Continuing with my Marvel Cinematic Universe rewatch, it’s time for

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

DID I FALL ASLEEP? No. I do not fall asleep during Shane Black movies.

DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? There was music? Marvel heroes don’t have themes, they have leitmotivs, all quite similar. Also, can you name one superhero movie that doesn’t have that shwooshy string music while the hero readies for battle or tinkers in the lab? Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: You can’t go wrong with the Shane Black/Robert Downey Jr. team-up. I reviewed this film when it came out, and having seen a dozen more Marvel films in the interim, I can now say I was wrong, and this is totally a Shane Black Movie. In fact it rocketed up my list of MCU films; just as Winter Soldier was a spy thriller and Antman was a crime caper, IM3 was a very enjoyable 90s action film, Lethal Weapon 42. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian even had the perfect 90’s villain slicked back hair. (0s style, the CGI villainy was limited to a lot of Iron Man suits which were very fun to watch (was that a Hulkbuster prototype?), and the setting for the final battle, an offshore, um, fight platform, was used to great physical effect. The action in this movie was a big step up from Avengers or Thor: Dark World, maybe because it was mostly humans fighting humans, sometimes in metal suits.

Also, on my second viewing, the thing with the kid was Tony being a user as usual, and the kid knowing he’s being played, as usual with people around Tony.

Two interesting things about this movie in retrospect:

• This is where tensions over what was allowed in a Marvel movie seem to have been ratcheted up. Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce originally wanted to have two female villains, with Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen revealed, Remington Steel fashion, as the mastermind of the whole Mandarin scheme. And Stephanie Szostak’s Brandt was to have been a much more major villain. Instead we got Killian and James Badge Dale’s Savin. As Black famously revealed in his Uproxx interview, this was not allowed due to toy concerns:

We had troubles. Memories are short. You can go through hell together, then six months later go, “That was kind of fun, wasn’t it, John?” The good news is, Downey and I seem to get on pretty well. We’ll bicker now and again, but to me just having him on board elevates the material. So, the toughness was in the logistics instead of the relationships. That’s the good news. We replaced a lot of things. The plot went this way and that way. Stéphanie Szostak’s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it. Rebecca Hall’s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it.

Why? Rebecca Hall’s character does have an abrupt ending.

All I’ll say is this, on the record: There was an early draft of Iron Man 3 where we had an inkling of a problem. Which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft. We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female.

What?

So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making. Now, that’s not Feige. That’s Marvel corporate, but now you don’t have that problem anymore.

The original take on the story certainly would have been a break from the “older white man” villains of so many Marvel movies. Having Hansen revealed as the real mastermind would also have reflected the “masking” theme that is the subtext of the film. Iron Man/Tony Stark masks his feelings; the Mandarin is a fake; Killian’s AIM is a front.

As I’ve noted here several times, with Marvel studios now fully under Disney, concerns over what is and isn’t toyetic has given way to fresher filmmaking; Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a delight in Thor Ragnarok, and the abundance of heroic women in Black Panther has helped make it such a massive success story.

A least we got Pepper Potts getting powers and wearing the armor. I’ve never been a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but her MCu roles have grown on me, and I really liked her here.

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• There’s been a lot of talk on the fanwebs about how Tony Stark embodies toxic masculinity. Certainly, even after the (abbreviated) “Demon in a Bottle” sequence in Iron Man 2, Tony is still a selfish user. That he fails to catch Pepper when he promises he’ll save her is a signature moment for their relationship. But we also see his glib indifference to others is a shield for a real person who suffers PTSD after seeing giant armored silverfish attack New York. But throwing his Iron Man suits away to spend more time with Pepper is like any addict who cleans up for a week or a month and in subsequent movies they break up or make up. Pepper obviously knows she never going to get the whole Tony, so she goes about with her own business.

Although this was the last Iron Man film, RDJ has starred in three more MCU films since then, with two more to come. More analysis of the Tony/Cap/Bucky triangle that dominates the tumblr crowd will have to wait until my rewatch of Civil War, but in the meantime, here’s a Twitter thread.

