Iron Man (fight 3 of 3)

“That armor really tied the room together.”

3) Iron Man vs Iron Monger

The Fighters:

  • 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.

“Bad hug, BAD HUG! I NEED AN ADULT”

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.

Grade: C+

Coming Attractions: They can’t all be winners, folks. In the site’s darkest hour (so far), we transform, and roll out.

Not in the good way, unfortunately.

Advertisements

Iron Man (fight 2 of 3)

In which we witness the power of this armed and fully operational superhero!

2) Iron Man vs The Ten Rings (round two)

The Fighters:

  • Tony Stark, the creatively goatee’d billionaire genius etc etc we already know. Still played marvelously by Robert Downey Jr, though he’s pretty much all special effects in this scene.
    • Armed with: the Iron Man “Mark III” armor. More agile & durable than the clunky grey prototype we saw in the previous fight, sporting all sorts of fancy weaponry and a wicked paint job. Besides its advanced physical strength, this armor’s most useful weapon is Stark’s proprietary “repulsor” technology, which double as jets that enable extended flight and palm-mounted weapons which fire non-projectile concussive blasts (in an earlier scene Tony finds he can modulate their range, blasting the windows out of his garage without even singing the walls a few feet farther).
  • The Ten Rings, again. The current ringleader is a goofy-looking beardo (surprisingly chubby for a guy who lives off the grid in a cave network). Played by more bit performers and stunt men.
    • Armed with: various small arms, though there is a tank nearby which picks a fight with the wrong superhero.

There are also a lot of Afghani civilians around, complicating things.

The Setup: Since getting back from the desert Tony Stark has largely withdrawn from public life, cancelled all his company’s weapons contracts, and quietly worked on improving the armor he made his awesome escape in. Unfortunately, ace reporter Ricky Bobby’s Ex-Wife confronts Tony at a party about how more of his weapons are being used by surviving members of the Ten Rings in Afghanistan. Even worse, they’re being deployed in an operation (not really specified, but it looks like a mix of ethnic cleansing of the adult males and kidnapping of the women & children) against Gulmira, the village Stark’s dead cave-buddy Yinsen is from.

Tony puts his Revenge Face on, and proceeds to suit up in a way that would make even Barney Stinson envious.

“It’s gonna be Legen… wait for it….”

A quick word about the general design of the finished Iron Man suit the film producers ultimately went with it: They nailed it. First of all, it does help that this is a character whose outfit lends itself well to looking cool on screen; compare the struggles of various Spider-Man and Superman movie franchises as they tried not to make their protagonist look like someone wearing unflattering cartoon pajamas. But also, the comic book armor has undergone a surprising number of transformations over the years, and whoever designed the basic look that appears in these movies did an excellent job of fusing what worked visually with the more iconic red & gold designs, while also making it distinctively their own. My favorite part is one I think is an original touch, namely, the way the face plate locks down on the rest of the shell sets the armor’s face into a permanently angry/determined grimace, as if the man inside is perpetually giving his best “aw, HAYULL NAW!”

“… DARY!”

And that works for scenes like this one, because Stark is definitely, legitimately pissed. As are we, the audience, because as much as we hate the Ten Rings already, we’re now treated to a few minutes of the terrorists doing their bad guy thing on a bunch of hapless villagers: blowing up houses, executing people, separating families, and terrorizing children. In a nice touch, the whine of Stark’s approaching engines are mixed in with a child’s fearful scream, so that we don’t even hear it immediately, but soon it drowns everything out and Iron Man does his signature one-knee landing. Ricky is home, and Lucy has some splainin’ to do.

The Fight: Tony wastes no time, uppercutting one chump and repulsor-blasting several more. The remaining ones display a bit of canny cowardice and use the nearby civilians as hostages, putting guns to their heads until Tony powers down his hand lasers. This presents a perfect opportunity for Iron Man to deploy several “smart darts” from his hidden shoulder compartments. They hone in on the bad guys exclusively, after we see that the suit’s onboard computer can identify individual targets once Tony picks them out. In fact, the various views of the suit’s HUD are quite a nice touch, if not exactly original (it’s reminiscent of the Terminator’s POV shots), and Favreau also frames many shots from inside the helmet looking at Tony’s face– a good way to keep showing the audience the handsome actor the studio paid a lot for while still keeping him fully covered in the iconic armor.

The chubby ringleader has run away and is frantically dialing for help when Iron Man seizes him by smashing through the stone wall he was hiding behind and ripping him through. This plays out even more awesomely than it sounds, and shows that Tony Stark has a penchant for the theatrical.

