Godzillafart's Amazing Spoilerific Iron Man 3 Review
Does Iron Man 3 round out the best comic book movie trilogy of all time, or does it continue the downward trajectory of Iron Man 2? Read on to find out. Major spoilers ahead!
Iron Man 3 shines in large part because Shane Black spends more time focusing on the Man than the Iron. The movie begins with Tony suffering from insomnia and panic attacks after the events of the Avengers. He has thrown himself into his work and his relationship with Pepper is hurting for it. Simultaneously, a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin, played to terrifying effect by Ben Kingsly (more on that later), has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings around the country. When Tony’s Head of Security, Happy Hogan, is injured in one of the blasts, Tony issues a public challenge to the Mandarin. This ends up being a foolish choice as the Mandarin responds by promptly blowing up Tony’s house, which, through a chain of events, leaves Tony presumed dead and without a functioning suit in rural Tennessee.
Tony ends up enlisting the help of a young boy to get back on his feet and plan his return. This part of the story uses a potentially dreadful Hollywood trope, but thankfully Tony’s friendship with the boy never falls into the dangerous pit of gooey sentimentality. Every time it seems to be going in that direction, the script does a summersault and the resulting twist of tone is both unexpected and uproarious. A shining example of this is Tony’s response to the boy telling him that his father ran out on him and his mother 4 years earlier. “Dad’s leave. No reason to be a pussy about it”.
Tony spends much of the film in deep in self-reflection and Black manages to use Tony’s brooding to do the same with the series. At one point Tony, musing over Killian’s decent from passionate scientist to evil megalomaniac states “You start with something pure, something exciting. Then come the mistakes, the compromises.” The monologue plays the duel role of demonstrating Tony’s growth and burgeoning humility while simultaneously being a thinly veiled swipe at the flawed Iron Man 2.
Downey and Paltrow have perhaps the only compelling romance in any comic book film and the chemistry between the two continues to be one of the best parts of the series. Thankfully, Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is given a lot more screen time and she excels at bringing action as well as emotion. While never getting in the way of the drama, the film is seriously funny. Black is a master of writing smart, hilarious banter and RDJ is a master of delivering it. Most of the humor comes from Tony’s wit, which ends up not only being incredibly entertaining but also furthering a main theme of the film: What makes Tony special is his mind, not the suit. The suits themselves become expendable. As extremis soldiers tear through the remote controlled suits of armor, you can almost hear Tony speaking the old Doritos tag line “Crunch all you want, I’ll make more.” I won’t spend much time here on the action. Suffice to say it’s breathtaking and just about flawless. Especially great are the attack on Tony’s house and the rescue of Air Force One.
And now the twist: Half way through the film we discover that the diabolical Mandarin is actually a theatrical decoy created by Killian, the real villain in our story. The man who has been appearing on videos threatening and mocking the President and the American people is actually a washed up actor playing a part. Kingsley is flawless in both roles and absolutely riveting whenever he is on screen. The only fault is that we could have used more of the threatening Mandarin before the switch. In the world of comics, the Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch nemesis. Not surprisingly, the common response from hard-core fans of the character was outrage that Marvel and Black would even consider such blasphemy.
I, for one, thought it was brilliant decision.
For most of his literary existence, the Mandarin has been portrayed as a clichéd stereotype of a Chinese villain. From Fu Manchu to Ming the Merciless to Big Trouble in Little China’s David Lo Pan to the Mandarin, the character of an insane, power hungry Asian, sporting long fingernails and facial hair and wearing a theatrical version of the robes of a Chinese Emperor has been with us for a century. Born out of racism and xenophobia, this character, in all its incarnations, has become the bigoted archetype for the villainous “other”.
Although there have been many attempts to evolve the Mandarin over the years, he has never quite been able to shake his racist roots. Many at Marvel have made it clear since the first Iron Man film that they would wisely never bring this version of the character to the screen. Magic and aliens have already been introduced into the Marvel cinematic universe, so they certainly could have made the Mandarin a version of the power-ring wielding maniac from the comics. The decision to instead turn him into a fictitious red herring was bold and inspired.
The Iron Man films have always been about American industry and military might, and how both can be used for both good and evil. The idea of the red herring fits with that beautifully. In the last presidential race it seemed like we spent more time talking about Romney’s dog being strapped to the top of a car twenty years ago, the price of John Edwards haircut or conspiracy theories about Obama’s place of birth than how any of them planned to improve the economy. Fossil fuel interests have spent millions fabricating the absurd boogyman of a hoax perpetrated by the world’s climate scientists instead of addressing the issue of global warming. The list could go on and on but the point is clear: We are in the age of the red herring. The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, portrayed through the duel characters of Kingsley’s ranting, flamboyant terrorist and Pierce’s suave and corrupt businessman captured this beautifully. While the Iron Patriot is bumbling around Pakistan looking for a terrorist who doesn’t exist, Killian is back home creating real terror.
Iron Man 3 brilliantly mixes drama, comedy and action to create not only one of the most entertaining comic book movies to date, but also an eloquent social commentary. This is Marvel studios at its best.
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