Why Iron Man 3 had a soft-boiled spine – movie review

Mike Gristand how to fix it, Book / Movie Reviews 2 Comments

I enjoyed Iron Man 3. Probably you did too. It broke all kinds of records, already made over $1 billion worldwide, and is currently sitting at number 5 in the top 5 highest grossing movies ever (behind Avatar, Titanic, Avengers, and Deathly Hallows). Not bad.

But is it any good? Clearly it is. But come on, is it really any good? Is it solid? Does it twirl where it should twirl, stomp where it should stomp, and hard-boil eggs to a perfect yolky solidity?

Uh, no. It does not. Here’s why.

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You shouldn’t have taken the last Reece’s piece!


It’s the Mandarin. Or in China, as they call him to avoid offending Chinese, Man Daren. The Mandarin switcheroo is a lopsided goat. It cracks open the movie at the midpoint and lets all the vital fluid, threat, and investment just ooze and goo out, like a poorly shelled egg. It’s a switchback we’re supposed to enjoy, be amazed by, and hang out around to find the real wizard behind the Oz.

How post-9/11, we’re supposed to say. How far we’ve come. The terrorist threat is really all a sham, a high-production value stunt run for the purposes of….

Uh, for the purpose of…

And that is where it falls down. Because the terrifying terrorist the Mandarin was believable. Though we’ve seen a dozen such evil terrorists (though granted, none quite like Sir Ben modelling the white-man’s Bin-Laden beard) in movies, and been inundated with them through shows like 24 and Homeland, there is still something inherently terrifying, disturbing, mystifying, about a powerful figure who just wants to f%*k you up for no clear reason.

It is powerful. It is the thing that drew us into the trailer.

“What drew you into the trailer?”

“Hellfire missiles blowing up Tony Stark’s pimpin’ pad!”

Yes! This exactly is what gave the movie an engine. From the moment Mandarin sent THREE Blackhawks to blow the chrome off Iron Man’s buff job, I was triple-hooked (admittedly I was hooked once for the tech, twice for Downey Jr.). It throws up a plethora of burning questions:

Why would anyone hate Stark enough to do that? (Well, we know it’s because Stark called him out as a wuss publicly, but still, why go SO far?).

How in hell could anyone in the modern era not only get hold of three military grade helicopters, plus missiles plus pilots, along with all the attendant launch/fuelling/maintenance infrastructure they need, but also bring them to the US coastline without any navy radar alarms going off, nor any Stark alarms going off?


That’s what I wanted to know. It’s the reason I’ve always loved 24 season 2’s ending, where the sister-terrorist white girl is in jail, facing a life-stretch as the enemy of all her world holds dear, and she’s staring in Jack Bauer’s eyes and says something to the effect of-

“We are everywhere, but you can’t see us. You can’t understand us, you can’t stop us, and we will tear your civilization down piece by piece.”

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I’ll take my eggs over-easy.

Oooh, chills just thinking about it. Perhaps it’s a feeling we like, because it makes us think hard about how we’re complacent, where we’re weak, what we’ve overlooked. But of course it’s also downright creepy. Like there are ghosts out there, invisible, unknowable, and they want our spinal fluid for their smoothies.

So that was the engine. In the midst of all that, and as reaction to that, all manner of cool stuff happens-

– Pepper Potts steps to the Iron Man plate and does some rescuing.

– Tony flees, pretends to be dead, holes up with some lonely kid and starts banging out tech.

– Tony starts having hilarious panic attacks.

– Tony is on the back foot, with nothing in the snow and cold but a glowy heart lamp, while the Mandarin has everything.

And then…

They throw all that away. Every bit of it. Because the Mandarin is a FAKE. He is an actor. As for the bad-ass helicopters, well, they weren’t fake, but they served a purpose not quite what we thought, partly in service of an age-old grudge (who cares?), and partly to keep the FAKERY alive.

And then, uh, what? Some stuff happened? There was an ending?

Yeah, that’s it. Guy Pierce was a spotty loser dork with a bone-on for Stark’s brain and cashola, got jealous, and as part of his ‘dominate the universe’ plan decided to take Tony out. What what, holla!!

Bad. It is a complete sidestep, into sludge. Not only is it a sidestep, but it’s the silliest one the writers of these franchises have taken yet. Certainly of the Iron Man franchise. In Iron Mans 1 and 2, Stark was fighting regular people in fighting suits of one kind or another. If we accept the premise of one Iron Man suit (Tony’s) it is an easy step to accept these others.

But Guy Pierce’s step was a whole different thing. We were getting into Hulk territory, or Spiderman, or Johnny Flame ‘FLAME ON’ territory, with DNA rewriting itself hot. It’s a grasp at straws. It’s a leap at a whole ‘nother comic book premise. I don’t like it.

And then Pepper Potts had it, but got cured, and then Tony Stark cured his heart ailment that was so bad he could barely survive it in the last movie. He just cured it. 😉


This meant instead of spending time delving into the Mandarin, and how he did the impossible feats with helicopters and such- which is what I wanted to know- we instead spent that time delving into guy Pierce, and getting to know why he did what he did.

