Now, readers of the Iron Man comics know the Mandarin as a would-be Asian dictator with ten rings of alien origin that gave him ten different powers. When he first appeared in the comics, he was a politically incorrect - and somewhat offensive - stereotype. If you read those early appearances, you wince, not as his evil machinations but his faux-Asian dialect. It would take decades before someone could truly get a handle on the character. John Byrne (X-Men, Alpha Flight) did a nice job setting him up as Iron Man’s foil in the 90’s. And Matt Fraction (Iron Fist, Hawkeye) hit a home-run when re-invented the Mandarin as a Kim-Jong Il type who imagined himself a direct descendent of Genghis Khan. (You can buy the issue on Comixology. I highly recommend it.) Ask most ardent comic book readers who grew up on Iron Man and they’ll tell you that the Mandarin is his greatest nemesis, the fire-breathing dragon to Tony Stark’s shining knight.
Which is why I have such a problem with what they did with him in Iron Man 3. Now, I can see why the character would require some modification for today's audiences and I don’t take issue with them turning the Mandarin into a pseudo-Osama Bin Laden. In fact, I found the angle to be rather clever and contemporary. It’s just when they take the character to another level, with a development that takes him so far away from the comics, that I found it distracting to the point where I couldn’t really enjoy the rest of the film.
Aw crap, I’ve turned into one of those comic geeks!
Don’t get me wrong, Iron Man 3 is a fun movie. It’s full of action, humor and some sneaky plot twists that are going to take movie goers by surprise. Director Shane Black’s influence can be felt throughout the film. From the opening narration that reminded me of his previous effort “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, to the “Lethal Weapon” style banter between Tony Stark and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), to the big, climactic battle that evoked memories of “Long Kiss Goodnight.” Black has a certain style and wit that fits well in the Iron Man series and suits Robert Downey Jr. to a tee. I’d love to see them team up again for another installment.
But I’d also like for the screenwriter to sufficiently explain why Tony Stark didn’t call the Avengers in to help him out. Or why, after his home is attacked, no agents of SHIELD appeared? Or even why, when the freakin' President of the United States is threatened, Captain America doesn’t just show up to take over? A few lines of dialogue explaining that the Avengers were “off-planet and/or unavailable” would have done the trick.
(And since I'm in nitpick mode, why have the Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) character around to explain things when Tony never bothers talking to her, deciding to go sleuthing on his own instead? And boy, he sure seems to have spectacular luck finding a farmhouse with all the equipment he needs to repair his armor. The coincidences start piling up at that point.)
Anyhoo, I'm sure the things that rankled me - as a nitpicky nerd - aren't going to bother the general audience that the film is aiming for. Like I said, this is a time when I wish I wasn't such a comic book geek.
Oh, and for all it’s worth, Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man.
IRON MAN 3 GETS A NERD NITPICKY GEEK FACTOR RATING OF 2 ½ REPULSOR BLASTS (OUT OF 4)
P.S. As with the previous Marvel Films, you are advised to stay until the end of the credits for an additional scene. Trust me. It’s worth it.
IRON MAN 3 (in Digital 3D and RealD)
MARVEL STUDIOS presents in association with PARAMOUNT PICTURES and DMG ENTERTAINMENT
U.S. Release date: May 3, 2013
Running time: 129 min.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale with Jon Favreau and Ben Kingsley
Director: Shane Black
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive Producers: Jon Favreau, Louis D’Esposito, Charles Newirth, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Dan Mintz
Screenplay by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black