Google+

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Electric Spoilerland: Iron Man 3

Spoilers for Iron Man 3 after the jump break.

I'm serious, this post is full of spoilers. Don't read this unless you've seen Iron Man 3.

3... 2... 1...

You've been warned.

Shane Black was the perfect person to write an Iron Man film. Tony Stark is all about banter, and no one writes banter like Shane Black.

Here's something interesting, though: Shane Black obviously loves movies. He loves the artifice and theatricality of films along with the way that movies can affect our emotions just by imagery and sound. He explicitly points to it in Iron Man 3.

For example, the Mandarin was odd in the trailers. His vocal inflections were just a little off so that you couldn't figure out where he was from. He was obviously "foreign," but in a very disconcerting way. Watching the trailer, you were almost like, "There's no way that this guy can be real."

The wrinkle: He wasn't. As Trevor Slattery, the "actor" who portrays the Mandarin, says in the film, the Mandarin was designed for a maximum fear response. He's a mix of Western and Middle Eastern iconography that's put together juuuuust right to make people uncomfortable. He's a hollow shell upon which people project their own fears.

So, in the end, the Mandarin appeared like a manipulation of the audience because he was supposed to be. It worked.

Just as the Mandarin is a hollow shell upon which people project their own fears, Iron Man is a shell upon which people project their hopes. That's a big burden for one man, and Tony Stark can't hold up under it. It's no surprise that the majority of the suits that fly around in Iron Man 3 are hollow, with nothing inside them except parts and machinery.

So when he decides to destroy his suits at the end and says, "I am Iron Man," he's not saying that he is Iron Man, the guy in the suit. He's saying that finally, he is a man of iron. He doesn't need the suit. He's good enough as he is. He doesn't need the artificiality and artifice to be who he needs to be.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's a character arc.

In Iron Man 1, Stark was all theater, no substance until he built the suit. He found a purpose. In Iron Man 2, he still found himself grandstanding at a Congressional hearing, standing on a stage basking in applause, flying around and looking cool.

In Iron Man 3, he's finally grounded and he's frightened by that. He's seen how insignificant he is and how much he doesn't understand.

For example, there's a scene where Tony and Rhodey are talking in a bar, then Tony has a panic attack and runs outside and into the suit. This isn't a glorious moment for him: He's freaking out, the suit is scratched up, and he's the opposite of what a hero should look like.

Gone are the glossy moments of being Mr. Awesome. It's not just flying around in a cool suit anymore. Being Iron Man is Serious Business, and he's finally realizing that.

In the end, after all the empty and hollow suits are being destroyed, it's just him and Pepper, two damaged people who finally understand what it's like to be in the other's shoes. They're both beat up and grimy. All the style is gone, just substance.

That's the theme of Iron Man 3. Style is great and it can get you on the front page, but substance is what keeps you there. All of Tony Stark's style doesn't matter unless he's doing something of purpose. All of the Mandarin's posturing is worthless unless there's a threat behind it. The flash and dash is only good unless there's something credible and real behind it.

It's interesting, though, that Shane Black uses the iconography of the 80's to illustrate that point. Killian wears white suits with slicked-back 80's hair. The bar where Tony ends up in Tennessee wouldn't be out of place in an 80's movie. Miami is the neon-drenched symbol of 80's excess. The final battle takes place on a loading dock, the ending point of countless 80's movies. At the dock scene, I wouldn't been surprised if Rhodey would have said, "I'm getting too old for this shipping container."

Why use 80's iconography? Because that underscores the point. The 80's were the style decade. A lot of the entertainment was made with art in mind, but the decade being what it was, they had to deliberately hide their artistic leanings. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" has a beautiful melody that had to be drenched in synths and electronic drums in order to be released. Hair-metal bands were full of talented musicians who had to hide their skill. The artificiality came to a head with Milli Vanilli, and that's where people of the decade drew the line.

By using 80's shorthand, Shane Black points at the phoniness of the 80's while wrapping the story of "getting over being a phony" around it.

Next up, I want to examine Killian's plan, one more time, just to make sure I've got it straight:

1) Develop Extremis.
2) People start exploding.
3) Create what appears to be an international terrorist plot to cover for it.

Woah, woah woah. That escalated quickly.

This is a device cribbed from Die Hard, where a simple bank robbery is couched in a terrorist plot. Killian explains it away, saying that by controlling the president he can control terrorism and counterterrorism to his whim, but that's a pretty big leap for a regular guy to make.

I feel like we missed out on pages of character development with Killian. What transformed him from "geeky guy with a cane" to "mass murderer?" Did Extremis make him more agressive or something? I feel like that should have been explained.

Also, he can breathe fire too? I feel like I imagined that.

Finally, some people complained about the post-credits stinger. It's just Tony Stark talking to Bruce Banner, and nothing new is revealed, no new information, just Banner being annoyed.

Or is it? Tony Stark says to Banner that getting this stuff off his chest has helped him out. This is actually a vitally important scene. Tony Stark is no longer alone. There are other people now who understand what it's like to have the weight of the world on your shoulders, a superhero support group. Granted, Banner isn't a ton of help, but at least it's something. He can open up to people. He can be a person, not just a guy in a suit.

All around, I thought that Iron Man 3 was a tremendous film. If the Iron Man series ended right here, it would be a perfect wrap to it, better than the way The Dark Knight Rises ended things. I'll talk about that a different time.