Before you read any further, know this… THERE WILL BE SPOILERS GALORE HERE. So if you are saving yourself for the theater, then stop reading and go look up more trailers. For those of you still here I continue.
This film has been talked about as a much heavier Tony Stark character piece rather than a straight up Iron Man film as the first two were. This is also not a bad thing, and I think it succeeds well in making Tony more like you an me. I like that aspect and I won’t debate it. But why do I feel more attached to the first two films? There is a reason, and if you haven’t heard already (or possibly you’re tired of hearing about it), then let me explain it quite simply.
This was the film I was most excited for out of all three, especially after experiencing the first two. Why? Yes, the Mandarin is exciting, but it’s the idea behind the villain in this movie. The first two villains were very much industrial enemies of Tony Stark, locked in competition to excel his talents, and when failing to do so intellectually, resorted to violence and ill tactics. Essentially, both being good films, deal with industrial counterparts, looking to destroy Stark Industries with their own version of “armor”.
The first film gave us a view of how even long time friends of the Stark family can be driven to jealously or anger when Tony has a change of heart about selling weapons. The second film follows a similar premise with a competitor trying to mimic the arch reactor technology. Though it is more of a revenge plot, due to the action of Tony and Ivan’s fathers. The third film was marketed to change this villain archetype in a drastic way. We were no longer dealing with a “genius” competitor or counterpart, but rather a “genius” madman with nothing but hate aimed towards Western society. How exciting as well as being such a breathe of fresh air. If you’re reading this then you watched the trailers, listened to the monologues and (admit it) were giddy at the prospect of what the Mandarin could mean for a true Tony Stark character arch.
So what happened? If you’ve seen it then you know. The first hour of the film gives you glimpses into the eyes of the leader of a terrorist organization hell bent on teaching the United States government a lesson. And even better the same organization that kidnapped Tony in the first film, “The Ten Rings”. There is also a little of the industrial villain concept from the first two films infused with the introduction of the nerdiest of all nerds, Aldrich Killian, who is ignored by Tony year before current time and thus his motivations are lacking enough credence to be really taken seriously.
As the film progresses we see that Aldrich now has seem to have cured his physical afflictions (cane and such), and has created a project that allows humans to upgrade their DNA. Pepper as well as many others (including Tony originally) have turned down investing in the idea, because it could become militarized and that is what Stark is against thanks to film one. So Aldrich walks away again disappointed. Meanwhile the Mandarin is sharing his message through radio waves and television, even executing the owner of a major oil company stating, “I’m sure he’s a really good guy….I’m gonna shoot him in the head.” Chilling stuff, because of Ben Kingsley’s direction with the character and his almost Southern preacher type voice. At this point I was on the edge of my seat. Obviously the Mandarin was seconds away from revealing himself and becoming the driving force in the film. Then only minutes later, the film simply became eye candy.
It turns out that we get the impression that Aldrich is working for the Mandarin, referring to him as the master, and when Tony breaks into the mansion where the filming of the Mandarin’s exploits has been traced to, we find a very different Mandarin. It turns out the Mandarin is simply an act, or a show. Trevor is a hired British actor paid handsomely with drugs, women, and a mansion to portray the character of the Mandarin, in order to drive attention away from what Aldrich is really doing. And what is Aldrich doing? That whole DNA thing, he now calls “Extremis”. Oddly even for a split second I allowed myself to believe that the Mandarin was simply pretending to be Trevor, in order to fool Tony into believing the Aldrich story. True deception. True illusion. To my anger, and after a poop joke and the pop of a beer can, I’m sadly left with the truth.
What is that truth? It is simply that the writing was stubborn enough to create such a illustrious character only to service a twist mechanic that then leaves us with a less interesting, poorly motivated, and mimicked copy of the villains from the first two films. Motivated by simple revenge and jealousy. Yawn. Forgive me for being disappointed.
Some would argue that Killian is not the same as the first two villains in that he doesn’t fight Tony with physical armor, but really all the Extremis project represents (in the limited explanation the writers gave here) is another form of armor. Even better if you can ignore the anger and try to enjoy the rest of the eye candy, you’re left with Aldrich’s explanation as he is about to kill Tony…”I am the mandarin. I have always been the Mandarin.” Taken literally, this would make no sense, but even in the context of him simply meaning that by being the main guy behind the whole mess of events, that he basically would also technically be the Mandarin, is still lazy and unimportant.
