written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Before we get started, please be aware, this article/review will be VERY spoiler heavy, primarily in regards to the major twist in Iron Man 3. You have been warned but please know that if you continue to read this piece, I will spoil some of the narrative, go here for our spoiler free review courtesy of LFTD Friend and trusted contributor Marc Morin of TwoOhSix.com.
Anyway, I do share a similar sentiment with Marc when it comes to Iron Man 3, I did enjoy it very much, and while I can't say I enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching the first Iron Man film, I did enjoy it more than when I watched Iron Man 2 . I loved that they touched on the Extremis arc (arguably one of the more popular arcs in Iron Man comics) and I was delighted at the portrayal of The Mandarin during the entire first half of the movie. Here is why I throw a little bit of sour in the mix, see there are some things you can do in a film adaptation of a comic and some things you dont. While I was originally upset that the Iron Patriot was relegated to simply being a War Machine redesign for Rhodey rather than being Norman Osborn, in the context of the story it fit just fine. Even when an Extremis agent and one of Aldrich Killian's henchmen wore the suit and proceeded to attack Secret Service agents on Air Force One, that was enough "villain Iron Patriot" to sate my comic loving appetite. Here is where we get into the meat and potatoes of my argument, it's the way this film handled "The Mandarin" is where I found issue. This is a character that was teased since the first Iron Man film, especially with the terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony Stark being called "The Ten Rings". I have been waiting for this showdown between Iron Man and his greatest foe.
The Mandarin was a lie. The character Ben Kingsly played so convincingly and fantastically throughout this entire film was a front, a rouse, an utter lie. His character was no more than a stand in for Aldrich Killian, who reveals himself not just to be one of the creators of the Extremis virus, but also revealing that he has been "The Mandarin" all along. Cue Jackie Chan "my brain is full of fuck" meme. This would be like making the Joker or Lex Luthor just a stand in for a grander scheme that ends up just shitting on the source material. In a film that I can honestly say i did enjoy, this great reveal for the Mandarin soured me so much I barely find myself able to stomach it.
I wonder what possessed them to make this change? I know it isn't the fantastical element of the Mandarin's power. If Marvel Studios has one thing I can look forward too, it's that they aren't afraid to incorporate the surreal and fantastical into their stories. We've had Norse Gods, Super Soldiers, aliens coming to destroy the city... and the narrative element they pass on is a man who draws his power from ten alien power rings? Come on! Now I do applaude them for attempting to take a risk, it isn't easy to do that in the face of sheer fanboyism, but when done right it can be brilliant. Take Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman series, in The Dark Knight he features the Clown Prince of Crime in a sickeningly realistic way. Rather than the character being a man driven to insanity by falling into a vat of chemicals, he's a psycho in clown makeup with very visual scars from being on the receiving end of a "Glasgow smile". Even rather than incorporating the Joker Toxin, Nolan's Joker just gives his victims a "Glasgow smile" rather than forcing them to laugh themselves to death. See, that worked for me, Aldrich Killian actually BEING The Mandarin? Not so much.
Now one element many critics are touching on is how lighthearted this film was. Arguably Disney had a hand in that, with these costumed heroes being huge money makers for Disney and the respective licenses, an obviously lighter tone was taken with this third chapter, I personally liked it and I am not one for campy super hero flicks... I still proclaim that Joel Schumacher is the worst thing to ever happen to Batman... ever. But I did enjoy this new take, if you've ever seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang , also starring RDJ and directed by Shane Black, you'll find some strong similarities with the narrative of Iron Man 3. The laughs were genuinely funny, rather than delving into the darker sides of Tony Stark (like his bout with alcoholism) they play up to the character of Tony Stark and his snarky sarcastic personality. I really enjoyed it but I can understand why so many are upset about it, the movie trailers painted this story to be a darker third chapter, a stark contrast to the final product. While I don't put a lot of weight in movie trailers, I can understand their disappointment.
I know this article seems to lean heavily on the negatives but I must stress again that I did enjoy it, was it my favorite film in the Marvel cinematic universe? No. Did I think the way they handled the Mandarin was unforgivable? Yes. But did I enjoy watching it? Yes I did... I just hope the rest of the cinematic universe can learn from this overwhelmingly negative reception to how they handled Iron Man's greatest foe... sometimes you gotta know when to roll the dice, sometimes you gotta know when to cash your chips.