For those of you not too familiar with the Iron Man comic books, The Mandarin has served as one of Tony Stark’s archenemies for about half a century now. He’s a pre Communist Revolution Chinese scientist, who turns some discovered alien technology into ten magical rings, each one providing him a different evil superpower. In the 1990s animated adaptation, the Mandarin was green. In this movie, he’s not green. He’s Ben Kingsley. And let’s just say that the character has been reimagined slightly.
Now go see Iron Man Three, because it’s f’n awesome. Seriously, I went in kind of skeptical. There are so many superhero movies out there that it often seems like the market is oversaturated, like there’s really not much more we can do with good guys vs. bad guys. I don’t really remember watching Iron Man Two, probably because I saw it on a cheap Russian bootleg copy while I was living overseas, but I definitely remember feeling underwhelmed, not really enjoying it that much.
Which, after really, really enjoying Iron Man Three, I kind of want to go back. Maybe I did like the second part. Maybe I liked it, but then immediately read one of the big reviews, the Times, the New Yorker, some piece where all the author does is bemoan the state of current cinema as having lost something in its quest to ride out the superhero wave. I get it, there are a ton of comic book inspired movies coming out. They make tons of money. They motivate Hollywood to take the easy route to a quick buck.
And I constantly read stuff like this and, you know, I like to consider myself a sophisticated guy, somebody who knows what’s going on, and so for some reason I went into the movie theater this morning not really expecting anything much. In fact, all of my notes that I wrote down during the first twenty minutes or so were generic complaints, like “This is too over the top,” or “That scene was too slapstick.”
But I had an out of body experience in the theater, I saw myself from above, sitting in this darkened room wearing a pair of ridiculous black glasses (yeah, I went for the 3D) scrawling notes on a piece of paper and shaking my head in disapproval. Before I realized that I was looking down at myself, I thought, jeez, look at this miserable excuse for a human being, he’s out at the movies, at an Iron Man movie nonetheless, and he’s spending half of his attention writing down pithy complaints in a cheap notebook that he really can’t even see.
And then I saw that it was me, that I wasn’t letting myself enjoy a fucking Iron Man movie. Me, the guy with over five thousand individually bagged and boarded comic books taking up way too much primo real estate in my tiny New York City residence. If me from ten years ago were to catch a glimpse of me at this movie right now, cynical, bitter, not truly enjoying what was unfolding before my eyes, that younger version would have probably committed ritualistic suicide rather than slowly being consumed by this empty shell of a man who can’t get pumped up about a three-fucking-dimensional Iron Man movie.
I realized my error, my taking myself too seriously, trying too hard to be a film critic, a real film critic. Real film critics don’t like superhero movies, right? I don’t know. I don’t care. I floated back down into my body just as things really started heating up, and I’m glad I did, because, like I said already, Iron Man Three is fucking awesome.
Tony Stark is back from his adventures with the Avengers (another fucking awesome movie) and he’s not really dealing too well with his world-saving experience. He copes with his PTSD by not going to sleep, by holing up in his basement and by building new armors. The Mandarin is a threat. He’s like Bane from The Dark Knight but even more over the top. There’s the whole military industrial complex, weaponized terror, politics, foreign policy, and it all takes place amongst a backdrop of cutting edge science and a personal grudge carried over from the twilight of the twentieth century.
Just like in the previous Iron Man movies, and just like in The Avengers, this movie is at its best when the characters exchange dialogue apart from the action. It’s funny without being goofy. It’s real and natural in a way that most other big budget action movies never are. The film is surreal in its humor. It doesn’t feel out of place when Iron Man, not just Tony Stark, but the actual robotic suit, sits on his leather couch and gives his girlfriend a shoulder massage. I imagine other big, bulky machines, like a motorcycle. If you put that on a piece of furniture, wouldn’t there be like tons of stains and grease spots? Nor is it totally crazy when we see a depleted Iron Man lugging around a car battery hooked up to his chest, “Power levels only at 92% sir.”
These movies have made Tony Stark as a much cooler Bruce Wayne. He’s Batman, the genius scientist, detective, billionaire, but with none of the sadness, absolutly no guilt. In fact, it’s like if Instagram were to come out with a superhero filter, take a picture of The Dark Knight, and then keep running it through the filter, over and over again, each time everything coming out a bit more exaggerated, and you’d have this movie, Iron Man Three. It goes beyond over the top, and then looks you right in the eye it acknowledges itself, it says, man, wasn’t that so over the top? Imagine Air Force One getting blown up, fourteen passengers in free fall, and Iron Man trying to figure out how he’s going to save them all. It’s fucking awesome.
Oh yeah, and don’t leave after the credits. That’s like a Marvel movie staple now, right? I like it, I like surprises. What I don’t like is actually having to sit through the credits. Do you know how boring that is? Just lines and line of text moving too fast for me to read all of it. Not that I want to read a bunch of names that mean absolutely nothing to me – good job Jimmy Smith, Best Boy Grip – but even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t be possible. So I just have to sit there, after I’ve already sat there for like two and a half hours, and I have to listen to the score again, and wait for that surprise. It’s not a surprise anymore. Just shorten the credits or something. Come on, you’re killing me Marvel.