These days, it seems like I don’t have as much time for my old passion, going to the movies. The closest theatre of any repute is in Anchorage, in the same strip mall as my GameStop, in fact. But every now and again, when the right picture comes along, I make a point of going out to the movies. And in this case, I really went all out: Tony Stark is one of my favorite characters, and I was not going to miss the premiere of Iron Man 3. However, I went to the “midnight showing” not out of any need to see the movie first, but mostly because I was working Friday night and all-day Saturday, so it would be the most convenient. I put “midnight showing” in air quotes, because the movie actually started at 9:45. I guess the theaters here figure it’s past midnight on the east coast, what’s the harm in letting the relatively small population of Alaska see the movie at a reasonable time?
As I alluded to last week, I took the opportunity to look the part. Styling my hair into Robert Downey Jr.’s signature spiky Caesar (it needed a shearing, anyway) and having my beard trimmed into that weird little goatee were the majority of it, though I do happen to have that t-shirt with a glowing “arc reactor” in the chest. I got a fair amount of kudos from the theatre people that night for the effort.
Thankfully, the film is brilliant, or I would have looked like a total putz. It’s easily the best of the three Iron Man films, and up there with The Avengers and Captain America for my favorite in the whole series. Dark and dramatic in places, with enough levity to make sure it’s not a “dark ‘n’ gritty” affair like Batman is these days, it also has some of the best character moments, because a majority of it is Tony Stark using his actual “superpower”, his brilliant wit and ability to improvise, rather than relying on his fancy suit. It makes him a relatable human being in a comic book universe.
After the events of Avengers, notably the alien attack on New York City and his near-death experience, Tony is clearly on edge. Hardly sleeping, tinkering with new suits almost constantly, and having occasional PTSD anxiety attacks, he is basically a wreck. With an acquaintance from his past, Aldrich Killian, horning in on his company (and his Girl Friday, Pepper Potts!), and the external threat of a bin Laden-esque terrorist known as “The Mandarin”, he has to pull himself together to save himself, and the day, again.
What makes this particular film stand out is the writing. The pacing is taut and perfect; none of the second-act sag that infamously afflicted Iron Man 2, and there’s some terrific dialogue, with a hint of the distinct Joss Whedon flavor. In hiding from Killian and the Mandarin, Stark befriends a young boy who seems to be hitting all the notes for a cliche helpful-kid-in-movie: precocious, a reminder for the main character of his own youth, divorced parents, etc., but their relationship is just antagonistic enough to be refreshingly funny without seeming overly mean. Self-centered Tony would make a terrible dad.
The action sequences are also at treat, and the writers made some wise choices in limiting Tony and keeping him from solving every problem by just hopping in a suit and blowing things up. There’s an incredible sequence where he only has a gauntlet and a rocket boot equipped, and he manages to hold his own. Finally, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts gets something to do besides worry and chastise, a welcome change, and her action scenes are brief but memorable.
Because this is my blog and I’m not beholden to standard movie review practices, I get to discuss some bits of the film that are big “spoilers” so I’ll give you a chance to stop reading until you’ve seen the movie. Seriously, see it. It’s great, and knowing some of this in advance will lessen the experience.
Okay. The BIG ONE is that “the Mandarin” is actually a red herring. He’s no vaguely oriental/middle eastern America-hater; he’s an actor named Trevor, an imaginary threat created by Killian so his think tank, Advanced Idea Mechanics, can play both sides against each other for fun and profit. Ben Kingsley plays the clueless thespian brilliantly, and his ability to exude real menace as The Mandarin, and then be a bumbling fool as Trevor is completely charming. It’s a decent plot, if one I’ve seen before, but the hardcore fans of the comics are taking issue with it. In the comics, The Mandarin is a real threat, one who uses 10 magical rings, has a wicked Fu Manchu mustache, and is basically a offensive Chinese caricature from the ’60’s, before we cared about such things. However, he was one of Iron Man’s top villains, the Joker to his Batman, so to not include him somewhere in the films would be a mistake.
The comic fans are taking umbrage to the fact that he isn’t anything like the character they remember. But I’ve read comics, too, and I say it’s a good thing. To do a faithful adaptation of the Mandarin, the movie would have to offend the Eastern World, introduce a heavy dose of magic into a series that to this point has been fairly plausible sci-fi, or both. I love what they’ve done with the character, because it was very funny and a complete surprise.
I’m not sure if I’m keeping the beard, but I like the look of the hair. It’s easier to maintain, too.