Okay, fine. It’s true, of the three Iron Man movies thus far in existence (please don’t tell me there’s going to be a fourth….) this is, kind of by far, the best. I’m not saying it was good, because it was not, I was so painfully aware of the two-hour run time. But I did not actively want to remove Tony Stark from the face of the earth when it was over.
And for an Iron Man movie, that is a win.
Well, today children, I will be discussing two things: heros and villains, because the first this movie kind of (a little) managed to pull off, but the second was kind of a disaster..
First off, our hero. He’s a changed man. We know because he says so. More than once.
Again, this is done so much better than in the previous two movies, because Tony very obviously has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and he has moments of actual vulnerability. He tries his best to not treat the people who care about him like shit. This is the first movie where I actually believes that Colonel Rhodes might want to be this man’s friend. His interactions with Harley, the annoying but lovable kid, are not exactly the most healthy, I don’t think, but again, I believe in his sincerity.
I’m not sure if flooding the child with materialism at the end of the movie is the best way to show that he cares. But baby steps, I suppose.
And for the first time, Tony’s odd “privatization of world peace” thing actually has a pay-off.
It’s starts quite unpromisingly. Tony’s excuse for getting involved in this shit is the flimsiest yet. Like, his slightly dumb bodyguard/friend, Happy, gets injured in a terrorist attack and Now it Personal, right? So he challenges the Mandarin to the equivalent of a duel.
And FINALLY, this is not portrayed as a good thing. In fact, the stunt and its immediate aftermath both make it quite clear that this was stoopid thing to do.
The end of the film, as well, is a direct rejection of Tony’s obsession with fixing the world by himself. I mean, this man has clearly become predictable, since the villain thought an international terrorism scheme was the best way to get back at him for standing him up on a platonic date once. (At least, I think that’s what happened? More on that later.) So Tony finally did what he should have done quite a while ago: he got rid of his vanity project that has been doing more harm than good, and actually got a fucking life. (And, also, he cured lava-people-ism off screen, but I’m deep enough into the MCU that this doesn’t phase me.)
But the villains… god, the villains. Where to even start?
I admit, I was spoiled for the Mandarin reveal, but even so, I kind of loved him for the first half of the movie. He was terrifying, articulate, and able to employ a very good editor. He would be a wonderful villain. Like a force of nature, he can’t be stopped because there is no rhyme reason to him. And like any number of deeply unsettling cult leaders, you kind of get why people follow them.
But then they ruin it, and they ruin it hard.
The Mandarin is imposing, but Trevor is pathetic. And I think that was supposed to be the point, but what it was replaced with was not at all an improvement because, in many ways, Aldrich Killian was just as pathetic as Trevor.
Like, what’s his motivation? Maybe I’m missing something but as far as I can tell, it was a combination of hating Tony because he was mean to him at a party, and wanting to bang Pepper. Oh, and I think money was in there at some point, right?
I do not like this man at all. I hated him from the moment he started talking to Pepper as though she was in middle school, rather than the CEO of a giant technology company.
And Killian’s plan? I think what happened was that all the explosions were actually accidents, because he sucks at science too, and so the whole Mandarin thing was just a retroactive cover? That was the plan?
But then his plan was also to control both sides of the War on Terror (although again, these terrorists managed to not be in any way associated with any religious ideology…) so that he can make money, I guess.
Killian’s clearly a genius on the level of Tony Stark, since he can take over every channel on every television and figure out how to regrow amputated limbs, but he was basically just a nerd who was stood up by the cool kids too many times and wanted revenge. He simply was too much of an overused trope to be a compelling antagonist. And so are the Lava People. I’m already starting to appreciate how much of a fondness the MCU has for the “super soldiers who lose their soul” trope, and this was not one of the better examples.
There was one Lava Person in particular who incurred my hatred. You know, that asshole who was always smacking his gum. All of his mannerisms were just deeply, deeply annoying to me.
So much for the Big Bad, but there are still two other classes of bad guys that deserve comment.
First, there are the Punch-Clock Villains. Every super-villain has them, people who are apparently willing to do evil for their jobs. This worked well when they were hanging a lampshade on it and literally having a moop say “I hate this job,” but think about this: this Mandarin scam required how many people? And people with skills too. We have an explanation for why Trevor would go along with this, (a lazy one, but whatever,) but why would the Best Boy Grip, or the person who does that wonderful editing on those videos?
These are the kinds of things you need to think through when you’re writing a screenplay.
And then there were the Twist Villains. You think they’re good guys, but, oh no! They’re actually not! They did this twice. And both times with absolutely zero motivation. Why was Maya willing to go to such lengths for science? Why did the Veep want to kill his boss? Was he power hungry? Was that established?
It wasn’t shocking, it was just eye-rolling.
I’m also a little mad that they tied up Tony’s arc into a nice little bow (they actually even say that!) and make me even tolerate him, when we all know that he’s just going to get back in the suit for the next Avengers movie.
And no, I’m not spoiled, I’m just not dumb.
Join me next time for Thor 2!
All images courtesy of Marvel Studios