Even though he’s the sub-boss here, Beardo is no match for a treadmill, let alone a superhero, so instead of taking him out personally, Tony delivers a more fitting punishment: leaving him unarmed and at the mercy of the angry mob he’d been terrorizing just a few minutes ago. Iron Man jets off with a raspy “He’s all yours,” which most of the Afghanis probably didn’t understand since it was in English, but whatever.

Tony also tangles with a tank (terrorists have those? ruh roh), one shot from which is able to knock him out of the sky, leaving him bruised and his paint job scratched. He dodges the second blast and counters with a wrist-mounted rocket of his own, then does the Action Hero thing: he turns around & stomps off before the explosion happens, because Iron Man is a cool guy and cool guys don’t look at explosions.

This is pretty much it, actually. Iron Man blows some stuff up and flies off for good, though he should have stuck around because his old adversary, Raza, happened to be en route. Stark is then hassled by some US fighter jets in the area, but I’m not counting that as part of the fight because it’s not really a “fight.” They shoot at Tony but he never retaliates, spending all the time trying to escape from or avoid them. He even saves one of them at one point.

I love everything about this scene, except for the fact that it’s too short. You get a ridiculous adrenaline rush watching this amazing superhero brutally and creatively take down all these evil thugs, but it’s all over within minutes. The movie does a good job tapering off that adrenaline with the extended sequence of Iron Man dealing with the Air Force, but that doesn’t really count as part of the fight.

Still, what is here is darn near miraculous. Iron Man looks, moves and behaves exactly like Iron Man should. Even with this upgraded armor he’s not invincible– the tank shell took him down– but he is extremely durable, fast, crafty and lethal. The terrorists’ use of human shields presented a situation that mere brute force couldn’t solve, and the aforementioned tank provided an opportunity to show off some more of the armor’s weapons. This is quite the promising debut for the fully-powered and prepared Iron Man.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: We finish up the first movie (don’t worry, we won’t go straight to the second) and Iron Man must, at his weakest moment, face his most powerful foe.

This guy.

Iron Man (fight 1 of 3)

COME AT ME BRO

Iron Man. The movie where everything came together just right, kicking off the Marvel Movie Dynasty that culminated in last year’s The Avengers raking in over a billion dollars at the box office. A billion, in case you forgot, is a thousand millions.

This movie doesn’t just click, it soars. Everything more or less works. But what about the fight scenes?

A superhero movie fight scene, mind you, can be a tough nut to crack. On the one hand, part of the appeal of superhero fiction is wish-fulfillment: it’s an empowerment fantasy about either natural super powers or advanced technology making a character into a One Man Army of Awesome (compare to action heroes like John McClane or Indiana Jones, who are strong but vulnerable, and have to triumph against seemingly overwhelming odds). On the other hand, the superhero can’t be too invincible, otherwise you have an “action” movie where an unstoppable god stomps on helpless mortals for two hours, and that’s boring; you need to invent some credible threats. It’s a difficult balance, and the problem is magnified with a character like Iron Man, whose fights necessitate spectacular staging and expensive special effects.

1) Iron Man vs The Ten Rings (round one)

The Fighters:

  • Tony Stark, a self-described “billionaire genius playboy philanthropist.” Played indelibly, indeed perhaps legendarily, by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: the Iron Man “Mark I” armor, cobbled together out of missile parts and various other scrap, powered by the miniature ARC reactor in his chest. Made of strong, durable steel and outfitted with wrist-mounted flamethrowers and at least one small rocket. Also it can fly, briefly. Essentially a walking mini-tank.
  • Members of the Ten Rings, a group of carefully diverse and non-Muslim (wouldn’t want to offend anyone) terrorists, who openly seek power rather than any specific ideology or religion. Played by various small-timers and stunt men, with Faran Tahir as the faction’s leader, Raza.
    • Armed with: various small arms, and some not so small.

The Setup: The Ten Rings kidnapped Tony, ambushing him while he was giving an on-site weapons demonstration in Afghanistan, and are holding him hostage until he builds them one of his advanced missiles. Instead Tony and his assistant Yinsen (a doctor and engineer who the group also kidnapped) secretly build what will later be the Iron Man armor prototype, a crude and bulky but effective weapon. Quite clever of him, and a nicely updated version of the character’s comic book origins, which were in Vietnam.

