I want to talk about Iron Man 3, kind of. This isn’t a review so much as me talking about a specific thing in the movie. I accept that if you are finding this, you aren’t looking for the final nudge in deciding to see it or not. You are looking at this Z-level blog because you either know me, or know someone who knows me. So don’t expect fair and unbiased. That’s impossible and to claim otherwise is dishonest. Besides the title I’m going to warn you a final time. There are spoilers ahead!
Let’s talk about the Mandarin. If you are familiar with the books you don’t need a Cliffs Notes run down of the character. Wikipedia has this to say:
The Mandarin is portrayed as a genius scientist and a superhumanly skilled martial artist. However, his primary sources of power are ten power rings that he adapted from the alien technology of a crashed space ship. Each ring has a different power and is worn on a specific finger.
Or, in a nutshell, he’s a Mandarin Chinese man with magic alien rings.
This was NOT the portrayal chosen for Iron Man 3. While the media seemed to suggest a more traditional portrayal of the Mandarin, even the official plot synopsis said so:
Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin; he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
However this would not be the case. They went a different direction with him, after a series of events cause Tony to go on a crusade to find the Mandarin culminating in Tony finding him in his Malibu home. It is revealed that the man thought to be the Mandarin was in all actuality a washed up, drug addicted, alcoholic stage actor named Trevor Slattery (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) hired by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to put a more traditional face on the name of his nefarious plans. Sir Ben was AWESOME, both as the Mandarin, and especially Trevor. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to hang out and eat cake with!
There is an argument that Killian is the REAL Mandarin. He says so in the final battle of the film, which is being touted as evidence by those lacking subtlety and independent thought. I’m more of the impression that there really was no Mandarin, he was nothing more than an idea constructed to throw Tony and the authorities off of Killian’s scent.
As I have hinted at, the comic book purists HATED this, with the general war cry being, “BOO HOO HOO they changed things,” and, “They shouldn’t mess with the Mandarin. He’s Iron Man’s MAJOR villain,” and other boring things like that (I seriously almost fell asleep typing this).
I, on the other hand, loved this twist and I have several reasons for it! Let us deconstruct the Mandarin and really look at these perceived slights against the character.
First off, I’ve noticed that all of the people who take a stance against changing the character on principle quickly betray that stance by showing they don’t actually know the character. They’re basing it on what they think the Mandarin should be. They think he’s:
When this is closer to the truth:
Simply put, the Mandarin is an offensive, archaic relic of the past that we are best moving away from. I’m all for history, but he doesn’t work. Stan Lee had this to say about the creation of Tony Stark:
I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military….So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist….I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him….And he became very popular.
This is fancy, nostalgic talk for, “I made a guy everyone one would hate for shits and giggles.” If we can agree that Tony represents “The Man” then it isn’t too big of a stretch to say the Mandarin represents the “everyman”. High tech vs. low, new age vs. traditional. And frankly, it’s amazing that considering the character was created at the height of the cold war, that he isn’t a freaking Russian!
And to add insult to injury many of the detractors of the Slattery Mandarin say that they should have just updated the character to a Taliban member and it would have worked. Seriously?! Blatant unintelligent racism is EXACTLY what we need in this post 9/11 escapism picture isn’t it?
All of this is fine and dandy. But let’s boil away all of my bullshit rhetoric and look at the Mandarin’s bones: he’s lame and dumb. A martial artist with magic alien rings, versus the one of the most intelligent well-funded people of his age just doesn’t work. ESPECIALLY considering the two previous films. I sometimes like to think above my station and imagine what I’d give as a poster quote for various films. For this one I’d say, “The first two are about the Iron, three is about the man.”
There is a clearly discernible theme running throughout the trilogy of Tony becoming less reliant on technology and not just being “a man in a can”. This final film really beats that drum with Tony, not the suit, being the winning component in the final conflict of the movie. Tony had to battle low tech with high, but not as a 44 year old story of metal vs. magic. The world we live in now is different. Because tech is here to stay, we have to find its place in our lives, not the other way around. This is very true for Tony Stark! He’s got a mini arc reactor in his chest for god’s sake! Anything more than this would be too much.
Like any good hero, he’s got to have a good villain. And that is where the Mandarin comes in, or more specifically Killian. Iron Man 3 nailed what I thought was a more realistic and threatening villain for the times we live in. Let’s face it, what’s the TRUE bigger threat to you? The Taliban, or the fear our society has for what the media tells us the Taliban will do to us? Perpetuation of racism is nothing new. We just have a new face in the Taliban. Think about it. Every time there’s an act of violence, our first thought is, “Terrorists?” when it rarely is. The argument can be made that many acts of violence and prejudice are made out of fear of what those different from us might do to us. And this seems be exactly what Killian relies on. By creating our fears personified in the Mandarin, he creates a lightning rod for the government and Iron Patriot to strike at while he’s safely going to board meetings at Stark Industries looking for corporate financing. I’m more scared of the prospect of a fear mongering, media controlling, weapons maker than I could be of a man with magic alien rings…. But maybe the purists are right, “Screw that, cuz it used to be like this.” Sigh.