June Issue 2013
When it comes to cinematic portrayals of comic book heroes, the recent trend has been to give the films a dark, gritty treatment and to examine the vulnerabilities and personal tragedies of the protagonists. This can be seen in the recent Batman trilogy and the upcoming Superman film, Man of Steel. But Iron Man isn’t your typical leading man and therefore Iron Man 3, the latest film featuring the brash, smooth-talking superhero with a heart of steel, makes no pretensions of being a deep, meaningful affair.
Billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), alias Iron Man, was last seen in the ensemble film The Avengers in which he teamed up with the Hulk, Captain America and other Marvel comic heroes to combat an alien invasion. Iron Man 3 picks up after that epic showdown, which has left Stark rather frazzled, and he must now not only face-off with the menacing terrorist Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) but also battle his own nerves. In the beginning of the film, we see a jittery Stark going without sleep for days to perfect several Iron Man suits and experiencing panic attacks in the most banal settings. But while such weaknesses would be treated very seriously in, say, a Dark Knight film, here they provide laughs and director Shane Black certainly amps up the camp for this summer blockbuster.
In a nutshell, the plot focuses on Tony Stark/Iron Man trying to track down Mandarin, who confesses to be the mastermind behind several terrorist attacks in America. Stark, with the help of child prodigy Harley, finds traces of Extremis — a serum that can regenerate limbs and heal injuries — at the site of the attacks. This serum, we learn through a flashback in the beginning of the film, was created by Stark’s old flame, scientist Maya Hansen. While Stark tries to hunt down the Mandarin in America, his friend Colonel James Rhodes a.k.a. Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) travels to the Pak-Afghan region to put an end to the terrorist network, only to find himself in a trap.
It is very obvious that the film plays up to post-9/11, “us-versus-them” sentiments and in his quest to save America, Iron Patriot meets plenty of turban-sporting men and burka-clad women. But, to its credit, Iron Man 3 goes on to subvert these very stereotypes of Muslims. Even though the Mandarin sports a long beard and communicates to the world via bin-Laden style video messages, he is not explicitly associated with any ethnicity or religion in the film. In fact, as the film progresses we learn that the Mandarin is not quite what he seems to be whereas scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is capable of more evil than we initially give him credit for. The red herrings and plot-twists, along with the constant humorous interjections, result in a film that keeps the audience on its toes. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley both deliver terrific performances and their slightly exaggerated acting style works well for the film, which at its essence is an escapist, action-filled extravaganza.
Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.