To fully explain the awesome that is IRON MAN 3, you’ll need to pay a whole lot of attention to the movie. Why? Because this is a Shane Black IRON MAN movie – and that means it is not quite like what has come before. So before you start bellyaching about The Mandarin… realize… this is an introduction to a character, that in this film… contrary to the experience of the comics, Shane & Marvel had a different take on The Mandarin, and I’m going to get into it later in this review, but you should know that all discussions around The Mandarin should be labeled as being Spoilers.
You don’t need to watch IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2 or THE AVENGERS before seeing IRON MAN 3. In fact, there’s a bunch of this film that takes place prior to IRON MAN. Back when Tony Stark was just Tony Stark, Arms Manufacturer. You’ll get to see Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan with a Vincent Vega hairdo that, will make you snicker… that’s on purpose, believe me.
As with all great Shane Black stories – you’re being told a story. Technically, Tony isn’t narrating this story to us, stay for the post credits scene to see who he is telling it to.
But I am getting ahead of myself, as the film does itself, but don’t worry if you’re being confused, everything will get fairly linear eventually, but sometimes when you’re trying to convey what happened, you go off on non-sequiturs. However, you will have all the dots connecting eventually. Sit back, relax. Let this film be told to you. You are seriously in the best possible hands.
Shane Black is giving you an early Christmas present – and once you have a chance to stuff this sucker in a stocking at Christmas – you’ll be a very happy kid at home curled up watching this with your favorite Black Christmas films.
Tony Stark is revealed to be a consistent bastard in his life. He ignores what he wants to ignore. He toys with people he doesn’t know, preying upon their hopes. He seems to affect a feeling like he doesn’t care or take note of anything that he isn’t personally obsessed with. But that’s just Tony’s way of keeping everyone at a distance. Actually, Tony’s curse is he kind of remembers everything and everyone. He’s just so distracted by the immediate issues at hand that he seems flippant and aloof.
However, as a creative God in charge of this narrative, Shane Black – as Martin Riggs will attest… is a cruel controlling entity. Shane will take what you love away. He will fuel his heroes with vengeance, but he’ll take everything that makes that vengeance easy away from his hero. Making him scrappy and brilliant.
The Mandarin’s assault on Tony’s home is brutal. That anyone survives is miraculous, but I think my favorite bit is this. After Tony escapes his watery grave, he kind of passes out. It’s understandable, he’s gone several days without proper sleep… and his ass was handed to him, but I love that Jarvis follows the last order Tony gave him before the assault… so when Tony comes to after crashing in a patch of snowy woods… He’s forced into a situation where the world believes he’s dead – and he’s on the otherside of the country tracking down the mystery of The Mandarin – which puts him ahead of the United States’ entire intelligence community… but, Tony probably has a bit of Sherlock Holmes in him… somewhere.
Tony with nothing is a wonderful thing. His armor is powered down & beat to fuck. He’s found what he feels is the first blast signature that seems to indicate Mandarin activity – he finds a garage that seems to be a safe place to work – but this is where we meet Harley Keener – a kid that’s home alone – and becomes a bit of a sidekick for some of this story – and I have to say. I love Tony Stark with this kid. When the shit hits the fan, you really do worry about the kid. This is a Shane Black movie. Nobody is safe from his cruel glee.
Now – earlier in the film – you get introduced to this incredibly brilliant woman that Tony Stark beds for a night while she’s trying to explain to him that she’s more than a pretty face. And he does listen – and he is genuinely impressed… The work she’s on to is beyond anything we have today technologically and genetically at our disposal – at least that anyone will talk about. I’m a tad annoyed that her character’s ties to Austin, Texas along with the ties of Dr. Aldrich Killian to Austin were cut as well… but that’s just something that an Austin geek like me would care about. As anyone that is familiar with Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s turn on IRON MAN know, these two characters are responsible for the Extremis storyline.
Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen is played as someone that has the best of intentions for her science. She sees this as unlocking an amazing potential that is awaiting all humanity. And for reals, it’s crazy awesome. She needs Tony Stark so that she can finally stabilize her experiments. She knows he’s the key, because of what he wrote on the back of a note he left for her after their one night stand, which led her further down that yellow brick road of discovery that she’s spending her life upon.
