The Political Innuendos of Iron Man 3

Posted by M ws On Sunday, May 26, 2013 1 comments
Two nights ago, I watched Iron Man 3 with my family after a rushed dinner at the family's favourite restaurant (House of Dumplings, Shang Ding @ QB). Walking up the stairs, I could feel the yuan nam noodles swirling in the middle of my oesophagus. Being naturally agoraphobic, I felt a bit faint at the sight of the sardine-packed crowd queuing up for their tickets. Fortunately, someone had booked the tickets for us online hence it was easy to get into Hall 8. The last movie I watched was 'This is it' in 2009! We barely made it as the movie began shortly after we sat down to catch our breath.

Iron Man 3 (stylized onscreen as Iron Man Three) is a 2013 American superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Iron Man, produced by Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the sequel to 2008's Iron Man and 2010's Iron Man 2, and the seventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being the first major release in the franchise since the crossover film The Avengers.

Shane Black (Lethan Weapon) directed a screenplay he co-wrote with Drew Pearce and which uses concepts from the "Extremis" story arc by Warren Ellis. Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his role as the title character, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle reprising their roles as Pepper Potts and James Rhodes, respectively. Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films, serves as an executive producer and reprises his role as Happy Hogan. Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Ben Kingsley round out the film's principal cast. CLICK HERE for more (warning - spoiler ahead).

For information about the cast and crew of Iron Man 3, please CLICK HERE.

Since its release, Iron Man 3, produced with an estimated budget of 200 million USD, has grossed over 700million USD. At Rotten Tomatoes Iron Man 3 scores at 78% (67% among top critics) whereas at Metacritic, it achieved 62 out of 100. Comparatively, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus, scored 84% and 74% respectively. 

I wonder if its poor showing at the box office was possibly due to its untimely release just before the Boston bombing. Of course, these were circumstances beyond any one's control!

Initially, I was awed by the special effects and the grandeur of his suits and of course other CGI gimmicks not forgetting the handsome, six-packed (but short) Robert Downey Jr, the suave but menacing Guy Pearce and the captivating screen chemistry of Downey-Paltrow. Far beyond all the cosmetics of the movie, I guess Iron Man 3 can be faulted in many areas.

To put it simply, along the way it is obvious that Shane Black forgot that a good movie is one that is NOT peppered with special effects but founded on the solid rock of story line/plot. The plot development is actually pretty lame and fizzles out at times hence losing whatever dramatic effect intended by the grandeur of Stark's gadgets/abilities.

Another missing factor is the absence of a moving soundtrack that complements the action on the screen or accents the romantic and more humane moments of the movie.

The plot of Iron Man 3 is actually drawn from several comic arcs. For instance, the use of genetically modified super soldiers by Aldrich alludes to Warren Ellis’ Extremis arc - a six-issue story arc from the comic book series Iron Man (vol. 4), published in issues one through six in 2005 and 2006 by Marvel Comics. The variations of Tony's iron suits alludes to the Armor Wars - "an American comic book limited series published by Marvel Comics. The series is set in the Ultimate Universe, and is written by Warren Ellis and pencilled by Steve Kurth. The story is considered an adaptation of the original Armor Wars story line, placing it in the Ultimate Universe. This is also the second limited series by Ellis to focus on Ultimate Iron Man, after the previous Ultimate Human series." To a certain extent, the iron suits also alludes to Joe Quesada’s ‘Sentient Armor’ arc (comic addicts can read more HERE).

In a Viber chat with my former student, Aaron Lau (Canada), he opined that Iron Man 3 was the worst of the three because of the racial stereotyping of Chinese via the Mandarin. A discussion ensued. However, he added that Ben Kingsley was superb for the role. Indeed, yours truly was so blown away by Kingsley pulled it off with his fantabulous acting skills that obfuscated the racist overtones of the character. In retrospect, I do wonder the real reason for introducing a Chinese character in such a negative light against the iconography of disasters such as 911, war, terrorism and exploitation of women (as in the scene where (Rhodes) Don Cheadle falls into Aldrich's trap and goes into the factory manned by Arab women who thought he was there to rescue them.

