Remake This: Jonah Hex (2010)

Oh, this hurts to look at.

Josh Brolin. John Malkovich. Michael Fassbender. Michael Shannon. Aiden Quinn. Upon reading those names, one could be justified in assuming that I just listed the cast of a well-acted, award-winning film. If you just made that assumption, I apologize for misleading you, because Jonah Hex is not that type of movie. It’s more of the joyless, grating, incredibly stupid, heartbreakingly disappointing type of movie. The tragedy? It totally didn’t have to be. Let’s talk about the sad, sad, tale of a great comic book antihero and the terrible movie he didn’t deserve.

SOME HISTORY ABOUT THE CHARACTER

I own this issue. It’s lovely.

Jonah Hex, created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, is a beloved and very unique DC Comics character from the 1970’s. At the same time that the Western genre of film was transitioning to its revisionist period (Jeremiah JohnsonLittle Big ManThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller all came out during the 70’s), Western comic books were also following the trend and becoming more violent, cynical, and melancholy.

Introduced in the pages of All-Star Western before landing a starring role in Weird Western Tales and eventually his own eponymous title, Jonah Hex was a rough character. He was raised by Apaches, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and he unintentionally got his fellow soldiers killed when he tried to surrender to Union forces. Later, half of his face was hideously scarred in a duel to the death with an Apache warrior. These experiences hardened Hex into a cynical loner, and he became a ruthless bounty hunter. And yet he often tried to do right by good people when he came across them, which usually ended up causing more suffering for everybody. Hex was on the run from his past and he didn’t much care for his future; he was just trying to make an honest day’s living by killing people who deserved it. Like a lot of revisionist Western fiction, Jonah Hex defied the traditional American view of the Old West as a heroic place full of noble, hard-working men embodied simpler, purer times. If you’ve seen The Outlaw Josey Wales, this description might remind you a bit of that movie, but interestingly enough, Jonah Hex first debuted in 1972…four years before Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece! I’m not saying that Hex was the inspiration for it, but it IS an intriguing idea, yes?

Anyways, Hex has continued to be a favorite among comic readers. His original title was cancelled in 1985, but he starred in a very strange series (simply titled Hex) that had him time-travel to a post-apocalyptic future and fight zombies; in my opinion, it’s worth a read just for the weirdness. In the 90’s, he starred in several miniseries that followed the precedent set by Hex and combined Western and supernatural/horror themes (In one such miniseries, called “Riders of the Worm and Such,” the creators parodied two famous albino musicians, which led to a lawsuit and…oh, just look it up here if you want the details. This is getting too weird). In 2005, a new critically-acclaimed Jonah Hex series was started, and it introduced a lot of new fans to the character. When DC cancelled all of their titles for The New 52, they brought back the old All-Star Western series, which stars Hex. Even though he didn’t regularly interact with DC’s modern-day superheroes, Hex has appeared through flashbacks and time-travel in the original Batman cartoon, as well as Justice League UnlimitedBatman: The Brave and the Bold, and his own DC Showcase short film (I believe it was included with the DVD of Batman: Under the Red Hood). So there you have it. Comic fans love him. Western and action film buffs SHOULD love him. Sounds like a good idea for a movie, right?

WHAT HAPPENED?

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I’m not a stickler for accuracy when it comes to big-screen comic book adaptations, and I stand by that. The source material is a good jumping-off point, but if you can tell a good story and retain the essence of the characters without aping other people’s work, you totally should. That being said, if you miss the point of what makes your protagonist special, you are in trouble (and so is your audience).

