Mental Flotsam, Mental Jetsam

Because the only thing that beats going crazy is going crazy with somebody else

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Superb Villainy of Obadiah Stane

***Iron Man Spoilers Below, You've been warned.***

Let's face it; any hero is only as good as the villain he fights. (What would Peter Pan be without Captain Hook? Bored, that's what.) A protagonist hoping for superhero status requires an archenemy likewise up to the challenge. For your consideration, I submit the near-perfection of villainy that is Obadiah Stane in Marvel Studio's Iron Man.

At the film's start, Tony Stark is a carefree womanizing narcissist, more devoted to his own hobbies than work or social obligations. The man arrives late to a sales meeting with the army. He respects no-one. He's a tool. Granted, a cool one. He has charm and wit, he shares his toys/stewardesses with abandon; but he's still a tool.

One terrorist blitz later, the focus of his entire life dramatically shifts. His eyes are opened. He's not back in town ten minutes before he takes his business and his life by the reins. Necessity is the mother of invention (and what an invention), but without the catalyst, Stark would have gone on blissfully, irresponsibly ignorant.

Enter Obadiah. Father figure, business partner, snappy dresser; Stane inadvertantly engineers the birth of Iron Man when he takes out a contract on Stark in Afghanistan. Without Stane, there is no story.

While the same can be said of any good antagonist; take a closer look at Stane's technique. He hits all the points of archetypal villainy and he does so with panache.

What's his motivation in the first place? Greed. Understandable, but Stane is already rich. He co-runs Stark Industries, which has afforded him every luxury. The magnificent bastard wants even more of the pie when he's already stuffed.

The man has class, he delivers bad news with pizza. From New York. He's hands-on with his schemes: He calls Stark minutes before the Afghanistan ambush to ensure his victim's in place.

A good villain is still human. He has a vulnerable side. Stane's violent exasperation over the fact that his best engineers can't re-create Stark's masterpiece is wonderfully telling.

Stane's status as lifelong friend to gullible Tony only makes the betrayal that much sweeter. That he creeps into Stark's home and ala Claudius pours poison in his ear (so to speak) displays his flair for the dramatic. And like any good villain, he monologues-- as he's literally prying the life out of Stark's chest, no less. Outstanding.

He has his vices, like drinking at work. During his scene with Pepper Potts, he is visibly inebriated. Not merely drinking, drunk. Kudos to Jeff Bridges for playing it convincingly: His speech is over-enunciated, his body language is forcedly aloof. Well done.

Henchmen? Check. Halfway around the world, Stane can arrange a wet-works team to escort him to the camp of the Ten Rings, and casually order the execution of a dozen men or more. He engages the services of a terrorist organization, then liquidates them without batting an eye. Evil!

So: what's left for a comic book bad guy to do? Put the damsel in distress? Check. Pepper's life is in danger from the moment he realizes she's downloading his secrets for Tony.

Back to the hero/villain dichotomy, the bad guy must be on the hero's same platform. In this case? Armored rich guy vs. Armored rich guy. Stane's suit is just bigger, stronger and better-armed. Much better armed.

When the chips are down and it's time for the last act of a desperate man, Stane delivers. Why? Pepper Potts spells it out in one simple sentence: "He's gone crazy." Couldn't have put it better myself. Putting civilians in danger, launching rockets and mini-gun rounds on the streets of Los Angeles; and delivering pithy one-liners.

Finally, I have to salute any supervillain that cannot be beaten by his opponent alone. Watch it again: Stark is bruised, battered and out of juice when Stane is taking his time to blow Stark to smithereens. The Iron Monger has beaten Iron Man soundly, and his tone at this point is dismissive; as one would address a bee about to be swatted. "Stand still, ya little prick." It's Pepper that saves the day and sends Stane to that big Iron Forge in the cellar.

To review: Obadiah Stane may be one of the best comic book movie villains to come along in a very long time. He's intelligent, he's direct and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. He is Iron Man's equal in many ways and where he isn't; he steals what he needs to level the playing field. Short of actually winning in the end, I can't think of how he could improve his performance-- or Bridges', for that matter.

Well done. Well done.


  • At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Heather said…

    This review/analysis is dead on, point for point. I too loved Bridges in this movie; however, I didn't pick up on the fact that he was drunk when Pepper was downloading the ghost drive in Tony's office. Very subtle stuff. Maybe I'll catch it in my fourth theatre viewing.

  • At 12:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good review. Iron Man kicked MUCH ass. You kick ass too, Case-ster.



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