Now Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is excellent. He’s a bit Bond Villianish – but that’s great. And no Bond Villain that I’ve seen quite has the character arc that Shane Black gave him. When you meet Pearce’s Killian the first time, you won’t believe your eyes. And when Tony tells him to meet him on the roof in 15 minutes as a private joke to himself… well, it’s that rooftop that sets everything in motion. Over the course of the film we’ll discover that it was on that rooftop that Killian had his darkest night. A night that nearly ended it all and took him to an edge that gave him a sharp desire to return the favor to Mr Stark. He wants to give Stark a taste of despair.
Let’s talk a bit about THE MANDARIN now. If IRON MAN 3 has an element that is able to dynamically piss off fans of IRON MAN, it will be how most take in Ben Kingsley’s performance of this character. There’s a twist and reveal that changes everything that you’re expecting with this character. But that first twist when Tony meets him… I feel is not the only twist. And I have to talk about it in this review. Because in many ways it is incredibly intriguing to me.
The mere fact that one of the rings he’s wearing has the same symbol as Faran Tahir’s Raza – and we know that he was a part of an organization that was referred to as TEN RINGS – which we all took as being a reference to The Mandarin. Now in this film – we’re given a whole bunch of misdirection with The Mandarin. He’s given several names in the film. THE MANDARIN is his outward Television Terrorist persona. In private, Killian and all of Killian’s men refer to him as The Master, which also seems to be the security’s codename for The Mandarin as he is being transported and moved.
Then there’s who Tony Stark finds coming out of a bathroom to bed two beauties he found in the Mandarin’s chambers. Tony has the drop on him – and suddenly he’s an actor playing the part of the Mandarin. He’s laid back actor – who claims he’s being used to create a character for Killian. Tony wants to believe this immediately cuz Killian has engaged Pepper – and Tony does have jealousy issues regarding Ms Potts. Ben Kingsley’s performance as the Mandarin for the television threats is very deliberate and dramatic. As The Master – we never actually see him become The Master… except once, I feel. After Tony has been taken out of the room – and he’s asked by Killian and I believe it was James Dale’s Savin about what information he gave Stark… This is where I see a third persona – the most guarded of them all… He’s laughing about the whole situation, but when asked – his eyes get a completely different look – his voice becomes colder and he smiles and then the tone of his voice shifts… and he gets a serious look on his face, while smiling inside satisfied with himself.
Later, when he’s being interrogated by Rhodes and Stark, he gives them the Vice President as a clue. This is still really giving them nothing, they think the Vice President is in danger. This is actually misdirection that The Mandarin has given them. But let me ask you this… Why, in private, would Killian call a down on his luck actor, MASTER? Where did Killian and Maya get the money to finance their Extremis work? Perhaps The Master/The Mandarin has set in motion a second salvo at Tony. His men captured him in Afganistan and now this.
If Marvel is playing The Mandarin as I suspect – we will have a scene where Tony stumbles straight into a situation where he feels completely safe in his presence… and Kapow.
Sure, that’s all theory and hypothesis on my part, but pay very close attention to what Kingsley is doing with the role – there’s sub-text and layers to this performance and nothing is by chance. In many ways this could be the very embodiment of everything that Liam Neeson was trying to teach a young Bruce Wayne in BATMAN BEGINS. Theatricality & Deception. The Master indeed.
Watching IRON MAN 3 was a complete delight from start to finish. At no point was I not just completely happy. Around the time that Rhodey and Stark are at a shipping yard, I just couldn’t stop flashing upon Riggs & Murtaugh. Nobody is claiming to be too old for this shit – these characters are in their prime.
Now – slight nit-picky gripes… I’m enjoying the clever take with the Mandarin, but man had he at any point put on the rings and started kicking Iron Man’s ass, my eyes would have glazed over in happiness. But, I have faith that we’ll get there. In the final battle with all the armors – I would have loved the specialized armors showing off their various unique abilities a bit more, but that’s all stuff that I would have enjoyed in ADDITION. What’s here is thoroughly involving and thrilling.
Once you get to the end of the film – you kind of realize that you’ve really no idea exactly where all of this is going to head. Or what exactly Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are going to be. In fact – the sky is literally the limit. One very clear thought is with you though… you can’t wait to see what’s next.
We’re going to see some amazing marvels to come, I’m positive of that!
Oh – and Shane Black is about to be a very in demand director… which is exactly how it should have been after KISS KISS BANG BANG. Only this time, he’ll probably have a Billion Dollar worldwide hit in his resume. This movie is completely satisfying, unless you can’t get past what’s going on with the Mandarin, but as I said in this review… Pay attention. I don’t think we know anything about the Mandarin in the cinematic Marvel universe yet, but I’m suspecting we’re in for something extraordinary!