Monday, May 6, 2013

Review (Rant): Iron Man 3

Despite having started writing them in the past I’ve obviously never reviewed the first two Iron Man movies. Let’s do that right now.

Iron Man: It was funny action packed, featured a smartly written lead character that was well acted. While the villain wasn’t super memorable in the grand scheme of things it’s was okay because the rest of the movie was so strong.

Panda Score: 4/5

Iron Man 2: Robert Downey Jr. is great as Tony Stark, as is Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer and Don Cheadle as War Machine, but the villain was pretty weak and uninteresting and the whole film felt unnecessarily bloated due to tie-ins with upcoming non-Iron Man films. It was fine but it was a letdown from the first one.

Panda Score: 3/5

Okay. So Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon and director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which helped revitalize Downey’s career) takes over for Jon Favreau as director. This will be the first post-Avengers Marvel Studio film which means that “Phase Two” officially begins now. It’s a tall order but we’re expecting this film to be both a sequel to the previous Iron Man movies as well as a follow-up to one of the biggest films in history. Does it succeed? Can it possibly succeed?

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: This review is not only extremely spoiler filled but it also contains one of the most frothy nerd rants I’ve ever done. DO NOT continue reading if you are planning to see this film and/or if you’re not a jaded, bitter nerd like I am]

The calm before the storm...
Following the Chitauri invasion of New York City and his attempted self-sacrifice during the battle Tony Stark (Downey) is a wreck, suffering from insomnia and spending every waking moment working on his armors. While he tries to live as best he can despite suffering from PTSD a new terrorist, who is responsible for several mysterious bombings worldwide, catches his attention. He is dubbed “The Mandarin” and before too long things become personal between them and Stark makes it his mission to take him down.

Okay. Right. Robert Doweny Jr. plays the version of Tony Stark we all know and love, with the added dimension of the demons he has to fight within himself. The character has clearly grown beyond where it was way back in 2008. The rest of the cast are in top form and everyone pretty much gets their big moment to shine…well, War Machine seems to have taken a pretty big step back, honestly, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The villains are honestly good, certainly better than the previous two films, and I’d say that Sir Ben Kingsley is particularly good since he is playing against type (or at least he’s playing against the type he normally gets stuck with in these kind of films). The plot is very well written and the twist, despite being shocking, was well placed and instantly made sense based on what we’d seen. It’s probably the best story of the entire trilogy. Also, and I hate to say it, but Shane Black’s direction is a head above Favreau’s (despite that I really like Favreau). It’s also a very self-contained film. Unlike the previous film it doesn’t feel like it’s being stuffed with references, winks to the audiences or set-up for future films. In fact I didn’t notice any set up for future films here. So if you were hoping for some clues about the next round of films or even The Avengers 2 it doesn’t seem like this will provide it.

So I guess Maya would have been 17 when she first slept with Tony
Still the movie utilizes its villains better, has a better plot, and gives it’s characters more to do than in the last two previous films. Now if I were a sane, well-adjusted person I would probably be able to take that in and give this film a high score. Because, as you can tell from the paragraph, I clearly had a lot of good things to say about this flick. My (proper) negatives about this movie are fairly minor and probably would have just robbed it a perfect score. Unfortunately I’m not a rational or a well-adjusted person. But if you are you’ll probably want to take this opportunity to go straight to the Panda Score, read the Pros and Cons and go about your day. I warn you because this review is about to take an ugly, extremely nerdy turn. I’ll wait.

Still here? How brave of you.

Pictured: Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3
Not Pictured: The Mandarin
I walked out of the theater more angry than I can recall being after watching a film in theaters for a few years. I mean, maybe Dark Shadows but there I was mad for completely different reasons. I’ll try to express this as calmly and non-crazy as possible. So ever since I first heard that they were making an Iron Man film all I ever wanted, and I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this, was to see Iron Man fight his archenemy The Mandarin. Because, in my mind, there was no point to Iron Man if he didn’t fight the Mandarin. Even before I started reading comic books I watched the 1990s Iron Man cartoon wherein he fought the Mandarin. Before that I watched old recordings of the 1960s Iron Man show with my dad wherein he fought the Mandarin. Similarly during that time I learned that Spider-Man fought the Green Goblin and the X-Men fought Magneto and, unsurprisingly, they did just that in their live action screen adaptations. So of course, I naively thought circa 2007, why would an Iron Man film be any different?

