Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Marvel, where I go through the Marvel movies over the next few months.
So I think I have to throw up a nice big ‘spoiler warning’ right now for the three of you that haven’t seen Iron Man 3 (I mean considering how it made over a billion dollars, I find it hard to believe that anyone that wanted to see it hasn’t seen it already). But yes, big spoiler warnings for the biggest twist in comic book movies. And with that out of the way, let us begin properly.
The Mandarin is perhaps the hardest comic book character to adapt onto the big screen. Made in an era where the â€œYellow Perilâ€ stereotype was all but acceptable, to try and show a 2013 audience this concept was no doubt going to cause a few collar tugs. But does the re-imagining work? Or does it just add insult to injury? Well lets find out.
First off, for those that don’t know, the briefest of backstories. The Mandarin first came about in the mid 1960s, as a mythical foe for Iron Man. He possessed ten quasi-magical rings (whether they’re magic or advance technology is debatable) and plans to to take on Iron Man. Much of his design was based on Eastern culture, but the Eastern culture as influenced by the West. Think Big Trouble in Little China sort of thing. Or, if you’re a Doctor Who fan like me, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s very much an example of a Western creator taking inspiration from Eastern motifs. Is it racist though? Well if not racist, at least culturally insensitive. It’s like going into Asia to find them trivialising Jesus Christ, making his image on the crucifix be nothing more than a funny little symbol or chocolate bar. If you get upset by stuff like that, then you have no right to complain when they get upset by bad portrayals of their culture. But the Mandarin was always very much tied into the Eastern ‘Yellow Peril’ that was so popular at the time. How are you meant to adapt that into a movie?
Well you do it by subverting audience’s expectations. You start off with Ben Kingsley being the stereotypical Mandarin, playing the part we expect. He is an Eastern warlord, waging a war against America. Very much in the vein of Osama Bin Laden and the like. Almost the prefect allegory to the whole thing. And therein lies the twist: He’s a completely fictional character. The Mandarin is made up, a product of corporate creation, something designed to trick the viewers into believing. The real bad guy is (obviously), the charming Aldrich Killian, is the one behind it all. But the movie rather cleverly gets us believing in stereotypes. We’re more than happy to believe that of course this foreigner is the bad guy. I mean all foreigners are bad guys, right? That’s what Michael Bay seems to be willing to sell to us. So this play on cultural stereotypes is very well-done. So how does this tie into the re-imagining?
Well more often than not the ‘in’ thing to do is to cry ‘they changed it, so now it sucks’. They changed Superman’s origin story, so it sucks. They changed Wonder Woman’s costume, so it sucks. And so on and so forth. So of course there were cries of ‘they changed it, so now it sucks’ were used for this movie. But more often than not we’d adverse to changes on the principle that they’re changes, rather than what they do. Too many fanboys seem to refuse to believe that something could be changed for the better. And no better example can be found than in this film here. The changes help the story since they remove some of the more politically incorrect overtones that were found in the original comics. They showed how stereotypes were ultimately rather harmful. But while the Mandarin is the biggest change they made, it wasn’t the most influential.
Now bear in mind, I haven’t read much of Iron Man in the comics. Didn’t know he existed before 2008, never really got into him that much. But I do know that the quintessential Iron Man story happened to be the one where he overcame his alcoholism. It’s apparently a defining moment for the character, one that briefly got brought up in the second movie. But what I find in this movie is the change of the character’s demons. Rather than making them about alcohol, they instead give him a rather realistic portrayal of PTSD. He is suffering from the events of The Avengers and doesn’t know how to cope. It’s a huge change in the character that we’ve seen up to this point… and it works out rather well. While Tony Stark was an irresponsible badass in the first two films, it’s here where we see him as a proper human being. Now maybe this was in the comics at some point, maybe it wasn’t. All I know is that it’s a nice little change that works well in the character’s favour.
But the film as a whole is a re-imagining of the Iron Man formula. Now one of my complaints about the first two was, aside from the brilliant humour, the climaxes tended to be a bit lacking. The Iron Man suit is barely in the first movie, and the second one never really quite knows what it’s trying to do. But it’s in this one that we get a re-imagining of the Iron Man formula. The humour is still there, just tweaked slightly. It’s not so much conversational humour, but scripted humour. But, more importantly, we actually have a pretty badass action scene that shows what Iron Man is all about. Iron Men, to be specific. We actually have a climax that shows pretty much why Iron Man is such a badass. So this film shows that changes made to a character or story aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
So there you have it. My look at Iron Man 3 and all the things it does right. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.