Published on February 17th, 2018 | by Lauren Bycroft0
The Road To Infinity War: Iron Man 3
From the off Shane Black takes Iron Man 3 where no MCU film has gone before – Eiffel 65’s I’m Blue and Christmastime. There are no less than five other films on his resume that take place at or frame their story around the beloved holiday and it’s a wonderful move for several reasons. One, it helps make Iron Man 3 unmistakably Shane Black before the sharp dialogue or buddy team ups even enter the picture. Two, it immediately makes the third installment of the Iron Man franchise unique. At this point in the road to Infinity War we are seven films in. It would be easy to stick to a formula or allow things to get stale. Instead, after the overstuffed stumble of Iron Man 2 we get something that while also admittedly a little overfull, goes back to what makes Tony Stark so damn interesting as a character – his personal battles.
Bolstered by Brian Taylor’s perfect Iron Man theme within the score, Black takes Stark back to basics in a way. Following the events in New York, Tony is suffering from PTSD, throwing himself into tinkering with his suits (to the tune of 42 variations) and isolating himself. We’ve seen Tony Stark vulnerable before but not quite like this. He suffers from nightmares and anxiety attacks. It’s really refreshing to see a hero deal with what it really means to put your life on the line for others. It’s heartening to see Tony struggle with this mental illness despite being a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” and in spite of love and support from people like Pepper and Rhodey. Iron Man 3 has very little to do with the greater universe outside Tony and his own personal fallout and it’s all the stronger for it.
So let’s talk about the messier, even controversial part of Black’s superhero endeavor – The Mandarin. It’s an inspired, swing for the fences, confident piece of storytelling. The Mandarin’s origins are not so subtlely racist and it was wise to attempt to change that. As a result, the Mandarin as we first see him is mysterious, chaotic, and legitimately intimidating. His origins are more ISIS and less vaguely and offensively “oriental”. Then we get the bait and switch moment and it’s without a doubt something you absolutely love or downright hate. I personally think that the reveal is incredible. Ben Kingsley doesn’t get enough credit for this dual role, perfectly capturing the menace and intensity of the Mandarin and the ridiculous doofus that is Trevor Slattery. I think where Black fails to stick the landing is in Aldrich Killian’s almost laughable reveal that he is in fact the Mandarin. It just doesn’t hold weight that this fairly generic egomaniacal villain would actually be Iron Man’s arch-nemesis. Indeed it was ultimately revealed in the Marvel One Shot All Hail the King that what we see in Iron Man 3 actually has no connection to the real Ten Rings or Mandarin and it was all a facade. But still, that final moment of the Mandarin/Slattery arc just doesn’t quite land in this climactic moment.
Ultimately the real advantage to having someone like Shane Black in the driver’s seat is the depth he brings to Tony Stark and Iron Man. The themes of identity, false faces, regeneration, and attempted regeneration ending in catastrophic disaster, all apply so wonderfully to Tony Stark and his ongoing evolution. As the film opens, Stark remarks that “we create our own demons.” As it ends he adds that the “armor wasn’t a distraction it was a cocoon.” Tony Stark is the most dramatically human character in the MCU. Whether he succeeds or fails it’s always with a giant splash and Black succeeds in bringing a real weight and cost to that style of living.
In the first Iron Man we see Tony adopt change in a sweeping more superficial way; ending weapon production at Stark Industries. He did choose to become a superhero, a selfless gesture, but this didn’t and of course couldn’t change him as a person overnight. By the time we get to Iron Man 3 we see the evolution of Stark to a level where Captain America: Civil War will soon be possible. We see a Tony Stark that understands the true cost of his actions and will soon go from living a life in which he takes no personal responsibility to one in which he will not only step up to take responsibility on his own behalf but will encourage others like him to do the same for what he sees as the greater good. You could argue perhaps that in Iron Man 3, Shane Black truly took Tony Stark from playboy to man. Our Iron Man is really growing up.