IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IRON MAN 3 AND DO NOT WANT MAJOR PLOT POINTS SPOILED, CLICK AWAY NOW!!!
Earlier this week we published our review of the first entry into Phase Two of Marvel’s Movie Universe, Iron Man 3. Overall, the film has seen relatively positive feedback and strong critical approval. However, by the same token it has been receiving an astonishing amount of hate and backlash due to a couple of the liberties that the film takes with its source material, which has consequently enraged and stirred comic book fans into a frenzy. This is a discussion page for all of you who have seen the film, so please, if you are yet to see Iron Man 3 and you don’t want to read spoilers then do not read any further. Let’s break it down: Here is my analysis of the three biggest sticking points and arguments that fans have made against Iron Man 3. Enjoy!
I: He Hardly Spends Any Time As Iron Man!
This is true, and in some ways could certainly be seen as a legitimate complaint. The film attempts to be far more of a character drama than a mindless action film, and for the most part it succeeds in this goal. Iron Man 3 invests a lot of time in developing and pushing forward the character of Tony Stark. This is because, while Marvel are attempting to build an ongoing and always evolving Marvel movie universe, the truth is that’s much harder to do in the medium of film than comics. For one thing, Marvel Studios only have the resources to release two films a year, whereas they will release hundreds of comics, written and drawn by any number of people. By the same token, films require hundreds of people to run effectively, and the characters are not drawn, but are actual actors, who age like normal people and can be injured – thusly they will eventually become too old to play their respective comic book character roles – you know, the characters that haven’t aged in over sixty years of publication.
Stories in general, tend to work better when adhering to the Rule of Three principle, so a trilogy is often the best way to round off an ongoing narrative nicely. If you’ve seen Iron Man 3 you’ll know that while this isn’t the end of Tony Stark, it does have a certain finish to it, that if they were not to make anymore solo Iron Man films his story would still feel as close to finished as can be. This is no accident.
Marvel have tactically picked characters that are easy to make relatable (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) for their first wave of heroes. It’s not until the subsequent waves that we’ll see concepts that are harder for people to wrap their heads around (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ant Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther) because audiences are already on the hook, so they’re likely to be more forgiving.
The point is, we’ve seen our invincible, industrious, playboy billionaire kick a ton of ass as the eponymous Shellhead. There’s no doubt in our mind that this man can absolutely obliterate his foes. Shane Black is all about the characters and putting people in desperate situations so Marvel gave him carte blanche to put Tony in a bad situation. Make him desperate, harking back to the time he spent in that cave in the first instalment. Black put him up against his most dangerous foe yet, struggling with PTSD and without all of his impressive armaments. At the end of the film when he says “I am Iron Man” he has had a realization. Before, in his mind he had to suit up to achieve anything, or do anything. We see throughout the film his reliance, nay dependence and obsession with his suits. He NEEDS them to be anything, to feel like anything.
At the end of the film, when he finally finds the courage to undergo the surgery to remove the shrapnel from his chest – he realizes that HE is Iron Man, not the suits of armour. This is the end of his first story arc, his self discovery and the place in which he fits in this rapidly expanding world. This allows him to move onto other places and for the most part, it was handled very well. If he’d spent the whole film as Iron Man blowing stuff up; people would have complained that it lacked variety and had become a Michael Bay movie. A lot of the people that have voiced this complaint, tend to be the ones that are already angry about the following two.
II. The Extremis Story
Iron Man: Extremis was a six issue comic book written by Warren Ellis in 2005. It redefined Iron Man – both the character and the actual quality of the comic book series – changing Tony Stark’s fabled origin and subsequently winning a lot of awards and critical praise in the process. It is often cited as one of the best Iron Man stories ever written and has had an ample affect on the narrative of ALL of the Iron Man movies that have graced the screen. It also marked a massive increase in power for the character. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, you should pick it up; it’s well worth reading – or you can watch the motion comic if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, here’s a refresher of the plot beats:
* Tony Stark is a weapons designer, who while visiting Afghanistan is injured in an attack by one of his own weapons. Pieces of shrapnel pierce his chest. He is captured and forced to build missiles in a cave with Ho Yinsen. This is where he first dons the Iron Man armour and escapes, though Yinsen sadly perishes. (So far, so first Iron Man film.)