A. Who is The Mandarin?

The Mandarin is a fictional character, a super villain who appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. He is the archenemy of Iron Man. 
The character was created by Stan Lee and designed by Don Heck, first appearing in Tales of Suspense #50 (February 1964). The character is described as being born in China before the Communist revolution, to a wealthy Chinese father and an English aristocratic mother, both of whom died when he was very young. He is characterised as a megalomaniac, attempting to conquer the world on several occasions, yet also possessing a strong sense of honor. 
The Mandarin is portrayed as a genius scientist and a super humanly skilled martial artist. However, his primary sources of power are ten power rings that he adapted from the alien technology of a crashed space ship. Each ring has a different power and is worn on a specific finger. 
In other media, the Mandarin has been shown in several forms of animation and computer games. He serves as the main antagonist in the 2013 film Iron Man 3.[4] His presence was implied in the 2008 film Iron Man through the name of the terrorist group known as "The Ten Rings". In 2009, Mandarin was ranked as IGN's 81st Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time. (Source: HERE)

B. Why Ben Kingsley?

It was only today that I discovered that not only is Ben Kinglsey not Chinese, not half Chinese but the fact that  he is actually half Indian! Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji in Snainton, North Riding of Yorkshire, near Scarborough. He is the son of Anna Lyna Mary (née Goodman), an actress and model who appeared in films in the 1920s and 1930s, and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, a medical doctor. More here.

Would the effect would have been different had they chose a Chinese actor to play the part? Think Chow Yun Fatt or Jet Li or Jackie Chan????? *gulps*

This is what Shane Black told Yahoo! Movies about The Mandarin:
In the comic books, Iron Man archenemy the Mandarin is Chinese. And when Ben Kingsley -- who decidedly doesn't fit that racial profile -- was cast in the villainous role for “Iron Man 3,” there was naturally concern over how the character would be portrayed and whether it would be offensive. 
So we went straight to the movie masterminds to get the inside information on the Mandarin. 
“His nationality is not even clear because he is shrouded in secrecy,” “Iron Man 3” co-writer and director Shane Black told Yahoo! Movies. “He has crafted himself in the manner of the Mandarin, of a warlord. And I think that’s great because you get to do the comic book but you don’t… have to deal with the specifics of Fu Manchu stereotyping.

“We’re not saying he’s Chinese, we’re saying he, in fact, draws a cloak around him of Chinese symbols and dragons because it represents his obsessions with Sun Tzu in various ancient arts of warfare that he studied.” 
For some “Iron Man” mavens, the Mandarin’s appearance is a long time coming. Producer Kevin Feige recalled that he was promised to appear in the film’s first installment by then-helmer Jon Favreau – during a Comic Con panel nearly six years ago. 
“We thought, ‘What can we tell ‘em? That’s probably safe!’ And then we changed it about 12 weeks before we start filming,” explained Feige. But there was simply too much going on in the script. Favreau and Feige wanted to put more focus on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) 
“So we took him [The Mandarin] out. And we talked about him again for ‘Iron Man 2,’” Feige continued. Alas, the Mandarin didn’t make into that one either. And Feige credits Black with providing the right set of circumstances to bring him and his handful of 10 mystical rings on board for “IM3.” MORE HERE.
The truth is, The Mandarin strangely resembles a Chinese caricature with the right combo of physical traits: the tangled and knotted hair, tattoos, hooded robe and worse of all, the accent. Was it deliberate that The Mandarin vaguely reminds viewers of Osama?  Iron Man 3 has snippets of a televised execution, simulated Middle East locations, even scenes of American soldiers and falling bodies. Whilst it all looks and sounds eerily familiar even in a world constructed by Marvel comics, defined by its own rules and reality, do you think obvious racist overtones can be detected?

Personally, I reckon most would have been engrossed with the special effects than to have taken offense with the characterisation of The Mandarin which is after all, an unfamiliar character except to avid comic addicts.

That aside, here are other issues...

C. Innuendo to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of 911 and New York?

Iron Man 3 is set in events after “Marvel’s The Avengers” and a battle for New York. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is portrayed as literally suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (bedroom scene with Paltrow, garage scene with the boy etc.) from the horrors his character experienced in the film The Avengers – events that are repeatedly referred to in Iron Man 3 by the reference to "New York". He has insomnia and loses his sense of reasoning by challenging The Mandarin and giving the whole world his address when interviewed by broadcast journalists!

Whilst one may question the rationale of portraying a super hero this way, I figure it is Shane Black's tactic of tugging at our heart's strings by revealing the more human side of Stark which we might not be aware of at all. Beneath the veneer of iron suits is a man - fully human both with strengths and weaknesses - reminding us of the fragility of life, how one can never run away from who is the real us regardless of whatever devices/gadgets/equipment we may have at our disposal just like Stark.  Coming to terms with being at the height of human potential like Stark and the hopelessness of being human with weaknesses and all - is a journey which all can identify with in life.

C. Drones

How many of you realized that unlike Iron Man 1 and Iron Man 2 where Stark wears his super-powered armor, the suits are portrayed differently in Iron Man 3. Here, we see how his 'toys' are deployed as remote-controlled flying weapon parts which assembly as programmed all of which evoke references to the current concerns about drone technology. A couple of questions arise.

Why does Stark choose to destroy his suits at the end of the film? Why does he remove the shrapnel from his heart when it is that which necessitates him wearing it in the first place?

