Wasn’t that fun? At this point, I should probably issue a spoiler warning, if that doesn’t go without saying. I have things to say about Iron Man Three. Doing so without actually referring to Iron Man Three gets complicated and tiring.
So apart from the fact that the script and dialogue for Iron Man 3 is about eleventy-billion times sharper than for previous instalments, because Shane Black (like Joss Whedon on Avengers) knows how to write dialogue does more than join the plot-dots, and the fact that until the grand finale there is a significantly lower volume of robot wars than there was in the first two movies, there were two really big things to enjoy: Pepper Potts, and the Mandarin plot.
In the case of Pepper (leaving aside whatever opinion one may have of Gwynaeth Paltrow, and every possible one of those has been expressed over the past few weeks) it was just a treat to see a female character be smart, and capable, and vulnerable, and caring of and stand up for herself with her boyfriend. Not to mention the fact that the movie itself neatly undermined the picture presented in the trailer which was (to quote Alyssa Rosenberg) that:
Pepper Potts gets to receive necklaces, be told that Tony can’t live without her, get blown backwards at high speed in an explosion, be kidnapped, and wear a sorts bra while looking righteously pissed. Assorted other ladies get to fall out of planes and ask questions in press conferences.
I personally did a tiny seated jig of joy when it emerged that the person in the suit in the scene when Iron Man gets Rebecca Hall’s Maya out of the Malibu house that was in so many of the trailers turned out to be, not Tony. And then I did a not so subtle fist-pump when Pepper got to be not-rescued and deal with the guy who kidnapped and tortured her for herself (and actually notice that that might have emotional consequences for her - ”That was really violent” was a funny line, but also a sound reflection). Hurrah for woman-kind taking control of their lives in big movies.
The Mandarin plot was a little more complex, and a little more satisfying because of it. I cannot possibly have been alone when they first announced that Ben Kingsley was playing a comic book villain named the Mandarin, and then revealed him in the trailer speaking in a highly unusual and distinctive accent, to have bumped my head on the edge of my desk and wailed, ‘Oh Hollywood, noooo, not again.’
There are moments early on in the film, before the twist, where The Mandarin looks Bin Laden-esque - and of course, it’s no secret that America once armed Bin Laden in a fight they wanted to win, only to watch things turn bitterly, tragically, sour. It’s also no surprise that this that particular background his a huge factor in America’s current engagement with the situation in Syria. For a moment there, it looked like Iron Man Three was going to get into that debate. It didn’t, but I quite like it setting off that flare.
And then, after the reveal, I really like that moment when Killich proclaims that he owns both terrorism and the war on terror. There’s a truth in the film’s argument that some of America wants to be frightened by a figure like the Mandarin, because it gives them a villain to fight and loathe - not an corporation or think tank that builds tech and does deals with the government, and doesn’t much fuss about whether its tech is used for good or ill. AIM, as it is here, is a little too close to home, especially when the Vice Presidency becomes involved (anyone else have a flashback to Cheney’s time as VP and some of his connections? They’re not AIM, but they weren’t particularly lovely either). There’s also a truth in the idea that war and weaponry is a market (just read this), and that this affects international relations in ways that most of us can’t even begin to get our brains around.
And while there’s not a long, engaged discussion of this stuff in Iron Man Three, there doesn’t need to be, it’s a big character moment, and it makes the Big Bad out of the small, usually anonymous to most people, guy running a company with big ideas, and big innovations, that most people just know from an innoculous acronym, logo, or tag. It’s enough. And in a big, summer blockbuster, that also manages to present some good action sequences and a lot of fun, it’s a bonus. Yay for Shane Black and Marvel.