When I heard there was going to be a Jonah Hex movie, I thought “Awesome!” They’ll probably use the original adventures from the 70’s and 80’s as a reference and get the Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti from the current series as creative consultants! Maybe they’ll even write the script! It’ll be a great throwback to Clint Eastwood’s Westerns and maybe it’ll even rescusitate the genre!” Then I heard that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the geniuses behind the Crank series and the abysmal sequel to Ghost Rider (not a very high standard to meet, guys), were going to writing the script, and I got nervous. If the Jonah Hex movie was going to be an introspective character study or a redemption story or have any legitimately dramatic scenes whatsoever, why on earth hire the guys behind this? And then the director was announced. James Mangold? Nope. Michael Mann? Huh-uh. William Friedkin? Of course not! Then who? Why, Jimmy Hayward, of course. You know, the guy who directed Horton Hears a Who? You know, because nothing goes together like this:

And this:

I tried to stay positive. Tried to trick myself into believing that Jonah Hex would be a decent film. I mean, the cast list looked great (with the exception of Megan Fox, but she was playing a prostitute, so maybe it would work!). But then the movie poster you see at the top of this page was released. What? Well…Josh Brolin and Michael Shannon wouldn’t do this to themselves unless it was a good career move, right? And then…the trailer. Oh, the trailer:

Yeah, it was hard to stay optimistic after that. Anachronistic rock music. Ridiculous gadgets. Wretched and unnecessary special effects. I don’t know why the studio listened to Hayward, Neveldine, and Taylor when they insisted on completely ignoring the source material and getting their inspiration from The Wild Wild West movie instead of The Outlaw Josey Wales, but we all suffered for it. As a loyal DC Comics fan, of course I saw it in theaters, and of course I was shattered. It was awful, a “comic book movie” in the worst way: light on plot, heavy on loud, dumb action scenes. In the next few sections, I’ll break Jonah Hex down and tell you what I did and didn’t like. Rest assured, that first section won’t be long.

THINGS I LIKED

1. Some of the actors do a good job. Josh Brolin really swings for the fences. He and Michael Fassbender are in a different movie than the rest of the cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan turns in a nice, understated performance in a cameo as Hex’s now-deceased best friend. Will Arnett plays it straight as a military man who recruits Hex to save Washington D.C., and somehow he works as a buttoned-down authority figure. I can’t even comment on whether or not Michael Shannon did a good job, because he wasn’t in the movie long enough for me to tell.

2. Jonah Hex’s origin is updated nicely. In the comics, it takes a long time to find out how Hex came to be the man he is. It’s a good story, but it would take a lot of time to squeeze it into a movie. But I have to say that, for the most part, the version that Neveldine and Taylor went with isn’t too shabby. It’s just streamlined: Hex, tiring of constant fighting, realizes that his unit’s guerrilla tactics are getting out of control, so in order to save lives he switches sides and stops them. His best friend Jeb Turnbull is killed, and his commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (also Jeb’s father) goes nutty, escapes capture, and vows revenge. Years later, he find Hex, kills his family, and brands the initials “QT” on his face. Hex refuses to look at those letters every time he sees his reflection, so he uses a heated ax to burn them away, severely disfiguring the right side of his face in the process. It’s a good origin: it stays true to the spirit of the character, keeps the essentials, and discards the extraneous details. Unfortunately, things immediately go off the rails after that, but I’ll elaborate in the next section.

3. Megan Fox is pretty. She doesn’t really do a good job in this movie; her accent is quite annoying, to be honest. Her character contributes very little to the plot. But she is very pretty, that I will grant you.

Horrifyingly tight corset notwithstanding. Jeez….

WHAT NEEDS TO NOT BE IN THE NEXT (HYPOTHETICAL) JONAH HEX MOVIE

Rather than simply list things I didn’t like about Jonah Hex, I will also elaborate on why I didn’t like them and what I WOULD like to see. After this movie came out, I immediately added it to my “Movies to Make/Remake/Reboot in the Unlikely Event that I Come Into Money” list. So here’s my list of mistakes in Jonah Hex and how they can be avoided:

1. Use your cast better. As I mentioned, Josh Brolin, Will Arnett, Michael Fassbender, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are good in this movie. But Aiden Quinn is totally wasted as a boring President Grant and John Malkovich is phoning in his performance from at least three states away at any given time. Megan Fox is about what you would expect. The biggest waste of all is Michael Shannon. Yes, Michael Shannon is in this movie. The academy award-nominated star of Revolutionary RoadBoardwalk EmpireTake Shelter, and the upcoming Man of Steel. One of the most intense and interesting actors currently working in Hollywood. It was first announced that he would play Doc Cross Williams, the voodoo-practicing owner of a sinister travelling circus in Jonah Hex, and that he would be a secondary antagonist (Cross Williams was originally introduced in the 90’s in a spooky Jonah Hex miniseries called “Two-Gun Mojo”).

