I would just like to preface this review by saying that when judging a film adaptation of anything whether it be a book, a comic, a video game or anything else, each entity should be judged as an individual because essentially, that’s what it is. Although two entities may be based on the same character, there are things that work in films that do not work in books, and vice versa. With that being said, I am still going to draw comparisons between Marvel’s Iron Man comic, and Marvel Entertainment’s newest film, Iron Man 3, but I am not in any way criticizing one or the other based on how story elements have differed.
I absolutely loved Iron Man 3. Since Marvel’s first Iron Man film it has been clear that Robert Downey Jr., is Tony Stark, and when paired with director Shane Black, magic happened. Black and Downey are literally a match made in movie heaven. Black’s witty dialogue is a trademark of his, and Downey’s delivery of the script is nothing less than perfect. Then cue Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in the role of a strong and independent female lead, Don Cheadle in War Machine’s newly made over armor as the Iron Patriot, our main villains – Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian and Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, Jon Favreau as the overprotective head of security with a Downton Abbey obsession, and an unbelievably talented cast of supporting characters. The casting in Iron Man 3 was phenomenal. It was as if every actor hit their stride and each cast member played really well off one another. The major theme expressed throughout the film is that a person, especially an influential person, has a certain sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions. Tony talks about his past and creating demons on a night he barely remembered. It just goes to show that one event that can hold little to no meaning for one person, can be someone else’s most significant milestone.
The film serves as a believable transitory period, taking place after The Avengers, as the traumatizing events that occurred in New York leaves us with a Tony Stark who is having difficulty coping with day to day life after facing the Chitauri army. Almost losing Pepper has, in a sense, put things into perspective for Tony, but he becomes so obsessed with protecting Pepper from imminent potential threats, that he spends his sleepless nights developing an entire basement full of Iron Man armor. This is where the uncomfortableness for the audience commences. We’re given a glimpse of a superhero who we depend on to protect us, at his most vulnerable (i.e.. crying in his sleep from flashbacks). Tony finally reaches his breaking point and threatens The Mandarin in front of a herd of news reporters, and thus the action begins… and it never stops until the end of the film. After Tony discloses his address, his home is attacked and destroyed by three helicopters piloted by people who have taken doses of Extremis. Tony is separated from Pepper and Maya (a scientist who works for Aldrich Killian on Extremis), and JARVIS follows his original flight plan and takes Tony to Tennessee, the first known site for the suspicious bombings that follow The Mandarin’s protocol.
While in Tennessee, Tony begrudgingly relies on the help of a child (played by Ty Simpkins) who helps inspire Tony to rebuild things… when he’s not causing Tony to have anxiety attacks by asking questions about New York. The pair hit it off and Downey again nails Black’s dialogue and converses with Harley like he’s an adult. He offers him useful life tips, such as being cool about saving people, handling bullies, and he even shows some tough love when he takes off like Harley’s father did. Meanwhile Pepper travels with Maya, discovers she’s involved in Extremis, and gets captured by Aldrich who injects her with Extremis doses. Iron Patriot and Iron Man uncover Aldrich’s plan to take control of the government and execute the President in The Mandarin’s final broadcast, and it is one scene after another of destruction, explosions, plane crashes, and the like.
After seeing the reaction on Twitter, it was clear that many people were upset with the way that The Mandarin was portrayed. I’ve heard die hard comic fans express devastation that they turned The Mandarin into a joke, but in all honesty, it completely worked for the film. Iron Man 3 is one of the darker superhero films currently in existence, and the impending terrorist threats combined with the large number of ex-military personnel who had taken doses of Extremis was terrifying. The Mandarin provided a sense of comic relief which was a necessary factor in Iron Man’s seemingly hopeless situation. Before we learn that The Mandarin is an actor, there is a scene where he gives the President an ultimatum – to call him within 30 seconds or he will take a man’s life on national television for the sake of teaching a lesson. When the President caves in, against his advisors orders, he shows the American public that he is vulnerable to the terrorist attack, and The Mandarin proceeds to shoot the man in the head despite receiving the phone call. After this scene, I remember gasping, becoming teary-eyed, and being extremely uncomfortable and terrified. Particularly because this is something that could actually happen. By turning The Mandarin into a stage actor struggling with a substance abuse addiction, and acting as the face of terrorism, it gave us the opportunity to laugh.
