So I still haven’t seen Iron Man 3 yet (probably tomorrow) but over the weekend I did get a chance to sit down and rewatch one of my favorite superhero films, the first in the current-trilogy, Iron Man. Released back in 2008, this film is essentially the origin story of the beloved superhero. We see Tony Stark, at the beginning full of arrogance and naive pride, transform into the still cocky but responsible hero known as Iron Man. In case it still needs to be said: I’m a big fan of this film. To me it is an origin movie second only to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, that’s how much I enjoy it. However this film, like the vast majority of superhero origin movies, has a real problem in its last act. As much as I love Iron Man I got to say that the last twenty minutes or so is really not that good. In case you’ve never seen Iron Man but would still like to, let me warn right here: spoilers to follow.
All right: we’re coming up to the climax of the film. Tony Stark has completed the Mark III suit and become Iron Man. Everything is starting to look up: he has a mission, his life has purpose, he is battling to regain control of his company, he knows who his friends and enemies are… yeah, time to fight Jeff Bridges in a giant robot suit. Yes, great! Wait, what?
Jeff Bridges plays Obadiah Stane (aka Iron Monger), Tony Stark’s second-in-command at Stark Industries. He is the film’s chief antagonist. A profit-driven man of power, Stane does not share in Stark’s desire for an ethically moderated Stark Industries. Also noticeable (and justifiable) is Stane’s disgust toward Tony Stark’s cocky boy-genius attitude. While Tony is the face of the company, Obadiah does a lot of the interior room work so he feels more than a little bitter towards his boss. Yeah, basically it all comes down to: Obadiah Stane wants to kill his boss. We can all sympathize (to some extent) with that.
The reason I am getting into this character as I feel the largest problem with the ending originates at the mishandling of this antagonist. Throughout the film, Stane is set up as a ruthless business man. Here is a guy who uses his corporate power to get what he wants: namely money. He doesn’t care who he sells weapons to, he just wants their dollars. So essentially Obadiah Stane is driven by greed, an appropriate vice for anyone of stature in the business world. This is where Bridges makes the character shine. The audience can see how Stane’s mind works. His motivations are understandable and his methods (up to the end) fit his character. Then he decides to put on a robot suit and punch Tony Stark.
Stane is not a hands-on guy. In an earlier scene when he is confronting a Ten Rings terrorist, he brings armed men to do his dirty work for him(these are the terrorists he also paid to try and kill Tony Stark at the beginning of the movie). This action is very inline with his character. Like his shady business practices, Stane operates from the shadows. Well he does up until the point where the movie needs a fight scene. Then he has to put on a suit.
This is always really frustrating to see in superhero movies and one of the reasons why the formula feels old. Superhero movies, origin superhero movies in particular, do not always need an ending fight scene with a big villain. When it works it’s great but when it doesn’t (and in case anyone is still wondering, I classify this movie in the “doesn’t” category) it drags the whole film down.
What also really irks me is that screenwriters Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (that’s 4 people who couldn’t write a better ending) knew that the action was out of character. This becomes obvious with Pepper Potts’ line: “Obadiah, he-he’s gone insane!” As a writer, let me tell you how the use of insanity works with characters. When you need a character to do something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, there are two easy options to make this possible: insanity and dream sequence. Now a dream sequence final fight might just be the most laughably bad idea I’ve heard of so the writers for Iron Man decided to go with option A.
Both approaches are lazy. This movie is 126 minutes long, there was time to establish the character of Obadiah Stane in any way that they wanted. They did, they did a great job creating a sleazy business man villain and they should be commended for that action. Problem was they also needed a fight scene. So instead of rewriting the character in an attempt to reconcile these two differences and develop them in a real and organic way, we got essentially this happening on screen:
So yeah, I have a problem with the character development of Obadiah Stane. Now let’s talk about the fight itself. It’s kinda cool, I especially like it when Stane keeps picking up cars and whacking Tony around with them. It’s not the best choreographed fight in the world but it works. Well up until this point:
What follows is the constructed finale of the fight. Stane literally shoots everything else on the roof while Tony urges Pepper to throw the switch (which may or may not kill him as well). I always love scenes with the villain talking about how much he’s going to kill the hero. They are wonderfully cheesy and instantly make the audience aware that they’re watching a movie. Like why not just shoot him? Again, the writers of the movie are aware of how stupid this is: “You ripped out my targeting system… Hold still, you little prick!” That is a line delivered by Stane to Tony Stark. What this translates to as essentially an explanation as to why Obadiah Stane suddenly earned all the marksman skills of a stormtrooper. The writers know that the scene doesn’t feel real and they try to explain it away with a line. I think, if anything, it draws more attention to the construction.
But whatever, it adds to the drama right? Rest assured, the day is saved. Tony and Pepper succeed in overloading the reactor and killing Stane… what? Slow the hell down. They kill him? Just like that? Yeah, Tony Stark kills his longtime friend, Obadiah Stane. Now to be fair, Stane has tried to kill Stark several times, including at that moment but still: he’s the villain, it’s his job to be evil. And, as I highlighted before, some of Stane’s hatred of Stark is justified. I mean let’s face it, before his humbling in the cave, Tony Stark was a real asshole.
Regardless, Tony Stark kills Obadiah Stane with the help of Pepper Potts. Is it a realistic action: yes, which is why this only ranks as a minor problem for me. I find it believable that, in that moment, Tony Stark’s first desire has to be to escape with his life. If Stane dies in the process then so be it. Still the fact that there is not even an attempted reconciliation scene does bother me. Obadiah Stane has been a prominent figure in Tony Stark’s life, you think he would want to avoid killing him.
Now that I’ve nitpicked, I want to close with reiterating that, despite all these problems: I still really like Iron Man. It is a compelling character journey movie. Tony Stark is the main focus and the film does his character spectacular justice. It also contains a great message that promotes self-control and the difference between cockiness and arrogance. These are important lessons and it’s great to have films that do such an excellent job displaying these ideals. So bravo, Iron Man, you are an excellent movie, it’s just a shame that your finale leaves a little to to be desired.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.