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Defending Popcorn Flicks With “Iron Man 3”

Iron Man 3
Year: 2013
Genre: Comic Book, Action
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley

When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.


I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t a huge fan of Iron Man or Iron Man 2.  They weren’t terrible movies – just overlong and all about Tony Stark’s ego – the movies were carried on the shoulders of Robert Downey Jr’s charisma.  They were serviceable films I suppose though I fell asleep through large portions of Iron Man 2 because that movie was plodding.  that said, I really enjoyed Iron Man 3.  The movie has it’s problems, I won’t deny that – but I will defend those problems here.  Because sometimes a movie is just a movie and it’s those problems that make it what it is.  What problems are present in Iron Man 3 that I need to address?  Most of these issues can be covered in CinemaSins

Now I’m not going to address all 127 “sins” brought up in that video, especially since a lot of them aren’t really problems with the movie as much as jokes at the film’s expense.  Those are okay.  However, there are some valid issues addressed there that I’ll focus on.


iron man 1Make no mistake – Iron Man 3 is in every way your typical “popcorn movie.”  What I mean by this is that it’s a movie you simply go to the theater, buy some popcorn and sit there with your brain essentially in “power-saving mode” and just absorb the sights and sounds in front of you.  A popcorn movie is simply mindless entertainment for 90+ minutes with no real desire to enlighten or change your point-of-view about anything.  Iron Man 3 does this with a passion and, as such, it is simply riddled with cliches – cliches that I feel work to the film’s advantage.

Let’s take the whole “kidnapped girlfriend,” cliche.  This was something not present in Iron Man or Iron Man 2 simply because Tony Stark did not really have a girlfriend.  It’s not until the end of the second film where Tony really shows his feelings for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  When that happens you KNOW that she will now become a villain’s focus in a future film.  Iron Man 3 has no shame in showing that this will be the case right from the start.  Tony’s strong desire to protect Pepper is such a large part of the film it’s almost required that she get kidnapped.  There is also the “ex-girlfriend ends up working for the villain” cliche – something I didn’t really pay heed to until it was brought up.  Look , she was a one-night stand – and it’s said several times in the course of the story when she reappears that “she was not a girlfriend, she was a one-night stand.”  The fact that she really does show up out of nowhere and says “I think my boss is working for the Mandarin!” isn’t really cliche as much as it is foreshadowing.  It’s so coincidental that there simply HAS to be a more sinister reason for her to just show up.  As indeed there is.

Then we also have the “evil nerd” cliche aka the “mad scientist.”  Iron Man 3 opens with a flashback to 1999 where Guy Pearce appears as a young Aldrich Killian and looks every bit the stereotypical nerd.  Noah “Spoony” Antwiler makes the best allusion in his review of the film by comparing Pearce’s appearance to Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin.

iron man 2Tony Stark gives this eager young scientist the cold shoulder.  In the typical super-villain fashion this moment is what inspires Killian to become evil – “they rejected me!  I’ll show them!”  Or at lest that’s the way it seems.  While the character transformation from “uber nerd” to “uber cool villain” is pretty typical – I found the motivation itself to have little to do with Tony Stark’s rejection of him and more to do with the fact that Killian was a sociopath and and asshole and would have carried this plan of his out REGARDLESS.

The only other cliches in the movie are the cheesy one-liners Tony Stark spouts off pretty frequently and all the “bad ass Iron Man” poses.  I don’t really think those were cliches but more like fan service.  When you go to see a movie like Iron Man 3 you expect to see Iron Man make some badass pose followed by Tony Stark saying “i’m awesome.”  Those cliched shots of Iron Man flying as the music swells – that’s just the nature of the genre.  Things like that simply help to make the movie flow better because it’s what the audience is accustomed to.  To tell the story in a different way visually would simply make the audience uncomfortable – to play against those tropes is far too risky and experimental.  Of course I DO love it when a movie does take that chance and find success in breaking the status quo.  However for every one action movie that does succeed that way there are 10 others that fail miserably and are terrible movies.

