Introducing . . . The Mandarin?
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Swift shot: Tony Stark (RDJ) is back from New York, and he is tired of hearing, “Will the aliens come back?” “Where are the Avengers?” and so on. It becomes too much for Tony, actually, as he suffers throughout the film from anxiety attacks . . . a flaw which manages to keep the Downey portrayal of Stark authentic and interesting. He’s a flawed super-hero/super-genius. This is a comic book film, but it is incredibly off-script from the comics to my limited understanding. So, it you are a purist, and I know many of you are . . . you may find certain aspects of Iron Man 3 sabotaging an otherwise excellent villain in The Mandarin. I can’t spoil anything here, but a lot of people aren’t too thrilled with the choices for that character. Look under the irate spoiler bar at the bottom of this review for what I mean.
Tony opens the film with a warning, that every day you may unwittingly create demons, personal and otherwise, in the choices you make. In Tony’s case, he often makes poor choices when it comes to how to treat others – with a few exceptions in Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his buddy Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle). So his demon list is probably pretty long, but as he recovers from “New York” as “The Avengers” story-line convention is labeled, he makes a mistake and, as he puts it “turned on the TV.”
Of course carnage and devastation are on every channel. In fact, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is literally on every channel as he explains that he is teaching America, and American President Ellis (William Sadler), in particular, a series of lessons. As Argo started out painting America in a not-so-positive light, IM3 does the same, pinpointing our poor treatment of the Native Americans in the nineteenth century. To put it mildly.
Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan - who had to take a new gig, because telling people you are Iron Man’s bodyguard was not playing well with his ego. This time Favreau opted out of directing and let Shane (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) Black tackle the challenge of keeping story, pacing and special effects fine-tuned with the overall successful engine that is the Iron Man franchise. Considering what he had to work with, he did a decent job.
I liked the concept of showing that Iron Man is still a hero, even when you take away all his toys. And, he doesn’t lose his impish charm even managing to tell some kid he just met not to be a pussy about the fact that his dad left him years ago. It’s that je n’est ce quoi that makes Downey such a brilliant casting choice to play Iron Man for all these years. With his own checkered past constantly nipping at his mind, Downey’s Tony Stark always plays like a super-star who owns his stardom and yet has flaws, much like the younger Downey who overcame addiction and anxiety to be where he is again in Hollywood.
Happy becomes a casualty of the lesson that The Mandarin has wrought on America – at the Chinese Theater, no less. This is when Iron Man calls out the terrorist, old school style . . . basically he says, here’s my address, come and get me! The Mandarin, of course, obliges! Let’s just say that Stark faces a gut check, and when he wakes up he’s in Tennessee! His suit is all but completely destroyed, and he literally has to drag it in for repairs. Meanwhile, The Mandarin is giving us more lessons in the form of deadly terrorist bombings. Thing is, there is NO bomb material left behind, just a crater where a bomb presumably was. When is a bomb not a bomb?
As if all this wasn’t enough, an ex girl-fling (that’s what I am calling all his ‘exes’) Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) returns with some not so wonderful news. And her boss, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is making the moves on Pepper! Tony is ill-equipped (ironically) to deal with matters of the heart, and his attempts to calm the fiery Pepper equates to the largest, creepiest looking Velveteen Rabbit I have ever seen. But, fret not, the bunny doesn’t last long.
With Happy on life support just on the edge of Downtown Abbey and Pepper worrying about Tony possibly being dead after the dramatic attack on his Malibu mansion, Tony befriends the kid I mentioned above. Harley (Ty Simpkins) just so happens, conventionally, to be a kind of mechanical genius himself. Ty managed to hold his own with RDJ on screen, and their barbs back and forth keep the story fresh. The kid was excellent in Insidious as well! Harley manages to help Tony in his pursuit of The Mandarin, but The Mandarin has some surprises in store for Iron Man as well as the audience. Pepper is placed in direct line of fire in this one – several times, in fact!
Iron Man 3 delivers multiple layers of villainy, with James Badge Dale constantly showing up to piss on everyone’s parade as Savin. Souped up on Extremis, he is more than a match for the unprepared Iron Man . . . and Iron Patriot. I have only seen Dale in a few things, but his matter-of-fact presence in each sequence, as he casually chews gum, was intended to chill the audience. He definitely came off as a cocky badass, but there were so many cocky characters in this film, it just didn’t have that genuine quality of the first Iron Man.
And about cocky characters I am sick of . . . I am not a fan of War Machine, or the Iron Patriot, nor do I care whatever actor plays him. To me he has always been a cheap facsimile of the genuine article. He just annoys me, when Marvel has THOUSANDS of other characters to choose from . . . can we please find a character that isn’t just a boy-wonder copy of the hero the film is named after?
I used to play Marvel RPG as a kid, and the FASERIP sheet books were neatly (ok, not so neatly) stacked in my room with hundreds of character sheets with stats and back-stories galore. Yet, we keep getting Rhodes . . . boring! If there is another Iron Man stand-alone film, can I please start a petition to just have Iron Patriot be OUT of the film? He’s like the Jar-Jar Binks of the franchise. Yes, I said it. And, I got nothing against Don Cheadle, he’s a fine actor, loved him Crash and Brooklyn’s Finest. I’m just tired of Rhodes.
As with all action movies, there is a huge battle in the end, and you won’t be let down by that sequence at all. There is a rescue effort on Air Force One and an infiltration at Vizcaya in Miami that were both memorable. And one thing I particularly liked, as a right-wing Second Amendment supporter, is that Tony managed to do more damage with a credit card at Home Depot than with any arsenal of traditional “weapons” that scare the bejeezus out of liberal panty-waists! It isn’t lost on me that some of them were acting in this film, but I wonder if they caught that? Well, I did.
If you like watching your heroes torn down, Iron Man 3 is your flick. But of the three, I still think Iron Man is the best of the series. Until The Avengers came out, it was my favorite comic book film from Marvel. Still, if you are hungry for an action-packed blockbuster this May, I can’t think of a better place for your butt to be than in a seat for Iron Man Three!