[Speaking of the comics, the name “Ten Rings” is a reference to the comic book Iron Man’s nemesis the Mandarin, a villain who wears ten powerful rings of alien origin. Presumably the upcoming Iron Man 3, starring the decidedly non-Asian Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, will resolve whether the group’s name was just a winking nod to the comics or a hint that Kingsley’s Mandarin was in charge behind the scenes the whole time.]

Raza– written well and ably played by Tahir, established as more canny & cruel than his underlings– has recently grokked the fact that Stark is probably stalling him, so this adds a ticking clock to the hero’s plan. In fact, the clock ticks too close to the wire, and Yinsen is forced to take drastic measures in order to buy enough time for the suit to power up. Director Jon Favreau does an excellent build-up, cross-cutting between Yinsen getting cornered by terrorists and the progress bar on the computer the armor’s attached to slowly building to full. And then….

The Fight: More excellent work here. Although we saw some of the suit before Yinsen even left, we haven’t seen the whole thing yet; as Tony dispatches the first three thugs who enter the room (there’s a sweet shot of his gloved fist tightening in anticipation first), Favreau only shows brief glimpses of Tony’s metal limbs brutally slamming into the terrorists’ bodies. A deft camera turn gives the full reveal just as the film’s hard rock theme starts up, and Iron Man charges into action.

Unfazed.

Plenty of fantastic business ensues as Stark clanks his way through the cave. Bullets bounce off him ineffectively, with one particularly dumb baddie trying a point-blank pistol shot which only gets him a very unfortunate ricochet. Stark clotheslines another terrorist coming around a corner, sending him spinning rather comically. He knocks down a thick metal door with several concussive pounds– something that Favreau shoots from the other side of (cliched, but effective). At one point, an errant swing gets Tony’s arm lodged into the cave wall, which he has a bit of trouble with; this establishes that the armor is not entirely perfect, and could use with some upgrades.

As he approaches the cave entrance Iron Man faces off against Raza, who came armed with a rocket launcher. His rocket misses, and Tony responds with a rocket of his own which also misses, but hits close enough to take Raza out of the action and obscure him in a cloud of smoke and debris. Stark then comes across Yinsen, looking much worse for wear after we last saw him being surrounded by gun-toting bad guys.

Yinsen’s death scene is good enough to have dramatic impact without being sad or drawn-out enough to drag down the gleeful mayhem of the overall sequence. It also serves a rather ingenious secondary purpose: distracting Tony and the audience from stopping to wonder if Raza is genuinely dead. Thanks to this bit of plotting, when Raza shows up later in the film with wicked burn scars, it’ll be a pleasant little surprise. Plus, Raza being felled inside the cave is what’s going to save him from the fireworks that will soon happen outside.

Favreau stages another great sequence as Tony exits the cave, removing all sound except for the slow clomp clomp clomp of his fat iron boots. Iron Man lets the waiting terrorists expend their magazines on his steel armor (thankfully none of them hit his exposed eyes or fingers) before fighting fire with, well:

(fwoosh)

One of the Ten Rings members is able to train a crew-served weapon (a .50 cal if I’m not mistaken) on Stark, and it is enough to knock him down– he’s not completely unstoppable, it turns out. Things are looking bad for Iron Man, but fortunately he’s unleashed enough flames that they start consuming the stockpiled munitions, triggering a series of explosions that engulfs the whole camp, and Stark jets away just in time. He doesn’t get all that far before the armor crashes, breaking apart on impact. A noticeably exhausted Tony breathes out a solid quip: “Not bad.”

Everything here works. The special effects are an excellent blend of practical and CGI, and with the possible exception of Tony jetting away at the end, you never get the sense that Iron Man isn’t really there. The music is the same cheerful hard rock stuff that permeates the whole movie (Favreau deserves restraint points for not using the famous “I Am Iron Man” song until just before the end credits roll) and the sound design is equally wonderful, selling Iron Man’s mechanical movements as well as making his blows against the villains feel palpably (but not graphically) brutal. That element of physicality is important, because the scene also establishes the terrorists here as unquestionably, though not cartoonishly, evil, and it’s immensely gratifying to watch them get taken out.

The pacing is just right, which is very important given that this is the movie’s opening gambit, at least as far as comic book action goes; Yinsen’s death provides a poignant little breather in addition to its aforementioned other purposes. Most importantly and remarkably, RDJ’s Tony Stark has completed a credible transformation from hedonistic rich kid to driven superhero. Not bad indeed.

Grade: B+

Coming Soon: With some well-applied spray paint and a LOT of hardware mods, Tony Stark is ready for a rematch, even if the bad guys aren’t.

“Pull my finger.”