Iron Man 3

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.

One of the big challenges for anyone looking to adapt a long-running comic book series is how to integrate some of the more…outlandish plot elements and characters into the quasi-realistic world created onscreen. (Christopher Nolan’s solution to the silliness of Bane, for example, was to simply nix the Venom angle.) To that end, the most inspired scripting decision made in Iron Man 3 relates to Shane Black’s treatment of The Mandarin. In the books, he’s one of Tony Stark’s oldest and most formidable foes—and also a relic of a very different era of comic-book villains. The character has gone through different incarnations since his introduction in the ’60s, but as originally conceived, he was a Chinese-born aristocrat with genius-level intelligence, advanced martial-arts skills, and—just to make things really interesting—a set of Green Lantern–style rings that granted him a spectrum of superpowers. 

As one could imagine, that version of the character might not entirely fit the tone established by the earlier Iron Man films, which largely pitted Stark against fellow industrialists and tech-employing extremists. So Black and company reinvent The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, though not in the manner they initially seem to have. Introduced through a series of threatening Al Qaeda-style broadcasts, Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is a bearded terrorist bogeyman, promising death and destruction from some far-flung outpost. Yet there’s something…off about Kingsley’s dramatically enunciated delivery; he’s meant to sound threatening, we think, but instead just comes across as stilted. Eventually, we find out why: The Mandarin is just an actor, a washed-up British nobody hired by the film’s real antagonist (Guy Pearce) to play an imaginary super-villain. It’s all part of some dastardly supply-and-demand scheme, in which Pearce creates both the threat and the means to combat it. (Tomorrow Never Dies had a similar idea, except the heavy there was creating news story for his media empire to break.)

The reveal of Kingsley emerging from the bathroom, out of character and ready to bed a couple of willing bimbos, is one of the film’s funnier moments. In fact, the whole notion of making The Mandarin intentionally cartoonish is a stroke of Stark-level genius. If only the rest of Iron Man 3 were as flush with good ideas.