Final notes: Am I alone in wishing Happy would just go away? He’s like a cockroach, not even a nuclear blast will kill him. Also was it really so easy to remove Pepper’s magical glowing Extremis powers? Hm.

WOULD I REWATCH: Absolutely!

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BONUS: ALL HAIL THE KING One Shot

Oh I didn’t mention the Mandarin, possibly the cleverest thing about this movie. In the innocent world of 2013, bringing in a villain who was the embodiment of racist Yellow Peril villains would have gotten so much shade on Twitter that it might never have happened. Black and Kevin Feige gave vague interviews about how it was “a new take on the spirit of war” or some such. But they managed not to give away the surprise, and in the film, the Mandarin’s true identity – a drug addled actor playing a role – is one of the best parts, complete with him stinking up the bathroom. When distinguished thespian Ben Kingsley was cast as the Mandarin, one might have expected the usual scenery chewing villain, but instead it’s a wide ranging, ultimately comic performance. (And if you’ve ever seen Sexy Beast you know Kingsley can play deadly, or pretty much anything he wants.)

Anyway you could never do the Mandarin now, thanks to social media, and maybe that’s a shame?

This short was reportedly made to allay fanboy fears that the real Mandarin isn’t in the MCU. It’s written and directed by Pearce, and forget what I said about the other MCU One-Shots, this is delightful and looks fantastic. It follows The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery in prison, with adoring fans and a tell all interview to do. There’s action and a cameo by Sam Rockwell, but mostly Kingsley just hamming it up as the Mandarin. I can’t think of a better way to spend 10 minutes.

SHHHHH: Although this was an extra on the Thor 2 DVD, if you Google around, you can find it online.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Oddly, the Mandarin was the only thing I really enjoyed about the movie. The twist was great. The rest just kinda feel flat for me, probably due to my expectations of Shane Black dialog.

  2. The new book “The Big Picture,” by WSJ reporter Ben Fritz, explains how Marvel (and franchises in general) took over Hollywood. Some tidbits from a review as slashfilm.com:

    The MCU was launched with Iron Man because of … toys! Fritz writes:

    “To decide which film to make first, Marvel convened focus groups. But they weren’t convened in order to ask a random cross-section of people which story lines and characters they would most like to see onscreen. Instead, Marvel brought together groups of children, showed them pictures of its superheroes, and described their abilities and weapons. Then they asked the kids which ones they would most like to play with as a toy. The overwhelming answer, to the surprise of many at Marvel, was Iron Man.”

    Fritz reveals what you might have long suspected about Marvel: they like to seek out directors they know they can control. As the author puts it, this was one of the reasons Marvel hired Jon Favreau to helm Iron Man:

    “Favreau wasn’t particularly powerful in Hollywood, meaning that if battles over costs or creative choices arose, and if they needed to push him around, they could.”

    “We would never have a final cut director,” David Maisel, then president and chief operating officer of Marvel Studios, is quoted as saying. “Our movies were not the director’s fiefdom.”

  3. I loved IM3 the first time I saw it, but I’ve enjoyed it less on repeated viewings. The Maya Hansen twist would have been great and more durable than the Mandarin one, which is still funny, but loses its punch when you know its coming. Looking forward to future installments.

  4. This movie had one of the most interesting premises: Tony Stark has PTSD! How will he possibly overcome it?

    Answer: By ignoring it halfway through the film.

    What a terribly lazy movie.

  5. I always felt it was setting up Maya as the main villain, because in one of the Mandarin’s scripted speeches he says “You know who I am,” the same thing Tony wrote on his name tag that he left with her New Years Day ’00. Assumed it was a clue, until it turned out she did just work for Killian.

    I also think All Hail the King is not just a way to allay fanboys, but it’s also kind of about them (maybe even poking fun of them? I’ll have to watch it again). The rant by the interviewer on behalf of the real Ten Rings is the rage and frustration of fans who pissed and moan about the twist.

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