When the movie came out, Hex did visit a travelling circus, but guess what? Michael Shannon gets MAYBE three seconds of screen time! WHAT?! Well, it turns out that Neveldine and Taylor wanted to use his character in sequels, so they got Hayward to cut out his scenes. Yes, that’s right: those two coked-out morons were so arrogant that they decided to save their best actor for sequels that weren’t even guaranteed. Hey guys, you know what MIGHT have been a good way to get the studio to commit to a sequel? A MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE BY AN ACADEMY-AWARD NOMINATED CHARACTER ACTOR! The lesson to be learned here is simple: make good casting choices and be certain you have a director who knows how to get good performances out of them. Oh, and USE FAMOUS ACTORS IF THEY’RE ALREADY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO WORK FOR YOU!

2. Don’t complicate things with bizarre unexplained bad CGI  magic. There’s no magic in the original Jonah Hex stories. The 80’s and 90’s set a precedent for that sort of thing, so I don’t think it can be said that the filmmakers behind the movie ignored the source material, but they made a very odd choice in deciding to give Hex the power to communicate with the dead. Right after his origin is laid out in the first few minutes of the movie, it’s explained that Hex was rescued from certain death by Indians and nursed back to health, but apparently because he had been “on the other side” for too long, he gained the ability to touch dead people and bring them back to life, but only for a few minutes before they turn into ashes, and the longer they’ve been dead, the longer it takes for them to turn into ashes because they’ve been….never mind. But trust me, it’s confusing, it doesn’t fit the tone of the movie, especially since the villain is the non-mystical Quentin Turnbull and he’s using a big cannon that isn’t magic at all. Necromancer Hex feels unnecessary. Worse than that, it feels like a cheap excuse for Neveldine and Taylor to throw in some EXTREME special effects and sped-up footage. It distracts from the rest of the story. Maybe if Cross Williams were the real villain and Hex actually had to fight zombies or something, but that doesn’t happen.

3. Anachronisms are not your friend. A quick word to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor: Guys, I know period pieces can be intimidating (especially if you are an idiot who doesn’t want to do any actual research). However, if you are committing to a movie that is set in a specific time and place in the past and there will be people in your audience who KNOW what did and didn’t exist back then, you owe it to them to not ruin things. Maybe you think you’ll be cool and have futuristic technology and deliberate anachronisms as a stylistic statement. Well, stop thinking that. We already have The Wild Wild West to remind us NOT to do that. And if you still REALLY want to throw in some goofy stuff, you should still learn what is physically possible and at least TRY to make the suspension of disbelief a little easier for the audience. And if you really wanted to do a fun, dumb summer blockbuster that doesn’t take itself seriously, you shouldn’t have used a revisionist Western comic about a scarred, cynical bounty hunter who wears a Confederate uniform! AND…even if you STILL wanted to ignore the source material, rip off The Wild Wild West of all movies, and not bother making a movie that takes itself too seriously, DON’T CAST JOSH BROLIN, AIDEN QUINN, MICHAEL FASSBENDER, MICHAEL SHANNON, AND TELL THEM ALL TO PLAY IT STRAIGHT!

I know Neveldine and Taylor have their defenders but…c’mon. Look at them.

Speaking of the source material, here’s the most important thing:

4. Understand your source material. I think that’s the biggest failure with this movie. The Jonah Hex comics are, for the most part, grounded in reality. If there was a gunfight, people would die. There were no futuristic, gimmicky weapons; when a character fired six shots from their revolver, they were out of ammo until they reloaded. No one had Gatling guns mounted on their horse or a crossbow that fired sticks of dynamite or a super-powerful magic artillery cannon that could destroy Washington all by itself (all things that are in the movie). The appeal of Jonah Hex wasn’t in the scrapes he got into: it was in how he confronted the moral dilemmas he found himself faced with, how he outwitted his opponents, and whether or not he chose to learn anything from these encounters.

