You bet your ass there are SPOILERS. This is the only warning you get.
Okay, I’d like to start out by saying that I am completely in love with the way the advertising team for this movie basically trolled us during the entire lead up. And special thanks to RDJ and Ben Kingsley and Gwyneth Paltrow for saying just enough to make at least me think we’d be getting something completely different from what we ended up seeing. I fucking loved it.
I was worried the entire time about the Mandarin being the main villain of the movie, since there are some serious, gross, racist issues that could have come up. But instead he turned out to be a front, a created character to give the real villain a good cover story and a way to do some really creepy control on the media and politicians. I thought it was wonderful. And considering that this was a comic book action movie, it had a hell of a lot to say about how terrorism is sold and used in the political and media narrative. If nothing else, the idea of a manufactured threat being used to manipulate public and political consent is a very, very powerful one in these post-Iraq War days.
That, and Ben Kingsley was utterly hilarious in the actor persona. When he started up on that, for about the first thirty seconds I was like no way, the Mandarin is just messing with Tony, he’ll maneuver him into a nasty place and then reveal that HAHAHA I WAS PLAYING YOU ALL ALONG. Then I realized it was real and almost died laughing. That was glorious. That was probably my favorite thing about the entire movie, right there. That it was a giant con job that took in even Tony Stark. Seriously, the only thing that would have made that scene any better was if this had been playing during part of it:
Second most, of course, I love how badass Pepper got to be. Which was another rather troll-ish move by marketing, since they let us all believe it was OMG SHE WEARS THE IRON MAN SUIT and that was very little of it. Rather, it was her continuing the theme of protecting Tony by kicking the shit out of the bad guy at the end. That was just crazy amazing and it made me so happy. I love that she and Tony take turns saving each other, and Tony doesn’t have an egotistical manbaby breakdown about it. I cannot begin to say how much I love there being a comic book movie that involves a stable, loving, mutually supportive relationship. At one point I thought they were going to head toward the “Oh no, Tony has to be jealous of Pepper and the creepy guy!” angle, but that never happened and I’m very glad for that. Both Tony and Pepper got to play the damsel in distress at different times.
The whole movie was unexpected, and in a good way. I wasn’t expecting Tony to get the shrapnel removed at the end. I wasn’t expecting him to blow up all the Iron Man suits. But I think it shows that his character arc has really completed. Not that he’s left being Iron Man behind – I think it was pretty plain at the end that he still is Iron Man. But rather that he no longer needs that identity and the suits as a shield for himself. Instead of it being two identities, one of which he uses to hide from his own guilt, he’s moved on, brought the two together, and he really is Iron Man in a much healthier way. Or, you know. As healthy as Tony Stark can ever be about anything.
There is a lot of good stuff packed into this movie. This isn’t even touching on the fact that the creepy bad guy preyed on wounded veterans. That Rhodey was ridiculously amazing, and it was great to see his friendship with Tony less strained again. I appreciated the anxiety problems Tony had, because it was nice to see a superhero have some kind of breakdown other than ‘wah I want to be normal.’ And seriously ‘I have seen some scary shit and it has fucked me up because I’m just a guy’ resonates. The hilarious addition of Roxxon “we just changed the name enough to not get sued” oil company was great.
The only thing that I wasn’t entirely convinced about was Maya and Killian. Maya seemed to go from cheerfully turning Pepper over to the bad guy to being convinced to change her mind by Tony a little too quickly. I feel like we were missing a step there. Killian was just a little too all over the place as far as his motivations went. While I think it’s fine for a bad guy to have multiple, even conflicting motives (…if I didn’t, I wouldn’t like Loki so much as a villain, amiright?) it at least needs to be clear to the audience what those motives are. Pure megalomania? Greed? The incredibly boring and overdone obsession with someone else’s partner bit? A somewhat nonsensical desire for revenge on Tony? The old hat of scientist becomes obsessive and it all goes terribly wrong? Does he believe he’s the next step in evolution a la Magneto? In a version of anarchism where he believes the system is hopelessly corrupt and most be destroyed from within to do… what exactly? That I could come up with all those ideas and I couldn’t tell you one way or the other which of them Killian might have had running through his pointy little villain head is a problem that really should have been resolved in scripting.
I won’t necessarily say this is the best of the Iron Man movies. The first movie still holds a very special place in my heart. But this one was excellent, and I hope I get to see it again several more times in theaters. It definitely does feel like the end of the Iron Man movies, but it puts Tony and Pepper in a very good, and complete place. And it still leaves plenty of room for Iron Man to return for more Avengers movies or cameos in the other franchises. I just really hope RDJ sticks with it, because at this point I can’t imagine anyone but him as Tony Stark.
Loved it. Can’t wait to see it again. PEPPER SENPAAAAAAAAIIIIIIII.