* In Texas three men enter a disused slaughterhouse. They inject one of their number with a serum. At first it does nothing, but then the man, known only as “Mallen”, has a violent reaction and begins to writhe in agony. The other two men flee and lock the slaughterhouse, leaving their companion to presumably die.
* Tony is having problems sleeping and can barely look at himself in the mirror. He is ashamed of his weapon making history. He attends an interview with acclaimed journalistic filmmaker John Pillinger, who is making a film called Ghosts Of The Twentieth Century. He grills Stark hard about his weapon work and challenges him on his ethics. Off camera, Pillinger and Stark have an emotional and frank conversation about how helpless they feel, and the shame that neither of them have changed the world for the better.
* At FuturePharm Corporation, scientist Aldrich Killian has locked himself in his office. The building is in disarray because their highly experimental and immeasurably dangerous serum, Extremis, has been stolen for seemingly nefarious purposes. Killian writes a suicide note and confesses that he was the one who sold Extremis. He ends his life with a bullet to the brain and his office is broken into; the confession is found by Maya Hanson.
* Hanson calls Stark, (an ex-lover) and informs him of the situation. Stark (his identity as Iron Man is still a secret) rushes to his private airport and jets over to Texas. On the way his Board Of Directors via teleconference, try and convince him to resign as CEO. He refuses, knowing they would take the opportunity to get back into weapons dealing. When he arrives in Texas he tries to hack into Killian’s computer, but fails, so he whisks the hard drive off to some friends who can crack it over time. To distract Hanson they jet to San Diego and meet with an old professor of theirs called Sal Kennedy.
* This is an opportunity for the characters to discuss various ethical quandaries and banter at length about the disappointment of great minds and unachieved potential. Kennedy laments that the epitaph for most great minds is “almost useful” – the three of them included. This allows further exploration of the novel’s themes and Stark’s general feeling of depression and failure.
* At the same time Mallen and his accomplices drive a van to the FBI Houston office. Mallen enters, face contorted in rage and begins to attack people with his barehands, even breathing fire, slaughtering them all. While this is occurring, we’re greeted to a flashback showing a young Mallen’s home being invaded by ATF agents resulting in his parents deaths as they are gunned down. Mallen’s fury is horrific and over fifty people are killed. Mallen escapes and tells his accomplices that this is just the beginning.
* Stark & co. see this disaster on the news and Hanson realizes that it’s with the serum she created. Stark whisks her back to Texas, and along the way Hanson explains what Extremis is: yet another attempt at trying to recreate the Super Soldier serum responsible for Captain America. It’s a nanotechnology virus that restructures the brain and allows people to completely heal their bodies and even regrow limbs. Stark gets a call from his hacker friend who informs them that Killian passed Extremis onto a local group of eco-terrorists. Stark drops Hanson off at her lab before slipping away and donning his Iron Man suit.
* Iron Man tracks down the van that Mallen is in and attacks him. Mallen, however, proves himself to be far stronger and faster than Iron Man is. Mallen defeats Iron Man easily, and our hero’s failure leads to the death of civilians. Mallen flees and leaves Stark trapped underneath a burning car wreckage with zero power and a badly damaged suit. He uses the thermal energy to give him a slight boost in that he can escape and in the process save the other inhabitants of the car. Stark calls Hanson and has her airlift him to the corporation. In a private medical room, Hanson opens the suit and discovers Iron Man’s secret identity.
* Stark has suffered serious internal injuries and so must undergo the Extremis procedure in order to save his life. Hanson originally refuses because she fears that Stark will not survive, but he insists. He falls into a coma where he relives Iron Man’s origin and revisits his first mortal injury.
* When Stark awakens he is healed and newly fit, and sporting new abilities. Now, his body contains an internal control sheath for his armour, allowing him to summon it on command directly from his body. This improves his reaction time as the suit is now an extension of his actual body, rather than something completely separate. He can now also lojack himself into not only his armour, but any phone, computer, global satellite networks etc. He unveils a new suitcase sized armour and goes after Mallen.