The Mandarin

The Mandarin - 1964

The Mandarin – 1964

The Mandarin - 2013

The Mandarin – 2013


By far one of the largest complaints you will hear about Iron Man 3 is how “they fucked up The Mandarin sooo much!”  However the character has been around since 1964 and has undergone many transformations in the almost 50 years since he first appeared.  Also… this is a film, not a comic book.  A different medium calls for a different presentation of the character.  So comic book Manadrin is a Chines warlord with these ten magical rings that each do special things and were developed from alien technology.  Combined with his martial arts skills and his cruel, aristocratic upbringing he… fuck that.  It would have made a boring movie.  I mean could you imagine ALL of that backstory being presented on film?  Even the television shows didn’t delve that deeply into the Mandarin.  Hell, the television series from the 90s fucked up the Mandarin a lot more than this movie by making him goofy and green where his megalomaniac plots played out more like silly antics him and MODOK got up to.

There is the plot twist that Ben Kingsley’s portrayal as The Mandarin is just a show.  While he looks like the comic book depiction of the character he turns out to be a drug-addicted stage actor – the “real” Mandarin is Aldrich Killian.   Fanboys HATED this because Guy Pearce looks nothing like The Mandarin AT ALL.  Aldrich Killian IS a character in the Marvel Universe and in fact great portions of the story in Iron Man 3 are drawn from a 6 issue story-arc of the Iron Man comics simply titled “Extremis” where Aldrich Killian was the man who created the Extremis Virus.  He dies early on in the course of the story and only later does the virus come under the control of The Mandarin who attempts to use it to reshape the human race.  A lot of people felt that Shane Black took far too many liberties with the character of The Mandarin in creating this twist.  However, this twist was the thing I liked the best about the movie.  Most of the hate you find about this twist has to do with the fact that Guy Pearce doesn’t look anyting like the COMIC BOOK Mandarin – you find very few people commenting about the actual twist itself in the context of the story.  This is because with the story THE TWIST WORKS!!

Killian says that he created the persona of The Mandarin to account for terrorist actions so people would believe him.  He intentionally created the Taliban style imagery with his fake character in order to fool the public – because in this modern world we expect to see that.  Killian even states that “I own the War on Terror” simply by attributing his acts of violence to an Osama Bin Laden look-a-like.  We, the audience, buy into this because that is what we expect – that is the world that we live in.  So when the twist comes that the very un-terrorist looking Guy Pearce is really the bad guy it comes as a shock – it plays on our preconceived notions of stereotypical terrorists.  It does make a good commentary about how quick we are to attribute terrorist acts to a specific type of person.  And remember what I said earlier about how I appreciate when movies take risks – this is one of those moments.  As Shane Black said in an interview:

“I would say that we struggled to find a way to present a mythic terrorist that had something about him that registered after the movie’s over as having been a unique take, or a clever idea, or a way to say something of use. And what was of use about the Mandarin’s portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it. And hopefully, by the end you’re like, ‘Yeah, we were really frightened of the Mandarin, but in the end he really wasn’t that bad after all.’ In fact, the whole thing was just a product of this anonymous, behind-the-scenes guy. I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world because I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of fear, that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them.”

I would also like to add that Shane Black found The Mandarin in the comic books to be a “racist relic” and that there was no way he was going to be Chinese.  While fans may feel this was a betrayal to their notion of the character Shane Black is correct – a Chinese supervillian named “The Mandarin” would have translated poorly to the screen.  It’s partly why the name of the character was changed in the Chinese release of the film to ‘Man Daren.”  And if you think that audiences today are mature enough to look past the race of a character, I bring to your attention the hordes of angry comic fans over the news of a Black Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot.

Plot Holes

iron man 5Picture “If Tony Stark had this whole army of Iron Men easily at his beck and call the whole time, why didn’t he just summon them right off the bat?”  That’s not being nit-picky – that is a legitimate plot hole that one could drive a semi-truck through.  I have no logic or way of looking at this moment of the film to defend it other than saying: “But then the ending wouldn’t have been so awesome.”  Really, that’s all the defense that it needs.

Yes, Tony Stark could have summoned those Iron Men anytime that he wanted.  It would have made the movie 20 minutes long and it would have sucked.  Saving this for a great fight scene at the end was exciting.  When I watched the movie and this whole army comes flying in to save the day, I was cheering.  I didn’t think ‘That’s a bunch of bullshit!”  I thought ‘oh hell yeah, this is going to look awesome.”  AFTER the movie, I realized that it was kinda shoddy storytelling – but that didn’t take away the enjoyment I felt when I saw it happen.  A good popcorn movie is full of plot holes – but you don’t notice them DURING the movie.  While you watch the film you cheer along with the action – no matter how contrived that action seemed after the fact.  The second that this happens in the movie it makes sense and it works – the audience cheers and all is good.  It’s only afterwards that one says “Hey, that was kind of stupid,” but it’s too late then – the movie already served its purpose as entertainment.