But who cares about that? It was a bait and switch. Evil, mysterious, genius terrorist or faintly mad, slightly miffed, kind of jealous scientist? I’ll take evil mysterious genius terrorist any day.

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Knew I shouldn’t have trusted Richard Branson.

So they should have…

– They should have never bothered with Guy Pierce. Instead it should have been Mandarin all the way. If we need a twist, then let it be his motive, why is he doing these terrorist acts? Clearly he’s got a beef with someone. Most likely it will be Tony. Either that, something logical, or he’s just as much a nutballs as the Joker in The Dark Knight. That is terrifying. Probably he’s trying to teach people a lesson.

– And how did he get those black hawks? How did he spy up to Stark’s ego-dome and take out its money-pole? Well, he did it just the same way Bin-Laden did it, piggy-backing on our own infrastructure, riding the gaps in our civilization’s massive command. Probably he is ex-everything, military, CIA, all that, and now he wants his own back. That is scary, because how he can we defend against ourselves?

– That I can roll with. His attacks lead to massive government over-reaction, similar to after 9/11 but bigger, with witch-hunts taking out those not patriotic enough, confining them to camps, crushing civil liberties beneath the boot-heel of security, etc.., a whole other threat in itself.

– And how can Tony fight that? Well, with a team, and an army of suits. But making them robo-AI controlled old suits was a let-down. Rather, let them be people he trusts. Let trust win out, where the Mandarin is trying to sow discord and loss of faith.

That would have been pretty amazing, no?

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1 to beam up.

But let me be clear-

Iron Man 3 is far from a failure. There is very much to like in it, as you’ll doubtless already know:

– Pepper Potts steps up.

– Tony freaks out, techs out, builds very funny, dysfunctional relationship with odd kid

– Tony and Don Cheadle bitch each other

– Big teddy bear with boobs

– ‘Come hither’ advances in the Iron Man tech

– Pepper Potts’ belly

But essentially, Robert Downey Junior made this movie. He made it work in spite of a silly plot, with a mid-point twist that took all the bullets out of the gun. After that point, we weren’t watching it for any sense of threat, but rather just to enjoy some more twitchy one-liners and casual dismissive arrogance. We love that, don’t we?

Am I right?

Comments 2

  1. I think you nailed it on the head Michael. By all means, IronMan3 was fun and generally a good movie.

    I figured out that the “Mandarin” was a figure-head rather quickly and was amused by Kingsly’s performance as a sex-druggy washed-out actor.

    For the geek (Guy Pierce) to become a bad-guy was… childish. Something like that rarely ever happens (sans- mass murder technology, etc). He needed to get laid and learn how to DO BUSINESS. And as we saw, HE did become successful. He did learn how to do business… from experience.

    As a “smart person” he should have seen that… He should have understood that all he had to do was follow up. Trying to do business with a cold-call with someone who is in sex-party mode doesn’t usually get results.

    IronMan 1 ~ 2 were better. The Avengers was awesome… with far less plot-holes or “why” questions. Unless they come up with a really script, they should stop at Iron Man3 and continue with the other Avenger movies.

    Also, having almost 100 robot suits…. was both cool and dumb. They all should have been far more powerful IMHO. I saw it as “how to sell many Iron Man toys”. In the USA at least, many movie toys have little to do with the actual movie and are structured with simple play options.

    ie: The latest Batman and Superman movies, there are 5~10 action figures of said hero doing something. Aqua-Batman, Jungle-Batman, Artic Batman, Car-Door Superman, monster-punch Superman. The “play” is built into the toy, preventing the child from coming up with their own ideas and stories.

    My son’s mother got him a Kung-Fu Panda 2 play-set. Its that of a building with 3-4 levels. Its about 2~3 inches thick. The characters are flat cardboard with 1-2 plastic figures that don’t articulate. You push levers or switches to cause flat-characters to turn or flip. That’s about it. I thought it was a stupid useless $25 toy. Being he was 4~5 at the time, he thought it was great. After about a week or two, it was never really used again. It looked good, but was functionally useless. While legos and other puzzle/construction toys allows him to use his brain. Of course hotwheels and some of their sets allows years of enjoyment and imagination.

    Ironman 3 – well made… but lacked imagination. 1 and 2 had more WOW factor, simpler plot and overall – more fun. A pop-corn movie has little room for a PSTD superhero. A book works better.

  2. The thing I hated the most was the fact that the Mandarin was totally ruined from the character he was in the comics. Granted, very few characters stay true to their comic book roots, having to be adapted for the big screen and a modern audience, but with the Mandarin, they completely changed who he was. No longer is he this dictator from China who was capable of taking Iron Man head on in a fight and occasionally trashing him. In the comics and every iteration of the Mandarin (such as the animated show, Iron Man: Armored Avengers, as well as made for DVD movies), the Mandarin has been this guy who wields 10 power rings, each having a certain function, to make one powerful dude, often by using other tech to amplify his powers. Not only did they deny him those powers/tools, (which they hinted at in at least one trailer by showing a close up of his 10 rings) they pulled the bait and switch which you mentioned!

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