Are we to believe that to cap off the series as a whole, that the terrorists from the first film simply don’t really have any connection to this film? Does this mean that the Mandarin is simply not revealed yet and that maybe Killian creates an illusion based off of the little information known about the Ten Rings? What conclusion is supposed to be drawn from this twist? If the fake Mandarin is based off a real Mandarin that no one knows anything about yet, then this requires explanation somewhere in the film. My guess is that Marvel has successfully allowed the writers under direction of Shane Black to essentially avoid the perceived racist undertones of the original character from the 60’s. Maybe this was Marvel’s way of skipping over any possible controversy they thought could arise from the Asian communities. What would be the reason to think this is even remotely true? Well Shane has been quoted as referring to the Mandarin as a “racist caricature”. Neat, except that doesn’t bother Marvel from printing story after story about him from his early creation to modern day. So I call B.S.
What’s his defense for the twist?
“I would say that we struggled to find a way to present a mythic terrorist that had something about him that registered after the movie’s over as having been a unique take, or a clever idea, or a way to say something of use, And what was of use about the Mandarin’s portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it. And hopefully, by the end you’re like, ‘Yeah, we were really frightened of the Mandarin, but in the end he really wasn’t that bad after all’. In fact, the whole thing was just a product of this anonymous, behind-the-scenes guy. I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world because I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of fear, that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them.”
Again I call B.S. You didn’t struggle in any way in presenting or depicting him for the first 40 minutes of the movie. In fact the interesting way you portrayed him was showing something entirely new to iron man audiences in that this was a villain not motivated by jealously or revenge against Tony himself and in effect could have played the idea that Tony inserted himself into the villains path endangering everyone he loves. Tony’s willingness to be a hero when he can’t come to grips with the large idea of aliens, gods, and wormholes is a very interesting idea in that he is paralyzed by PTSD and can’t even focus on a single dangerous human. Shane says it himself that he intentionally entrapped the fan base of the first two films into seeing this movie. That’s enraging. He’s right in that towards the end I wasn’t frightened, but neither was I suffering from tension or any type of interest in why I should care. There was no sense that Tony wouldn’t save the day, which ironically he doesn’t. None at all, which disturbs me, because fright, tension, and being on the edge of our seat is exactly why anyone goes to the movies. Not that I don’t get his behind-the-scenes guy (trying to be deeper) theme, but honestly I don’t go to the movies to replicate real life behind-the-scenes bad guys of our current world, but rather to forget them for 2 hours.
What Marvel has allowed Shane to do along with his writers is to for the first time create a film that not only doesn’t understand the three pieces of good source material it draws from (Extremis, The Mandarin, Iron Patriot), but it makes me worried about the next few Marvel films. The only one it seems I can really trust is Josh Whedon. It’s lazy on Shane’s part because he knows going into Iron Man 3 that he has a vast audience that will show up day one and pay for the film’s production cost three times over, without even having to have a page written. It bothers me even more that he took an artistic theme that he couldn’t replicate on screen as being amazing, all the while selling the fan base on a premise that he destroyed 40 minutes in. That’s not clever, intelligent, or interesting. It’s lazy and boring, and for everyone that paid to go see it…expensive (even for just two people).
I could address other holes in the story such as the fact that Tony has 40 suits hiding 20 feet below him as his house is being shot at. How he somehow doesn’t have a protocol to facially recognize his girlfriends face as to not kill her. How his DNA is the only one that will work with the suit, and thus the same for Rhodey who has his suit hijacked. How you can have one of the coolest sidekicks in the Marvel realm and not use him at all except to hint at Iron Patriot, which has nothing to really add to this film at all, unless you consider the one time it is hi-jacked as a nod to the Norman Osborne story (unnecessary). The fact that the second film revolves around finding a new source to keep the shrapnel away from his heart when all he needed was one simple hospital operation. Why was the PTSD completely ignored the final third of the film never to really be addressed? There’s too much in this movie that is irrelevant.
But most of all… what are you trying to tell us Marvel? Is Iron Man done? Is Downey done? We know he is contracted for Avengers 2, so what does this movie do for anyone? This movie is financially successful based on your first two films and a fibbed collection of trailers and TV spots, and as a piece of 2.5 hours worth of film, it has the same eye candy level as transformers with a better stand alone story. It has good things, but where was and is your head at? If someone were to ask me what the best part of the film was, I would say the Easter egg scene at the end. Why? Because for about 30 seconds I get to laugh and connect with the heavy events of the Avengers film (which you hinted at and then ignored) along with being able to forget how badly I wanted this film to matter. I love Iron Man, and it’s what got me into the theaters for Avengers. You owe us better than this. I wont be rushing out to the next film so quickly.
PS. I’ll give you a nod for the Hulk Buster suit. Kudos for including that.