Iron Man 3: The Glory and Despair of Breaking New Ground
By E.M. Wollof from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the The Blog Cosmic Blog Series
Well comic book lovers, Marvel's Phase 2 has arrived in the form of Iron Man 3 and the critical field seems to be split in two. Half of those who have watched it laud it as the best in the series, while the other half dog it as being a cheap representation of a comic book story arc they were looking forward to, and came away from disappointed.
After seeing the film three times, I find myself a part of the former, fully equipped with an argument to pwn all detractors.
By the way...spoilers.
Of the arguments being made by those who dislike the latest Iron Man film, the hatred of how Shane Black dealt with The Mandarin comes across as the most heated. After seeing Sir Ben Kingsley in months worth of teaser trailers, comic fans had a fair amount of expectation built up by the release, only to be thrown a vicious curve. Guy Pearce's character, Aldrich Killian, ends up being The Mandarin, a shadowy puppet master/genius who manipulates the world with a Grade A terrorist marketing campaign.
For those who are not familiar with the comic book story arc, this little plot twist played out on the screen as rather clever. For those who are familiar, it played out like a proverbial slap in the face.
You see, Aldrich Killian was not the founder of Advanced Idea Mechanics, he is not The Mandarin, he never injected himself with Extremis, and he never actually met Tony Stark. Aldrich Killian was a brilliant scientist who worked alongside Dr. Maya Hansen for the Futurepharm Corporation on the super soldier, techno organic virus known as Extremis. Killian steals this virus and sells it to a terrorist organization. Overpowered by guilt, he commits suicide, leaving behind a note to Hansen admitting his guilt.
The Mandarin, on the other hand, serves as Iron Man's earthbound nemesis for many an issue. By no means is he a hefty villain, as most of his schemes end in colossal failure, but he does play a major role in the development of the Iron Man legacy. I won't go into great detail here, but The Mandarin is worth a read for any of those interested in how far "off" the film was.
There are a couple of points to be made here regarding, what I think, was major move of genius by the makers of Iron Man 3. First, The Mandarin is an old-school villain who rarely makes an appearance any more, while Killian is essentially a blank slate character with major ties to an important sequence of events in the Iron Man universe (bear in mind, death is rarely final in comic book story arcs). Not only is The Mandarin old-school, but he comes across as campy and ridiculous in his plot to uncover the identity of Iron Man and, eventually, destroy him. This isn't a problem for those of us relying on nostalgia to overcome a lack of interest, but modern culture would certainly frown upon such a character playing the main villain now. We have come to expect intelligence, a ruthless nature, and sincere insanity from our villains, not mystic tom-foolery.
Second, I believe the twist was long time in the making, and it involved the over-the-top marketing campaign put forth by Marvel. For the last two months leading up to the release, it seemed as though Iron Man and The Mandarin (in the form of Sir Kingsley) were plastered on every piece of merchandise Marvel could contract out. While I'm sure this helped garner the second largest opening weekend of all time, it also set forth an intelligent commentary on how easily swayed by mass media our society truly is. This point being driven home extremely hard when it is revealed to us that Aldrich Killian is the true Mandarin and has been manipulating the entire world with his production.
Lastly, as all comic book readers should be aware of, no story arc is ever set in stone. Very rarely can you sit down to read through a character's story arc and not find some serious continuity issues stemming from multiple dimensions, different timelines, or characters returning from the dead. Let's face it, the lack of predictability is what drives us forward as readers, you just never know what is going to happen next. It is in this light that I applaud Shane Black and the developers of Iron Man 3 for their collective vision and ingenuity when crafting the film.
There is something to be said for grounding larger than life comic book characters in reality. Christopher Nolan did it with the Dark Knight series and comic book movie directors took notice. I firmly believe that Shane Black attempted to do the same with Iron Man 3. The film was an excellent departure from the over-the-top set pieces of Iron Man 1 & 2 (though they were still there), and a much more succinct look at Tony Stark as a man.
This departure would have been much more difficult to accomplish if the villain had been the traditional, mystical Mandarin. While I'm sure much could have been accomplished with CG, we have all seen what happens to comic book movies driven by graphics cards (lookin' at you Green Lantern). By grounding the movie in pseudo-reality, we are allowed to delve deeply into the man behind the armor. We are allowed to see him struggle with the fallout from The Avengers and what it means to call yourself a superhero in this universe. By the end of the movie we are left cheering for Tony Stark, not just Iron Man.
Nothing drives this point home further than the scenes in which Stark interacts with Harley Keener (played very well by talented young actor Ty Simpkins). Stark is essentially a child of wonder in the three previous films, and when he is faced by an actual child of the same, he begins to truly grasp the impact he has had on the world and the responsibility that comes with this fame.
Overall, I thought the film was an excellent coming-of-age story about Tony Stark and his discovery that HE is the hero, not just the maker of the Iron Man tech. I would encourage all you comic book fans who are hating on the film to step back and get some perspective. Each film is a critical analysis of the characters we love, and they afford us the ability to watch said characters come to life. Sit back and enjoy.