(Fair warning: plot spoilers below.)
In this year’s episode of “Tony Stark, Billionaire Douchebag,” we get an updated version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Tony getting a visit from The-One-Night-Stand of Christmas Past, The Terrorist of Christmas Present, and the Chemically Enhanced Billionaire Douchebag of Christmas Yet To Come. Plus an adorable urchin, a Christmas Story gag, and (as a stuffed holiday goose) the traditional Shane Black shoot-out on a docked oil tanker. There’s even a nice little stocking gift for those of you who are Gwyneth Paltrow haters—you get to see her fall to a fiery death, which will definitely make you squee with delight; and then you get to see her get better, which will push your Oh Please Girl button even more than you thought possible.
There are a lot of other buttons that will be pushed here, most of them smartly. I’ve always believed that there are only two stories when it comes to a comic book character (the origin and the last battle) and that everything else is an episode that echoes one of them. Iron Man 3 definitely goes back to the origin—specifically the Jeff Bridges line in the original movie: “Tony Stark was able to build this in a CAVE!” That’s the guy we fell in love with, and that’s the guy we get here—the mechanic, complete with a cave-like garage. And with that adorable urchin standing in for Yinsen.
And speaking of comic book tropes, for a lot of people, this movie is going to be an introduction to one of the core problems with comic book continuity: in a universe where SHIELD and Captain
are also tasked with defending the country, how come nobody but Iron Man shows
up when the President is threatened? America
The scriptwriters actually deal with this question in a clever fashion, by showing how Tony has panic attacks whenever anybody mentions anything related to the Avengers movie. It becomes not only a running gag, but a stealth command to the audience: “Don’t bring up The Avengers, or Tony will have a conniption.” So whenever it is brought up, we cringe a little, because we care about this guy, and in the back of our minds we don’t want to see anybody from The Movie Tony Can’t Talk About have a cameo, because we know that if Samuel Jackson ever shows up in person, Tony is going to gut him with his repulsors.
Another little bit of writer sleight-of-hand is that adorable little urchin. After a Y2k one-night stand with Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen, there’s a great deadpan joke when Stark meets Maya again.
TONY: You don’t have a 12-year-old kid in your car, do you?
MAYA: He’s thirteen.
And our adorable little urchin is that kid in the joke. Seriously. He’s the right age, and he talks about his mom, but she never shows up—so in the back of our minds we can still relate to him as Tony’s love child with Maya. He also serves as a double Christmas Ghost doppelganger, because he’s also got a Little Tony vibe going, which is why he’s the one who knows exactly who Tony is and what he does. “You’re a mechanic. Make something.”
So it’s a fun flick. But I had one major beef with it. (Besides the incredibly extended final battle and the rushed voice-over wrap-up.) I didn’t like what they did with the Mandarin. To be coy, he is not what he seems to be—and while there’s a chance that what we see is actually a double fakeout, that we’re watching a man who’s pretending to be innocuous when he’s really dangerous—there’s nothing in the movie to justify anything except an out-and-out Fooled Ya moment that had more than a liberal whiff of liberal hogwash in it. I felt like the air went out of the movie, and it became less real than what it could have been. Plus there’s a big plot moment that completely gets undermined, which is why I really wanted to see this line of dialogue:
TONY: What kind of actor shoots a guy in the head on-camera as part of his performance?
THE MANDARIN: A method actor.