Part 7 of A List to Marvel At
In a large movie making machine it can be difficult for an individual voice to stand out, but it is all the more satisfying when it does. Watching movies by Roger Corman can be fun to see the upcoming voice shining through the shlock: Scorsese, Coppola and Cameron, to name a few. Even Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn went through this process with Troma Entertainment. Iron Man 3’s pleasures in the Marvel juggernaut are in this way similar, because its most defining traits are not as a Marvel movie, but as a Shane Black movie. The funny one liners, the subversion of typical action thriller (and superhero) tropes, and unsentimental depictions of child sidekicks (“Dads leave. No need to be a pussy about it”) are recurring staples of his work, and here they make the transfer to big tentpole blockbuster surprisingly well. It’s even set on Christmas, because for Shane Black it’s Christmas everyday!
This opportunity for Black was probably with assistance from Robert Downey Jr., thanking him for reviving his career with the amazing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But their working relationship also allows Downey Jr. to explore more layers with the Tony Stark character, relating both to his own movies and the events of The Avengers resulting in PTSD. The combination of showing both the cocky and the vulnerable side of Stark, and spending a lot of time out of the Iron Man costume, makes this his best individual performance as Iron Man. This is also the best for the character because, more than most superhero movies, it is about the man behind the superhero persona, the man and mask being one of the same, all that good well trodden stuff. But as well as being a change of place for Downey, Shane Black also shows a penchant for blockbuster action. The lack of a traditional Iron Man suit makes for many scenes with DIY weapon action, and the plane rescue scene may be the best action set piece in all of these Iron Man movies.
Even more than the other Iron Man movies, this film is big on the idea of hubris. When Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) returns clean cut to show his business model, he does it by standing in a schematic of his own brain (first “mistook” for the universe). Rebecca Hall’s character has a monologue about Werner von Braun building the V-2 rocket instead of the space shuttle. The instigating action of the movie is caused by a combination of Iron Man’s arrogance and growing pressure as a celebrity superhero.
Plot points like that makes this film maligned in some corners of the internet, by people who yell “plot holes” as criticism. Also those pretend to give a shit about the Mandarin; I’ve seen those sales figures, most of you don’t care. What was always going to be difficult about the Mandarin’s inclusion into the MCU was that he is at heart an Asian stereotype, birthed when Iron Man comics were the main hub of Marvel’s Vietnam propaganda. Although myself did not have any problems with the twist of the first “Mandarin”, as it genuinely catches you off guard and gives us two amazing Ben Kingsley performances for the price of one (Trevor Slattery is a blast).
What does become the movie’s biggest problem though is that Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian is not a good enough replacement. His backstory is among the more shlocky elements of the movie, and because his big plot revolves around other people being his weapons he doesn’t come across as a large threat (despite a cool design). The lack of connection in the final battle is made more obvious with the fact most of the fights are done with drones, which although cool takes away from the build up of Tony Stark as an individual fighting machine.
Also, as I said with the previous two movies, it just comments enough on the real Iraq War without actually going there that it can frustrate (the “assassination” scene with lack of any logic or negotiation feels more biting in the wake of ISIS). Think about what that twist with the Mandarin is essentially saying; a sensational representation of terrorism has been faked and orchestrated for means of warmongering profit. Killian has monologues comparing Mandarin to Bin Laden and Gadaffi. A big image of this movie is the President of the United States in a martyr pose, placed in the suit that is both called Iron Patriot and War Machine. I’m not just reading shit into this thing am I? Those are quite ballsy things to put in a big blockbuster movie. If only the characters were not isolated enough from real politics – that the movie shows exists in this world – then these things could have had even more bite.
Despite some retconning later on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, none of that has detracted from this movie’s subversion of the techno thriller. Maybe because of its criticism in some areas of online discourse, I place my opinions of Iron Man 3 higher than others. Hell, in pure enjoyment factor it’s better than the first Iron Man movie. And this is the only movie which acknowledges Iron Man walking down stairs would look weird. That alone makes it the best movie of this trilogy. It kicked off Phase Two with a swagger. The next movie was not as confident a step…