I can’t think of a more fitting choice for our first movie review than “Iron Man 3.” You see, here at Pegboard, we love us some comic book films. Not so much in the sense that we are hardcore fans of the source material, but more so because we are drawn to these characters and love seeing them come to life on the big screen. In a way, that makes these adaptations all the more enjoyable for us; we don’t fret over every little alteration and are usually free to absorb this genre of cinema as pure entertainment and nothing more. Phase 1 of Marvel Studios’ film series began with “Iron Man” in 2008 and culminated with “The Avengers” last May, and through it all we found each offering to be engaging and unique from the others, with only small differences in the level of quality.
The third entry in the ‘Iron Man’ trilogy represents the beginning of Phase 2, and allow me to start by saying that if the upcoming films are as much fun as this one was, then I think Marvel will do just fine in regards to living up to the expectations of its fans. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by an extremely jarring surprise concerning one of the characters in the story, and that gripe alone is a big reason why I can’t put this one on the Mt. Rushmore of comic book popcorn flicks. This post will only reflect my opinion of “Iron Man 3”, but it’s important to point out how often Kevin and I have held similar assessments pertaining to these films, because this time we didn’t and that’s a pretty big deal. We represent the vast divide between the people who were okay with the surprise and thought it was a nice touch, and the people who were unable to come to terms with it and wound up not loving the movie as a result. If you’re unsure, I landed in the latter group of that split even though deviations from the comics usually don’t upset me that much, and I have no idea how to do a full and honest review without talking about what happened and why it pissed me off. Suffice to say, there will be a ton of spoilers below. Don’t read the rest of this blog until you see “Iron Man 3.” You’ve been warned.
Before I get to the controversial variation, I want to touch on what I did love about the film and the good news is that any Iron Man fan will be sure to get a kick out of “Iron Man 3.” Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark/Iron Man for the fourth time, and like a fine wine he just seems to get better and better as he ages along with this role. Not all is well in Tony’s world though. He is struggling with a fairly severe case of PTSD following the events of “The Avengers”, his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his relatively small group of friends (mainly James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau)) is rocky at best, and on top of all that there’s a new terrorist in town called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who is causing all sorts of hell across the country. Also new to the party is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the founder of Advanced Idea Mechanics and the creator of Extremis, a sort of genetic modifier that allows people to recover from debilitating injuries. As always with mysterious scientists, he has an alternative agenda planned for Extremis, one that will only serve to hinder our beloved hero.
That being said, Tony is still Tony. He runs around saying Tony Stark things and his textbook narcissism only heightens with every brilliant invention that he cranks out, which in this case is a series of Iron Man suits that can assemble and operate without a person inside of them. After the Mandarin’s men destroy his home in Malibu, Tony finds himself in Tennessee, where he teams up with a boy named Harley (relative newcomer Ty Simpkins) to dig up some dirt about past events concerning the Mandarin. Usually kids in movies like this annoy the shit out of me, but Harley was surprisingly intelligent and self-aware, and I thought he and Tony had really good chemistry. Then a couple of people who have been subjected to Extremis show up and Tony has to fight them off and escape (yeah, apparently Extremis does a lot more to improve the human body than just restore lost limbs).
Up until this point, I loved everything about “Iron Man 3.” The story had me on the edge of my seat and the action thus far was enormously satisfying. The Mandarin had only appeared in small snippets, but he was intense and threatening in every scene he was in, and it seemed likely that he was going to leave his mark as quite a memorable villain. I’d also like to point out that it’s pretty neat that in every movie featuring Tony Stark he’s debuted a different version of the Iron man suit, and watching him try to get all the individual parts of the Mock 42 to come to him provided us with some of the film’s funniest moments. And while there was plenty of comedy and action to go around, I think what I liked best was Tony being forced to maneuver through these obstacles and situations using his most valuable asset: his mind. From creating makeshift weapons to channeling his inner-detective, Tony was a lot more compelling when he was out of his suit, which is an odd thing to say about a superhero movie, but it’s true.
He then tracks the Mandarin to Miami and decides to infiltrate his base of operations and confront him. Then comes the big surprise; the Mandarin isn’t really the Mandarin, but instead an alcoholic stage actor named Trevor Slattery who has been posing as the Mandarin. That’s right, the Mandarin is a phony and the actual villain this entire time has been Killian, who hired Slattery to appear as the perpetrator behind all of the attacks in order to draw attention away from himself. Not only did Slattery have nothing to do with the attacks, but he is completely unaware that they were even taking place, or that the United States was putting all of the blame for them on the character he was portraying. Stark then shifts his focus to stopping Killian, which leads us to our dramatic conclusion.
And granted, it was a good conclusion. One that featured a lot of twists and turns and came really close to matching “The Avengers” in terms of riveting action sequences from multiple perspectives. However, after I discovered that the Mandarin, Tony’s arch-nemesis from the comics and one of Marvel’s most notorious characters period, wasn’t literally in “Iron Man 3”, I just had a tough time looking forward to the rest of the movie. The majority of my enthusiasm for Tony’s next big screen adventure stemmed from the fact that I was really excited that they were finally including the Mandarin, and I couldn’t wait to see how he’d compare to the other members of Marvel’s rogues gallery who had already been adapted. You can imagine my dissatisfaction with how that played out. Normally stuff like this doesn’t bother me because like I said, I’m not a slave to the source material, but when you take a really powerful, intimidating character and just turn him into a complete joke, then I have a problem with it.
There’s a part at the end when Tony and Killian are battling it out, and Killian says something along the lines of, “You want the Mandarin? You’re looking at him.” Like some other people have already pointed out though, I don’t see that as Killian anointing himself AS the Mandarin, but rather just the criminal mastermind who was behind all of the terror and actions that took place earlier in the film. And yes, it was a shrewd move on Killian’s part to create a scapegoat for said actions so that no one would suspect him. It worked for the storyline that they were going for and made Killian an even worthier foe. I think it also says a lot about Kingsley’s performance, as he was able to pull off both characterizations of the Mandarin in convincing fashion. Nevertheless, it was a big letdown for me personally and I’ll always look back on this as a missed opportunity.
In the end it’s all a matter of preference, because I don’t think this affects the quality of the film in any way, but it will most definitely affect your opinion of the film based on your own personal taste and whether that plot twist exasperates you or not. Despite my misgivings with how the writers handled the Mandarin, for the most part I had a blast with “Iron Man 3” and it provided me with all of the thrills that I’ve come to expect from this franchise. And if this turns out to be RDJ’s swan song in the role that made him a household name, then it was a hell of a way to go out. In all honesty though, how could he walk away now when he’s having the time of his life and making such a great living doing it?
Jesse’s Rating: 8/10