So in the first Iron Man film it was announced that the Iron Monger (who the shit is the “Iron Monger”?) would be the villain. Okay, fine; having the arch villain show up in the first film of a franchise may not always be the best idea. And hey, the terrorist ring that kidnapped Stark were called “The Ten Rings” so maybe that was a clever seed to set up for his eventual appearance (the Mandarin uses ten power rings in the comics). Then came Iron Man 2 and it was announced that Whiplash  Crimson Dynamo Anton Vanko, an original character that prior to this film did not appear in the comic (although he’s something of a composite of several villains). Now here is where I was getting suspicious since there was no mention of the Ten Rings or really anything pointing to the Mandarin. It sucks, especially since Vanko was a pretty lame villain anyway. But finally the build-up to Iron Man 3 explicitly stated that the Mandarin would appear…played by an old white guy as opposed to an Asian actor, which is messed up on a few levels, but at least I’d finally get to see the fight I’d been dreaming of for years.

Pictured: Guy Pierce as Aldrich Killian
Still Not Pictured: The Mandarin
But it turns out [SPOILER ALERT] the Mandarin isn’t in this movie either, and in all likelihood will probably never be in one unless they reboot the series (and seeing how much money they just made I’m guessing that’s not happening anytime soon). Ben Kingsley actually plays an actor being used as a sort of decoy while Guy Pierce plays very minor comic character Aldrich Killian (who existed just long enough to kill himself in the source material) who is promoted into being the main villain and an “In Name Only” version of The Mandarin that is as accurate in looks motivations and theme as Deadpool was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Yeah, I know Killian was supposed to be the Mandarin, with his out of nowhere dragon tattoo and his screaming about it repeatedly, but that ain’t the Mandarin.

In Iron Man 3 the Mandarin is an idea, more a red herring than a character. But we’re cheated of a good, if legitimately misused over the decades, villain who acted as the counterpoint to everything that made Iron Man special. It really, really bothered me when this reveal happened. And don’t get me wrong; the reveal itself is brilliant and executed well but I still feel like the me that has waited since 2007 (or even 1994) to finally see the two characters clash on the big screen was kicked in the balls and told to go f**k himself. Hell, I was a little disappointed that they probably weren’t using his ten rings of power (and, you know, his being played by a white guy). I didn’t realize they were tossing out everything about the character. To make my point even calling him “The Mandarin” in this film does nothing other than just piss of fans of the character. Do you think that if he were called “The Master Terrorist” or “The Gentleman” it would have affected the gross in any significant way? It was just to get the Iron Man fans excited for the film despite the fact the creators knew full well they were going to troll the shit out of them. If you weren’t going to use anything about the Mandarin in this film THEN WHY THE F**K ARE YOU CALLING HIM THE F**KING MANDARIN?!

And it’s not like I’m just against change. I don’t mind Hollywood making changes if the spirit of the character is retained. The Joker, The Green Goblin, Ra’s al Ghul, Bane, The Kingpin, The Scarecrow, The Lizard and even the Red Skull to an extent all suffered from big alteration from the source material but it worked out fine because the basics of the characters were left intact (and in some cases even improved upon) and they were still recognizable. But in this movie its closer to Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four film where what made the character intriguing was lost. And a ton of people are saying it doesn’t matter and that this change is fine but as far as I can tell there are two logical points behind this: 1) They rationalize that the changes are minor because the rest of the film is so good. Perhaps the only we remember how bad Doctor Doom and Deapool were is because their respective films were really damn bad. 2) The people who are saying it “doesn’t matter” don’t actually know enough, if anything, about the comic. Which would make sense as I’ve often noticed that beyond the movies most people don’t know anything about Iron Man. I’ve heard that the idea of bringing the Mandarin to life on the screen is an impossible dream due to the characters roots (he was created during the1960s and during that time Iron Man was a “Commie Buster” and his villains reflected this). Too politically incorrect, they say. But a martial arts master/scientific genius who found alien technology and decided to use it to make ten rings each with its own superpower is a concept too crazy and too awesome not to try to make it work somehow! It’s a fun concept but then again we live in post-Dark Knight world where the fun and the camp associated with comics is treated like the goddamn plague. Hsi name is “Iron Man” for god’s sake: it automatically isn’t high art.

Pictured: The Mandarin (finally!)
Not Pictured: An abundance of 1960s silliness
Oh and by the way; didn’t Batman Begins do this exact same plot twist eight years ago? So it’s not even all that original on top of everything else? How long do you think it will take Marvel Comics to kill off The Mandarin (again) and replace him with a guy that looks suspiciously like Guy Pierce? Because they do that sometimes. Just ask Nick Fury.

