Tag: Iron Man

500 Words on Redemption

The premise for this post began thusly:

“Everybody loves a redemption story.”

This is something that has been said to me, and about me, in the past. And there are a lot of stories on the subject out there. We want to believe that the people we love, and by extension ourselves, are people that are capable of being redeemed, of coming back from dark places in life into better, healthier ways of existing. Darth Vader pitching the Emperor into a pit to save his son. Boromir running to the rescue of Merry and Pippin after almost succumbing to the temptations of the One Ring. Tony Stark using a box of scraps — and later his vast wealth, creativity, and intellect — to solve problems he created and protect the world.

It’s a difficult thing to stare our demons in the face. Some of the mistakes that happen in our lives have catastrophic consequences. Knowingly or not, we can and often do hurt others in pursuit of our goals. Not everyone has the self-awareness or courage to face those mistakes, admit their fault, and accept the consequences. What makes Zuko’s story special is that he does all of those things, and begins making different choices. Nobody saves him; he saves himself. The only reason he takes the steps down a road to redemption is because he chooses to do so.

A lot of turning points in redemption stories come out of life-or-death situations. Anakin Skywalker’s rebirth, Boromir’s sacrifice, the creation of Iron Man — these all come to pass because the situation is dire and there’s no other moral choice. Zuko, while he endured many similar situations, did not have a dramatic “face turn” in the midst of one of them. Instead, each of his many defeats was a brick in a foundation for a new version of himself, one that he built with his own two hands, rather than the one that had been informed by the influences of others. While his uncle did attempt to guide him, in the end, the decisions he made were his own, both when he doggedly pursued the Avatar and when he decided, instead, to help his former quarry.

He began asking hard questions: what does “honor” actually mean to me? How do I want to make a difference in the world? How did my old choices lead me to failure? How can I make new ones that do make a difference? The answers to those questions, the choices he made as a result, are what lead him in a redemptive direction.

Here’s something you might miss: Zuko didn’t do this to prove anything to anyone except himself. He decided that it was worth the risk, for his own sake, to become a better version of himself.

That is how Zuko redeemed himself. That’s what makes his story powerful.

Because if Zuko, who we meet as an arrogant fuck-up, can redeem himself, for his own sake and on his own terms… then so can we.

Let’s Discuss The Mandarin

Courtesy Empire Magazine

It should go without saying that the following contains SERIOUS SPOILERS for Iron Man 3. Fairly be ye warned. I’ll put it under the appropriate tags anyway, but I thought I’d remind you.

I’ll also remind you that I’m something of a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to my status as a fan of Iron Man, which may color my perceptions somewhat. Still with me? Then read on.

In the lead-up to Iron Man 3, it was revealed that Sir Ben Kingsley would be billed as The Mandarin, who is perhaps Iron Man’s most iconic foe. A holdover from the days of Cold War paranoia of everything communist, the Mandarin was the personification of Western fears of Chinese aggression – cunning, ruthless, steeped in Chinese iconography, and possessing powers of an alien nature. Detractors of the character have pointed out that, for the most part, the Mandarin’s something of a racist caricature, but with the casting of Kingsley, these detractors were silenced under the torrent of fanboy excitement at this classic character brought to life in a modern telling of Tony Stark’s ongoing story.

And then they saw the movie…

[spoiler]
…and the Mandarin they were promised turns out to be a red herring.

Aldrich Killian, Guy Pearce’s mad genius Extremis creator, used the Mandarin as a proxy face for the “bombings” caused by his experimental soldiers going haywire. He created the character of the Mandarin as an amalgamation of the 21st century fears of terrorism and anarchy, found a washed-up stage actor to play him, and began a media blitz to deflect any possible attention that might come his way. It is, upon reflection, an ingenious plan.

It is also perhaps the most divisive thing to be done in a comic book movie to date.

Comic book fans can be some of the most devoted people on the planet. The word “fan” after all derives from “fanatic”, and if any group could be described as fanatical in their devotion to a fictional property, it’s the devotees of comic book lore. Shane Black yanks the rug out from under them, and some of them are very upset about it. There are no alien rings of power, no grand maniacal scheme worthy of Ming the Merciless, no throwdown mano-a-mano between Stark and this iteration of the Mandarin; there’s the reveal, a total transformation in Kingsley’s performance, and the realization that Killian’s been the mastermind all along.

For my part? I love it.

Not only is it a bold move on Black’s part in the face of the fandom, it shows rather than tells us about Killian’s intellect and ability to plan ahead. It elegantly solves the problem of taking what could be a rather offensive character to some and putting it on a movie screen. It allows Sir Ben Kingsley to show off a bit in his acting both as the malevolent terrorist and the Z-list actor. And it demonstrates that the people behind these adaptations are not afraid to make radical changes if it means good storytelling.