* This time Mallen is outmatched while facing Stark and is defeated. Stark doesn’t want to harm Mallen though, as his own story is very similar, instead trying to help the psychotic terrorist. Mallen uses this opportunity to overpower Stark and start ripping apart the chestplate of his armour. Iron Man fires a focused energy beam from his chest – mortally wounding Mallen by blasting out his cardio vascular system. As a mercy killing, Stark claps his hands around Mallen’s head and fires both repulsors into his head, shattering his skull. Stark does not consider this a victory though, as he has had to kill again, something he doesn’t want to do any more.
* Torn apart by his anger and guilt, Stark returns to FuturePharm to investigate a hunch he had. The vault could not have been opened by just Killian and he uncovers that Hanson was in on the plot as well. She released Extremis so that it would be tested unconventionally in combat, proving its viability and causing the military to continue to fund her program. While her motives may have been noble, in that she wanted to eventually use Extremis to cure cancer and other impossible diseases, her actions still caused a lot of people to die. She draws a parallel to herself and Stark, which upsets Tony, but ultimately he says that at least he’s trying, and that’s why he can still look at himself in the mirror.
For those of you that have paid attention you’ll see there are various snippets from the Extremis story that have cropped up in all of the films thus far, but Iron Man 3 promised to be THE Extremis story, so naturally fans were pretty excited. As the people who will have seen the film know, it didn’t really happen like that. For one thing, Aldrich Killian, a scientist who kills himself on the fourth page he features on in the novel ends up playing the primary antagonist in Iron Man 3 - even in some ways taking on the role of The Mandarin, Iron Man’s archnemesis. Needless to say, fans were a little flabbergasted as to why Killian’s role had been extended so much, and why he’d been given the story arc of The Riddler from Batman Forever.
Pushing that aside for the moment, Iron Man 3 attempts to deal with many of the same themes that run through Extremis – in terms of the great minds never really reaching their potential – and the ethics of scientists who mean well, who end up creating weapons of destruction. The film touches upon this briefly during a conversation between Hanson and Pepper Potts, but this exchange is short and ultimately feels a little crowbarred in for the sake of it. It certainly doesn’t have the same impact as the lengthier discussion between Stark, Hanson and Kennedy featured in the comic. (Though in all fairness, it’s very clearly just a way to pass time before the next plot point occurs, and a way for the author to espouse some of his ethical views on the subject, just done better.)
The question on everyone’s lips is, why didn’t they just follow the story of Extremis? It tells the story they wanted to tell, and the themes they were exploring very well, arguably better than the film managed, so why didn’t they just stick to the story? And why didn’t Stark get an injection of Extremis? He should be more powerful by the end! Whereas, at the end of Iron Man 3, he’s even gone so far as to remove his chest piece mini generator, thusly pushing him further away from assimilation into his suits.
As mentioned before, this has a lot to do with finishing up Stark’s “cinematic trilogy arc” and having him realize he doesn’t need the suit to survive is an important revelation that that character needed to have. Also, due to the fact that, in theory, this Marvel movie universe is just getting started, it wouldn’t make sense to have Stark become too powerful, too quickly, because you’re in danger of unbalancing the field.
In the Extremis novel, there is only one Extremis infected person – Mallen – whereas in the film there are many; not only Killian and his main man Savin, but an entire army of nameless but super-powered soldiers as well. While this army vs. Tony’s handy Iron Legion makes for engaging spectacle on film, it removes a large aspect of the personal element from the film. In the comic, when Stark has to kill Mallen he does it because there is no other option and he is very upset about it, whereas in Iron Man 3, Stark kills security guards and Extremis soldiers with almost relish.
Though, again this is because the rules of films are different and frankly, if it was just a mere one on one fight, fans of the franchise would be confused. The rule of these endeavours is there needs to be some kind of big battle at the end, plus, the presence of a lot of different suits gives him the ability to outlast a fight with Killian, who makes pretty quick work of his suit wearing foe.
