The general consensus about whether Shane Black’s IRON MAN 3 is any good seems to be split about 50/50. Personally, I loved it – it’s a bold, pacey, sometimes dark and nearly always funny hero-in-crisis movie. I see it as the high point, not only of the Iron Man series but of the wider Avengers film series so far.
I do understand the perspective of the other side, I get some of the reasons why they dislike IM3. Some people don’t want to see a broken down, unstable Tony Stark. They want him to be charismatic and cool like he was in the previous three (counting THE AVENGERS) films. They want him to pull off loads of awesome feats in shiny high-tech armour, and expect a similar amount of action to Joss Whedon’s super-epic from 2012.
First off, objecting to a character being developed, to moving forward or being challenged mentally as well as physically is a dumb and shallow argument that will see the superhero film genre stagnate and become completely and utterly pointless. Secondly, not even Marvel/Disney can afford to do something of Avengers scale twice a year. We won’t see anything like it again until 2015 when AGE OF ULTRON emerges. Finally, Tony Stark having to conquer adversity without all his toys was an important character point, emphasising Stark’s ingenuity and survival instincts, in addition to in a sense restoring him to his factory settings, what he has and always will be – “the mechanic”. The limited time he spent in the suit also makes the few set pieces all the more spectacular, and worth the wait (particularly the sweeping multi-suited final battle).
But of course, the one issue that has comic fans especially foaming at the mouth is the treatment of Iron Man’s arch-nemesis The Mandarin. In the comics, he is arguably the villain, and his presence has been hinted at and hugely anticipated since the first IRON MAN (the terrorist organisation who captured Stark at the beginning were known as “The Ten Rings”). It’s the modern equivalent of The Emperor being built up for two and a half of the original STAR WARS Trilogy. Most of the trailers for the film put heavy emphasis on The Mandarin being a credible and deadly threat – a terrorist mastermind appearing like a hybrid of Osama bin Laden, Colonel Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il, the ultimate enemy not only for Iron Man but for “The Land of the Free”. (In case you haven’t yet seen the film and don’t want to know the big half-time plot twist, here’s the obligatory SPOILER ALERT). You see, about halfway through IM3, a suitless Tony Stark infiltrates a compound from which The Mandarin has apparently been sending his terrifying television broadcasts, and coordinating his attacks. He stumbles into a dishevelled bedroom to find that his ultimate enemy is…a drunken English thespian called Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley). The Mandarin was a think-tank fabrication, a terrorist designed by committee to prolong the war on terror to make money. The real big bad was Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) the puppet master behind The Mandarin, the deadly Extremis virus, and essentially Stark’s whole second life as Iron Man (he’s been running his operation for years, and carefully planning his revenge on Stark for refusing to give his research any attention).
Now I can understand why this might annoy some fans, who expected a “faithful” vision of The Mandarin on screen – basically, Shane Black, Drew Pearce, Kevin Feige and the rest of the creative muscle behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe are saying “the comics are not holy scripture, and we’re willing to make drastic changes to the material if need be”. The big twist wasn’t even hinted at in the marketing – as far as anyone could tell, we were getting a straight-faced version of The Mandarin (though now I think about it, we never did see anything more than a couple of shots of him, so we should have guessed something was up). While some might see this as sacrilege, I see it as a positive development. Marvel/Disney aren’t giving the comics the middle finger, but are really saying that “we could go anywhere, and we will surprise you”. It’s not like we didn’t get to see a serious version of The Mandarin – it’s what Iron Man is essentially fighting at the film’s climax.
Do you realise how much of a joy it was for me to be genuinely surprised by a superhero film again? I adore superhero films, but since THE DARK KNIGHT, WATCHMEN and KICK-ASS, I thought the genre had become a creative dead end, that there was nowhere left for it to go, except bigger (see: THE AVENGERS). FollowingIron Man 3, which refused to be limited by the comics, there is now so much potential for the genre, and future Marvel films especially hold great promise.
Even without the massive twist, Iron Man 3 is a success. It takes the character of Tony Stark (not to mention Pepper Potts, Rhodey, and even Happy Hogan) somewhere new and dangerous, gives the trilogy a fittingly exciting send-off and brings Stark’s journey pleasingly full-circle. Shane Black really does bring the best out of Robert Downey Jr (just watch KISS KISS BANG BANG) and the script co-written with Drew Pierce is witty, brave and hilarious. Some have criticised the film for being too comedic in done, but I disagree. I’m much happier now superhero films are willing to laugh at themselves again following the “ever so serious” Dark Knight trend. The plot as a whole is essentially a gripping, stylish and well-constructed sci-fi espionage film – it’s very James Bond-y, and is a refreshing change of pace from the all-out alien invasion epic that was The Avengers. For the sheer level of creativity and ambition to be different, Iron Man 3 is better than its two predecessors, it’s also better than The Avengers and any of the films that built up to it. If not for X2 it would be my favourite of all Marvel superhero films. Feel free to disagree, I’ll be here. SSP