But the thing that really unhinges me isn’t the twist itself but how much I hate myself for getting so angry about it. I was completely unable to enjoy the film after the twist, which happened about midway through it. Even though intellectually I understood that what I was watching was good all I could think about was how much I felt personally wronged over the Mandarin reveal. I could not for the life of me get over it and, even now, I can’t accept the things that the logical portion of my brain is telling me. It disgusts me how much that one element distracted me from he rest of the movie. When I started this blog in 2010 the idea, in my mind at least, was that this would be a blog with reviews and opinions from someone who was just a regular guy, not a professional film critic or a journalism major or anything like that; just a normal dude with stuff he wanted to add to the conversation. But here I am three years later and I can’t even enjoy what it clearly a good movie in Iron Man 3 because I can’t stop being incredibly angry at that one plot point which means nothing in the grand scheme of things. I hate that and I hate myself for feeling that way. I’m seriously considering ending the blog because of this; that’s not a joke, I seriously feel like the point of things has gotten away from me. Perhaps when a grown man falls victim to incredibly rants of fan boying it’s time for him to pack it in.

Anyway the only legitimate issue I had with the film was the under use of Don Cheadle as Rhodey who, despite being important to the plot, never a heck of a lot here. And seeing as he doesn’t do much to begin with couldn’t he at least do it as War Machine and not the ridiculous “Iron Patriot” (to which the movie itself acknowledges is stupid)? I wanted more War Machine in Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 does not give it to me. And don’t say “he can do more in future films” because while that’s true at 48 years of age how many more years can Cheadle convincingly play a superhero? Now maybe if he replaced Iron Man in Avengers 2...Anyway Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall, felt pretty superfluous as  anything she did to move the plot (her initial research) could have been done by Killian. It almost seems that she was only there so Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn't be the only woman in the film. But seeing how Hansen exited the movie it all felt pretty pointless.

A black superhero who could potentially be looked up to by children of color?
Better throw him in the background HUMPTY DUMPTY DOO!
Anyway Iron Man 3 is a very good movie, but I can’t get over the villain. Even discounting the huge rant I just did the villain of this film is underwhelming and, when you boil it down to its core, the same exact type of villain as Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer, just with different motives and plans. “Iron Man fights corrupt business man”; how original. When does Stark get to fight Blizzard, or Madame Masque or even M.O.D.O.K.? Oh right; never, because movies based on superheroes need to be based in realism despite nothing particularly realistic ever happening in them. Bottom line is that if you watch this film you’ll probably love it. Most people did. Maybe if you’re a hateful, joyless asshole like me you might have issue with it. All I know is that I can only give it an average score because I could not see past my problems with it. And I pretty much despise myself for scoring it so low.

Iron Man 3 gets 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Well written plot

 -Great protagonist and supporting cast 

-Sir Ben Kingsley is great in his role 

-Great action 


-The film, like its predecessors, still hasn’t managed to give Iron Man a decent villain to fight

-Several characters should have been used more

-A noticeable lack of AC/DC


  1. Have you noticed, that to this point only one of Iron Man's entire rogue's gallery has appeared in a film? (Accepting your premise that Vanko is an original character, as is, I would argue, Aldrich Killian, who was so minor in the comic book that I didn't remember him at all). I would have been able to forgive the horrible mislead with the Mandarin if only there had been a minor villain who showed up just long enough for Iron Man to win a fight without his suit exploding every time it was struck (I really thought Iron Man seemed humiliatingly fragile in this movie)- and if that fight was not filmed in un-followable Micheal Bay's "Transformers" hyperspeed.
    Am I the only one who spent twenty minutes really hoping that there was another Ben Kingsley behind the scenes, instructing Guy Pearce to take all the credit, only to come out as the actual Mandarin in the last quarter?
    I feel like the twist might not have ruined the movie as much, had I known about it, and wasn't so horribly let down by the mislead.

  2. I was really hoping Kingsley(who's half-Indian, so, I guess that makes him half-Asian... just not Chinese...) would wind up Keyser Sosey'ing it in the end, as well.

    All in all, I felt 3 was a bit hollow on the Super Hero bit. I enjoyed Tony's journey, but though the whole Resident Evil 4 ending was a really, really sub par. Put on a suit, beat the shit out of "Bad Super Soldier Serum Dudes #2" and move on with your life.

    If your armor can withstand Thor swinging goddamn Mjolnir, hot-hands ripping you up is a bit of a side-eye moment.

    1. Wow, I feel dumb that I didn't know that about Kingsley.


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