That’s another thing: we only really catch glimpses at Extremis’ true potential. Killian is the only person who exhibits the same power that Mallen displayed in the novel; the super speed agility, super strength, and ability to breathe fire are all features that characterized this new fearsome threat and were the precise reason that Stark had to undergo the procedure himself, and in turn learn a lot about his own personal limitations. Black and co. get around this by injecting Pepper with Extremis and having her finish off Killian, in a frankly slightly underwhelming manner.
Honestly, I can see why some people are upset that the full Extremis story wasn’t translated to the screen; certain elements were exchanged for other parts that didn’t necessarily work (in some people’s eyes), like the kid or the big twist (more on that next), instead of spending time developing the characters that they already had.
While I do hold the original Extremis story dear to my heart and I certainly sympathize with the complaints being levelled here, ultimately this is a film adaptation and it was never going to be repeated verbatim. Kevin Feige has said from the beginning that the Marvel Movie Universe should be treated like another alternate universe. The Marvel comics themselves have countless different universes and the movie versions are just another iteration: it’ll contain our favourite characters and maintain their essence, but their may be some significant changes. Feige has said that Phase Two of the Marvel movie universe will catch people off guard, taking serious deviations from the source material without undermining the characters. I think the crux of a lot of the complaints is that fans didn’t really take him seriously.
For what it’s worth, I think for a mainstream movie version of the Extremis story, Iron Man 3 is a damn good shot at it, and Marvel have still demonstrated an unprecedented amount of deference and care for their source material when making these movies. When you compare it to the butcherings of Fox, Sony or to a lesser extent, Warner Brothers; their really isn’t that much to complain about here…except maybe that one thing, you know, the REAL thing that has everyone so mad…
III. The Twist ACTUALLY Surprised People
Uh-oh. Mr. Black, how dare you make a twist that completely and utterly defied our expectations of what we expect in a comic book film. How dare you make an insanely brave and bold move with our beloved characters? How dare you make the film you want to make!
Yes, folks, we’re talking about the reveal at the midpoint of the film. Stark, relieved of all of his suits, buys an assortment of tools and items from a DIY store and turns them into makeshift weapons and gadgets. He uses these to infiltrate the Miami mansion of The Mandarin. Up until this point, it’s actually incredibly intense. Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, from the brief footage we’ve seen, is menacing and effective. We all know that he’s not going to be The Mandarin from the comics, because he’s noticeably different, but they’ve put a lot of the marketing into his performance, so I wonder HOW EPIC this face-off is going to be!!! Then…IT happens…and in all fairness, it’s pretty epic, just not in the way you would expect.
Stark whips back the bedcovers and finds two scantily dressed ladies underneath. Extremely confused, Tony hides behind the bed as he hears the toilet flush, and out of the bathroom comes bounding a very dishevelled Sir Ben Kingsley, sporting a very British accent and making a joke about the mess he just made. The look on Tony’s face, perfectly sums up the look on the audience’s face as everyone is baffled. I think, it was best delivered by our very own beloved co-editor Disinformasiya who attended a screening with me. His reaction was simple, mouth agape, eyes wide and hands, open, pointed towards the screen, expecting at any moment for Kingsley to overpower Stark and howl with evil laughter. “Muahahahaha! I AM THE MANDARIN! FEAR MY WRATH!”
But that doesn’t happen, and fans continued to clench onto that idea throughout the rest of the film. “Oh come on, he’s going to jump out at any second…Yes, yes, YES! No…No…No… Oh shit the film’s over. What the fuck?”
Instead we are introduced to a very meek and disorientated Trevor Slattery, a failed stage actor with a shameful drug problem. You discover that he had been recruited by Killian to be his “new face of terror” and in exchange he’ll be given drugs, riches and women. Naturally, the washed up actor jumped at the chance without being fully aware of the consequences of his actions.
Stark, much like the audience, is absolutely stunned by this revelation, and while the entire scene is extremely hilarious, it’s an effective enough twist in that it completely blindsides the audience, but a lot of people have felt that it rocked the boat far too much. Why is that?
