of civilians too. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, never better) is nearby, staying out of the action but playing a vital supporting role.
The Setup: Stane has just incapacitated Tony and stolen the fancy new ARC reactor right from out of his chest. Pepper, having stumbled onto Stane’s villainy (she clicked on the “EVIDENCE OF ME WORKING WITH TERRORISTS, PLS DON’T SHOW 2 COPS , LOL” folder on his desktop), is leading a group of SHIELD agents to arrest him, unfortunately just as he dons the newly-working armor for the first time. He proves a surprisingly quick study (maybe he practiced in a simulator?) and makes short work of the agents. He’s about to terminate Pepper as well, when her not-boyfriend Tony shows up…
The Fight: … via rocket-powered flying tackle. The two go through the ground, a wall on the floor below, and a truck on the highway nearby. Pretty cool.
Even though Tony opens strong, Obadiah dominates most of the fight, slapping & smashing Stark around. Iron Man gets in a few good hits and moves–including one big blast from his chest beam– but not enough to break through Stane’s thick armor plating. He also gets in a surprising amount of dialogue and Bridges, delightfully hamming it up as the villain, delivers his lines with sadistic glee. His suit’s amplification system even lends his words a menacing growl. Oddly, Tony rarely replies to his opponent’s’ taunts, and while I get that that reflects Stark is being the more serious & mature combatant, it’s a shame that Tony’s trademark wit (and Downey’s verbal dexterity) couldn’t be deployed in the service of some serious barb-trading.
Iron Monger’s pure physical power is probably greater than Iron Man’s, but it’s clear that Stark’s suit is superior overall, as is his brain. It’s clear this hero could almost certainly beat this villain in a fair fight but, and this is the maddening part, the fight isn’t fair: Iron Man is hobbled before he even shows up. Since Tony is forced to use a ramshackle version of the ARC reactor that runs his suit, his power is diminished and constantly dropping; his dry British onboard computer tells him just before arrival that he’s at “48% and falling.” Jarvis’ verbal reminders about his rapid power loss become so constant throughout the scene that even Tony gets sick of hearing it. From a storytelling perspective it works fairly well (there’s some excellent plotting about how Tony lost the new reactor and why he had the previous model ready at hand) but as a fight scene this is incredibly frustrating. It’s not very fun to watch the hero spend the entire climax in a position of weakness.
Still, the filmmakers do the best they can and use the opportunity to show off Tony’s cleverness. He diverts most of what little power he has into that well-timed chest blast, and in a more impressive move, he tricks Stane into following him upwards, climbing so high in the sky that his suit is temporarily disabled by the ice buildup and sent plummeting to Earth. Thud. But Obadiah is only briefly slowed down and things go even worse for the increasingly weakening Iron Man as they continue their fight on the rooftop of Stark Industries.
Tony does get in another tactically smart move, as well as his best line, when he rips out some exposed circuitry from Iron Monger’s metal neck, glibly saying “This looks important!” This buys Stark some time, as Stane’s targeting computer is disabled and he has to open the suit’s canopy just to see. Tony himself also sheds his helmet and a few other bits of damaged, depowered armor.
The fight ends unexpectedly, with Tony dangling precariously over a ledge and Iron Monger finished off by Pepper (at Tony’s direction) blowing the large-scale ARC reactor sky high. For some unexplained reason, the enormous blast only knocks Stark aside to safety while lethally electrocuting Stane, despite the latter being on the edge of the explosion while the former was right in the center of it. Okay, sure. The end.
This is a bit of a disappointment, and ends an otherwise perfect movie on a bit of a deflated (not to say bad) note. Look, I understand that heroes, even superheroes, don’t have to always be in charge, winning, or at the top of their games. I appreciate that even a character like Iron Man, who’s all about epic extravagance and high-tech bells & whistles, needs to be forced to operate under humble circumstances. But not for the entire climax, and not after this kind of build-up.
I think the writers kind of painted themselves in a corner here. By the time the film’s ending rolled around they’d built up the Mark III suit to be so dangerous they had trouble thinking up a credible threat to it, so they punted a bit by Kryptonite-ing the hero; fortunately, this is a problem they were able to overcome quite well for the sequel’s climax. As I said above I like a lot of how this works from a storytelling/thematic standpoint, but the action fan in me is left disappointed nonetheless. But I do appreciate how they tried to make some lemonade out of things by showcasing Tony’s creative thinking and plotting out an unconventional finishing blow. And again, Bridges’ performance is a joy to watch (well, to hear)– this is a guy who knows he’s a supervillain and revels in it.
Coming Attractions: They can’t all be winners, folks. In the site’s darkest hour (so far), we transform, and roll out.