“Why don’t the other Avengers show up?”  Now, THAT I find to be nitpicky.  After all, the movie is Iron Man 3 not The Avengers 2 – so to have the other Avengers show up to pitch in would have robbed Iron Man of saving the day in his own movie.  It’s one of the things I hated about Iron Man 2 – all that boring as hell crap with S.H.I.E.L.D.  The logical reason, however, is that a good portion of the story deals with Tony Stark having anxiety attacks and a bit of PTSD after the events of The Avengers.  He flips out on a little kid simply at the mention of New York – he is that sensitive to it.  Why would he want to spend time with the rest of The Avengers when it would be nothing but a constant reminder of those events in New York?  Yes, there is a greater universe out there full of heroes – even Thor is mentioned in the course of the film – and a good point is made that Tony Stark WANTS to remain ignorant of that.  So the whole “why don’t the other Avengers show up to help him?” is a question I find to be rather selfish.  If you want to see Thor – then wait until the new Thor movie comes out in a few weeks.  The same logic holds with the comic books themselves.  You don’t pick you an Iron Man book because you want to see The Avengers save the day – you read it because you enjoy Iron Man – if you want to see The Avengers in action you pick up a The Avengers comic.  Simple as that.


iron man 6Every movie that ever was and ever will be has continuity errors because mistakes always happen.  To say that you hate Iron Man 3 because of some continuity errors would say that you hate movies.   We accept these continuity errors because they never affect the whole of the movie.  Yes, Tony Stark’s glasses are off in one shot and then on in the other – yes the make of a phone changes, yes a car drives in a different direction than it was pictured in a previous shot.  Yes the damage on the suit or to Tony changes around between shots.  I have no defense for these moments – someone clearly dropped the ball there.  However I didn’t even notice these until AFTER I watched the movie and only when someone else pointed them out.   There was NO error that was glaring enough to take me out of the moment of the movie.  Take for instance the scene that has several errors in it alone, Tony’s glasses are on/off while he’s interviewed by someone with a phone that changes types and then he gets in his car and drives the wrong way.  That is what actually happened – as pointed out after the fact.  What I saw when watching the movie was Tony Stark said some badass things about The Mandarin to the press and then got in his car.  The fact that I still completely understood the scene and was still into the movie without even noticing these little, insignificant continuity errors speaks enough good about the film.

Then we have the fact that “How come the Extremis stuff burns everything except their clothes?”  The answer to that is simply “it’s a movie.”  Not burning the clothes is the most rudimentary movie logic ever.  It’s why MOST werewolves are still able to keep on the clothes when they transform back to a werewolf (I say most because An American Werewolf in Londonhas a great, unforgettable scene where the werewolf wakes up the next morning and has to find a way home naked).  It’s why Bruce Banner still has clothes on when he changes into The Hulk.  It’s a suspension of disbelief that keeps modesty.  The same thing happens in the comic because nobody wants to sit there and draw a dong for The Incredible Hulk – not every comic is going to be Watchmen and you have to admit that Dr. Manhattan’s blue cock was a rather unsettling and unnecessary addition to that movie.  That is why the Extremis stuff does not burn clothes – because the movie would be ruined with naked fire people running around.  Come to think of it, a movie about naked fire people running around would actually be pretty awesome, but it would not be Iron Man 3

I hope that I have done a fair job in defending Iron Man 3.  It’s not the greatest movie ever made – it sure won’t be winning any Oscars this year.  It was entertaining though – it accomplished exactly what it set out to do which makes it a good movie.  It’s simple, mindless fun.   Shut your brain off for 2 hours to enjoy some exciting action and you’ll enjoy Iron Man 3.  It seems to me that the only people that truly hated the movie went into the experience wanting to hate it – they expected The Mandarin to fit their preconceived notion from the comics OR ELSE.  They wanted to find a reason to uphold the standard rule that sequels always suck.  People latched onto things like continuity errors or plot holes as a means to hate the movie without really giving Iron Man 3 a fighting chance.  Every movie deserves an open-minded viewing and Iron Man 3 is certainly one that warrants it.

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats
Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski. Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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