The Mandarin is Iron Man’s most legendary villain in the comics; he’s his archnemesis. He’s The Joker to Batman, the Green Goblin to Spiderman etc. He’s the big dog, and so it was a pretty significant thing that Marvel decided to finally incorporate him into the movies. For those who don’t know, The Mandarin is an oddly coloured Asian scientist who adorns himself in various ancient oriental outfits and presents himself as a sorcerer. He has unprecedented martial art ability and strength significant enough to be able to tear through Iron Man’s armour with his bare hands. He’s so in touch with his chi that he can go for long periods of time without eating or drinking, merely sustaining himself on his own lifeforce. However, his largest source of power is that of his ornate ten rings – one for each finger.
These rings are astronomically powerful, which many believe to be magic, thus enhancing his sorcerer image. Instead, they’re actually devices salvaged from a crashed alien ship that The Mandarin discovered, and being one of the greatest scientific minds in the Marvel Universe, he fashioned ten power rings, each with a different ability from the alien technology. Now for a quick rundown as to what each ring is capable of:
Thumb – White Light
This ring can emit various forms of energy along the electromagnetic spectrum. Has been used to create gravity powerful enough to make Iron Man bury himself by trying to walk forward. The gem is shaped like two white circles, set in gold (almost like a pair of eyes).
Index Finger – Flame Blast
Ah, the more conventional flamethrower ring. No sorcerer should leave the house without it! The ring emits infra-red radiation, or heat, at intensities mentally determined by the wearer. Usually the heat produces flame through incandescing the molecules in the air in the path of the blast. The heat beam can be used to trigger chemical explosions. The maximum amount of heat it can generate is not known. The gem is shaped like multiple small cylindrical capsules with a red colour.
Middle Finger – Electro-Blast
Another classic. For that real evil Empire Star Wars feel. The ring emits electricity in amounts and intensities mentally determined by the wearer. The maximum current attainable is not known. The gem is shaped like an angled green line.
Ring Finger – Mento-Intensifier
The ring magnifies the wearer’s own psionic energy, allowing him to place one or more people under his mental control and to transmit orders to them mentally. Most frequently used to create illusions. The gem is shaped like a blue diamond/tilted square.
Little Finger – Ice Blast
The ring emits waves of cold which can be used to stun an opponent. The ring usually causes the air in the path of its blast to turn to ice, and can lower an object’s temperature to nearly absolute zero. The gem is shaped like multiple small cylindrical capsules, colored blue-white.
Are you starting to get an idea of how powerful and formidable a foe The Mandarin is? That’s just one hand!
Thumb – Matter Re-arranger
This ring can rearrange the atoms and molecules of a substance, or speed up or slow down their movement, so as to produce various effects. The ring has been used to condense water vapour in the air to liquid water, to solidify gasses, to create lethal poison gas from the air, to turn a group of men to stone, to turn a man into a beetle, to turn a mountain into a rock-monster, and to make a stone hand large enough to engulf Iron Man’s body erupt from the floor. The ring cannot transmute elements or rearrange the atoms and molecules of Iron Man’s magnetic-beam reinforced armour. The gem is shaped like a small purple circle.
Ring Finger – Impact Beam
This ring can project various forms of energy, most frequently that of fast neutrons with great concussive force. The ring has also been used to project intense sonic vibrations and to create magnetic waves to attract or repel objects. The ring may be capable of emitting other forms of energy as well, and has been used to send Iron Man slamming through a mountain. The gem is shaped like a star, coloured purple (or red).
Middle Finger – Vortex Beam
The ring causes the air to move about at high speed in a vortex. The vortex can be used as an offensive weapon, as a means of levitating objects, or as a means of propelling the ring’s wearer through the air. The gem is shaped like a simple blue circle.
Index Finger – Disintegration Beam
The ring emits a beam of energy that destroys all bonds between the atoms and molecules of the object it strikes. This ring needs twenty minutes to recharge after use. The gem is shaped like a golden square.
Little Finger – Black Light
The ring can create an area of absolute blackness that seems to absorb all light used within it. Although “black light” is a term used to refer to ultraviolet radiation, the darkness created by the ring is probably a form of the “darkforce” used by Cloak, Darkstar, and the Shroud. The gem is shaped like four tiny black-blue dots, arranged in a square shape in groups of two.