Overall, the film was brilliantly executed. There is no denying several of the plot holes, and the lack of involvement that S.H.I.E.L.D. played, but with a runtime of 130 minutes, there wasn’t much more that could’ve been packed into the film without sacrificing essential scenes. It was a pleasure to see Pepper Potts step up as the strongest character (in less eloquent terms, she was a certified badass). Whether she was in her powerful white suit making decisions as the CEO of Stark Industries, or after her Extremis treatment fighting Aldrich in a sports bra, Gwyneth Paltrow really stole the screen. Also noteworthy is the number of Iron Man suits we saw shooting throughout the sky and attacking the enemies. And adorably so, at the end of the film, Tony proves his love for Pepper by instructing JARVIS to initiate “clean slate,” which destroys all of the Iron Man armor, a much better gesture than the giant stuffed bunny he buys her for Christmas. Even the end credits of the film are worth discussing. The music along with the inter spliced images and video of characters had a sort of James Bond-like feel to it. I hope you enjoyed the movie as much as I did! I’m going to detail some of the differences between the film and the comic in the section below!
One aspect of the film that I particularly enjoyed was that although we had been told that the script was loosely based on Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s Extremis, after viewing the film, it was evident that it also utilized story elements from Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run. Here are four of the minor differences from comic to film:
1) In the comic – There is a doctor partnered with Maya Hansen who commits suicide after writing a note apologizing for what he’s done. Maya seeks out Tony Stark’s help because she’s concerned about the human trials and claims she has no idea who the doctor sold their prototype to. We later learn that Maya was also involved in the scheme of sending Extremis to human trials, but she was working alone since the doctor had killed himself.
In the film – Maya is working for Aldrich Killian, who is the main villain in the Extremis scheme. Although Maya does go along with his plan initially, she redeems herself and tries to protect Tony right before Aldrich shoots her.
2) In the comic – Tony takes a dose of Extremis after being badly beaten by one of the other test subjects. He doesn’t know if he’ll survive but it’s the only way to merge man and machine and connect him closer to his Iron Man armor. He appoints Pepper in charge of Stark Industries when he leaves in search of the Extremis patient, and he also leaves her an Iron Man suit which she names Rescue. Pepper also teams up with Black Widow and Maria Hill in Tony’s absence rescues them after pretending to be Madame Masque.
In the film – Pepper is already CEO of Stark Industries and Tony has already developed technology himself which allows him to call him armor to himself by thinking his command. Tony does not need to take an Extremis dose to face his enemy and instead Pepper survives the trial and puts Aldrich in his final resting place. Black Widow and Maria Hill are both absent from the film, as well as Pepper’s Madame Masque disguise. But here’e hoping we’ll see Pepper as Rescue in Iron Man 4!
3) In the comic – Tony breaches War Machine’s suit and doesn’t work with him in an effort to stop Extremis.
In the film – War Machine has been rebranded as Iron Patriot, and the pair work side by side to stop Aldrich and save the president.
4) The Mandarin (See above) – Aside from allowing us to laugh, The Mandarin also enhanced the threat of Aldrich Killian. He put a face on terrorism and deceived the American public into believing that The Mandarin was the enemy they should be targeting. (Similar to how Marvel Entertainment tricked us into believing The Mandarin was the bad guy.) There’s nothing scarier than fighting an unknown enemy and by shifting the public’s focus he was able to conduct the real terror behind the scenes without much interference.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Iron Man’s armor throughout the years, you should check out this article my friend and comic book historian Alan Kistler wrote for Wired: The Greatest Iron Man Armor’s of the Last 50 Years: An Interactive Timeline