To me, there is a hidden political message that may be undetected by many.

Dear readers, what do you think is the basic argument of the film?

Hint: Think of terrorists, military experts, businessmen,  status quo, capitalistic motive etc.

  • Who decides what?
  • Who breeds terror?
  • Who profits from it?
  • Who manipulates it?
  • What is behind the development of armaments, weaponry etc?
  • Profiteering conditioning of the highest order???
Unlike its predecessors, I found Iron Man 3 highly entertaining because of Stark's witty one-liners and his well-executed role of an egotistical businessman/inventor/crime fighter. I suppose Stark ignites that dream many of us had when we were kids - to be a vigilante - per chance with the ability to fly, fight crime and live happily ever after with the love of our life!

I think the best part of the movie is the connection between Stark and  Harley Keener (played by Ty Simpkins). I can connect with his reactions and dreams not forgetting the overwhelming ecstasy that filled his heart when he sees the array of rewards from Stark at the end of the movie. Sentimental me really wish Stark could have adopted him to give him the best of both worlds - a stable family plus life with his idol/super hero.

Yes, the plot could have been better but the smart surprises, reversals in plot development seasoned with loads of jocosity, especially by Stark (OK I am biased!) sort of compensates for its failings. Regardless of the overload of sci-fi trimmings thanks to the godzilla budget, Iron Man 3 is lots of fun with a capitalised heart and exploding emotions, suspense and moral lessons if we care to look what lies beneath. Overall, the imperfections are definitely outweighed by the positives so if you have yet to watch Iron Man 3 yet, please - GO FOR IT!

Happy viewing! Please leave a comment to share your response. Excuse me now, I need to go back to my books to study. Have a great day!

Written by mws - a baby boomer who grew up on a staple diet of Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Beano, Dandy comics not forgetting a whole range of comics including war comics and June and School Days. :-)

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1 comments to The Political Innuendos of Iron Man 3

  1. says:

    walla Perhaps the film owners were trying to angler the China market for both size, and pro-acculturation.

    That may explain why they used a familiar Chinese actor as surgeon to remove the shrapnel. Consider one ending segment where for a good many seconds in a clip so disconnected from the flow, that actor was just filmed standing by his office window making a call on his mobile.

    His visage did strike some resemblance to that of a President of a certain country, doesn't it?

    Conspiracy theory thus in full swing, an attempt was made to balance out the faux pas in using the Mandarin at the beginning with all its mischievous stereotyped allusion to brutal middle eastern terrorism calculated to raise the ire of a US audience which may not know geography that well, and the balancing act was made by using 'The President of that certain country' to 'save Iron Man' at the end, although one must ask where was the anesthesiologist for what would have been a rather painful operation. Unless light-bending acupuncture was used. Which might explain why one couldn't see the needles.

    In any case, Kingsley, an Englishman (and thus colonial imperialist) was better known for his role as Gandhi. Of India. Missing was of course Japan. They must have invented the self-exploding human protoplasm and are still holding the patents for remote-controlled nano-neural metals, probably to be used for the next Transformer series.

    The IM3 script-editing was somewhat erratic, to say the least. For one, it is inconceivable someone would broadcast his home address knowing full well it has no defense system against a full-scale copter attack. One can deduce as much from the sheer chance deployed to save the companion when the attack started. Such risk-taking would not have been expected of someone with a hyper-technical bent.

    Likewise, the companion has chilled in this episode as she only halfheartedly yelled out his name a few times after he had disappeared into the murky although in an earlier spool she had panicked in full emotion when his nuclear heart was corroding like a worn out energizer.

    Indeed, sequels these days increasingly depend on CGI effects to compensate for their lack of raw emotions of the first films. By the same argument, one can't get sequels for a Forrest Gump, Serendipity or The Notebook because their only essence is to pull the heart-string once to strike some sweet note or chord sans any special effects.

    It remains to sum up, namely when one can at leisure watch any movie ever made, or read any book every written, the initial euphoria soon settles down to being picky, and thus somewhat taciturn about some of the world's meatier distractions.

    Trust that there are only a few good ones of either that are thought-provoking enough beyond pure entertainment.

    Meanwhile, back to Michael Fassbander (in Shame,... blush). Prometheus aside, one wonders if he could have made a sharper Bond, especially in any script written by Gilroy (of Bourne) for directing by a Petersen or an Emmerich or a Harlin.

    Moving on, watch Limitless to fill some minutes of a hot humdrum afternoon, that after Assault on Wall Street, War of the Arrows, and My Way (no, not about him).

    Hopefully all this should cover up for the lack of skills in operating a smart phone to answer calls. Those who are hopeless with gadgets may need to prevail upon Iron Man. On second thoughts, he threw one against the wall. Oi, subsidized by the rakyat, doesn't he know?

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