That’s what I think ruffles my feathers about the dust-up. As I said, I’m something of a newcomer to Iron Man’s fanbase, but I can understand how attached people become to iconic characters from the past. Hell, part of the reason I bristled at The Amazing Spider-Man is that Andrew Garfield didn’t quite have the aw-shucks boy-next-door charm Tobey Maquire had, at least in the first Sam Raimi movie. A lot of people still can’t get over how Bane was portrayed in The Dark Knight Rises. I may never forgive Bret Ratner for what he did to the X-Men. So on and so forth. In the case of Bane, however, and now the Mandarin, the changes that were made were overall a good move. It made for a better story. It got people talking. It made sense both within its own universe and as a narrative decision. And, at the end of the day, more people paid to be entertained by this tale of a rich mechanical genius going up against genetically modified fire-breathing human bombs.

For my part, I think the movie works. I think this change works. And I would happily see Iron Man 3 again.
[/spoiler]

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

It would be hard for even the detractors of comic book geekdom to look at The Avengers and not consider it a success story. Years of planning and careful construction of disparate narratives culimated in a single cinematic experience that, to this day, nerds like me have yet to tire of watching. The whole shebang kicked off with Iron Man, which remains the only Marvel movie franchise to have sequels attached to it. The first was the ambitious but somewhat ambling Iron Man 2, and the second opens this year’s blockbuster season, and it’s called Iron Man 3.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Right from the start, it’s clear that the events of The Avengers have had a lasting impact on Tony Stark, our favorite genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. Not only did he survive fighting alongside gods and super-soldiers, he carried a nuclear missile through a wormhole to annihilate an entire army, if not a civilization. Lacking sleep and suffering anxiety attacks, Tony throws himself into his work, building suit after suit, alienating his friends and even distancing himself from Pepper, who just moved in with him. But before he can be confronted with these issues, a bombing takes place that involves no known bombing techniques and puts his friend, Happy Hogan, in a coma. Tony immediately vows revenge and calls out the man responsible, the international terrorist known only as the Mandarin. Stark even tells the man his home address, because smart as he is, sometimes his ego gets in his way.

The first two Iron Man films were directed by Jon Favreau, the second with a great deal of input (or, more accurately, interference) from Marvel Studios. This time around, the reigns were handed to Shane Black, director of what was arguably Robert Downey Jr.’s best movie before Iron Man, a little noir favorite of mine called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The difference shows, in that this film strikes a very different tone from the first two. It simultaneously works on darker themes and moods than the others, and has more humorous and human moments. It’s the noir-flavored atmosphere and focus on character that make Iron Man 3 worth a watch from the very start.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
The Mk. 43 Classy Armor includes a champagne dispenser and built-in jazz soundtrack.

Either by coincidence or design, Iron Man 3 feels somewhat like The Dark Knight Rises, in Tony spends less time in his Iron Man armor than in previous tales, much like Bruce Wayne was Batman less often in his third Nolan film. We get a great deal of time with Tony Stark without his toys, taking him back to a state of working with a box of scraps to get out of his jams. Seeing him with little to rely on but his intellect felt like a return to the fundamentals of his character. At the same time, the floodgates opened by The Avengers means that more outrageous aspects born of the comic books can enter the arena. Tony’s opponents are more super-powered than ever, but thankfully, they’re more than just a guy wearing a suit or controlling drones similar to Stark’s designs. All of the suits are on Stark’s side this time; and I do mean all of them.

The film isn’t without its flaws. First and foremost, the ladies could have been given more to do. Rebecca Hall’s character especially could have easily been fleshed out beyond establishing or developing plot points. I like what they did with Pepper Potts overall, but towards the end of the movie I felt like she could have rescued herself more. A few Shane Black quirks may play on the nerves of some audience members, from the Christmas setting to the juxtaposition of its more noir-ish elements with the comic book stuff. And then there’s the stuff that will REALLY piss people off – which I will discuss in tomorrow’s post.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Well-shot, earnest, and powerful scenes. A well-constructed film all around.

Stuff I Liked: Who doesn’t like all of the armor shenanigans? Happy’s bits are worth a laugh. I like the callbacks to previous films throughout the story – it makes everything feel more connected and coherent. JARVIS continues to be great, and the kid didn’t annoy me.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: I’m glad the film ended the way it did – Tony having all of that armor at his disposal would make future encounters way too easy.
Stuff I Loved: Tony’s character has grown, and it really shows in places. I love that he and Pepper still have their chemistry. The improvised fighting Tony has to do in the second act really pleased me, I’m glad Pepper got in on the action, I enjoyed every scene with Rhodey, and Ben Kingsley just killed it. Guy Pearce felt completely transformative, which was quite appropriate.

Bottom Line: Between its earnest character building and the variable nature of the threat and villainy, I’m going to say I liked Iron Man 3 more than its predecessor. It’s not quite as good as the first film featuring Tony Stark, but it comes close at times. I have the feeling I’m going to like it more on repeated viewings, and I definitely intend to buy this one for that purpose. It has snappy dialog, well-shot action, inventive storytelling turns, and it’s full of actors I like – Iron Man 3 is a winner.

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