Everything that happened in Hex’s original adventures, as well as his second series from the 00’s, happened in a historically accurate setting. There weren’t any super-stylized fight scenes or mammoth explosions or plots that threatened the entire nation. Hex’s most important battles were with himself. It usually bothers me when comic book movies take themselves too seriously, but in the case of Jonah Hex, I don’t think the filmmakers took their movie seriously enough. Hex ISN’T a superhero. He’s Josey Wales, Paden from Silverado, and Jeremiah Johnson all rolled into one. This was the one time, THE ONE TIME, when we really needed a comic book movie to be “realistic” and “grounded.” So if Jonah Hex ever rides onto the big screen again, I hope the folks in charge do their research and focus on the man and his demons (metaphorical demons, you guys! NOT ACTUAL DEMONS!). Everything else will grow from that.

IN CONCLUSION

This movie is only three years old. If it feels like it’s been longer, it’s just because it was a huge box office bomb, making back only about a fifth of its $47 million budget, and everyone immediately forgot about it. Which, now that I think of it, is a good thing. Normally, I’d say you have to wait about five years for a reboot, and at LEAST ten for a hard remake, but for me, a reinterpretation of Jonah Hex can’t come soon enough. I know Warner Brothers won’t want to risk another flop, and I know that other DC characters have priority, but hey: it could happen, right?

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the character, I recommend any of the vintage Jonah Hex stories (many of them are collected in DC Showcase graphic novels), as well as Gray and Palmiotti’s series from 2005-2011. And of course, the latest volume of All-Star Western is only about 20 issues in right now. Check them out.

Star Trek Into Darkness: A Spoiler-Heavy Review

I think they used “Sabotage” one film too early.

I love the Star Trek franchise, although I consider myself a casual fan (not sure what the term for that is. Trekker?). When it comes to the Trek movies, I tend not to nitpick small details. The story and its themes are what’s important to me. Star Trek (2009) was about dealing with pain and loss, the uncertainty of the future, and learning to depend on others. It almost had to be about those things, since fans had to come to terms with the retirement of the original timeline. Anyways, Abrams’ first film was very good (though it had its problems), and it did what it needed to do: get Kirk in the chair, divorce itself from the rigid continuity of the original series, and rustle up some new fans. Hollywood being Hollywood, a sequel was inevitable. Four years later, Star Trek Into Darkness has warped into theaters. Is it as good as the last one? Short answer: no. Slightly longer answer: no, because it’s better. What?…Why yes I WOULD like to elaborate at great lengths! Onward!

KIRK, SPOCK, AND THEIR BROMANCE

“Did they ever put this ‘Everything is gray now’ business up to a vote? I feel like they didn’t.”

It always bothered me how quickly Kirk got to command the Enterprise in the first movie. He basically from a cadet to the captain of the Federation’s flagship in a few days! It was a little rushed. But Into Darkness acknowledges that it WAS rushed. Kirk DID take command of the Enterprise too early. He depends too much on luck. He’s irrational. He exploits the loyalty of his crew. He really SHOULD spend a little more time at the Academy. People like Kirk: he’s smart, handsome, charismatic, and a risk-taker. Which is great, but those qualities allowed him to bypass the system and become responsible for a starship before he was ready. After all, it takes wisdom and experience to learn when to take risks and when to avoid them. That’s where Spock comes in.

In the first movie, Kirk and Spock spend a long time at odds with each other. Eventually, they develop mutual respect and admiration, but their inevitable friendship is only hinted at by Spock Prime. Into Darkness delivers on that promise by showing us how much one needs the other. Kirk must learn to keep his emotions in check and look at things logically. Spock has to accept his human heritage and understand that emotion is not a weakness. At the beginning of the film, Spock is willing to sacrifice himself on Nibiru so that its inhabitants can live (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”), and Kirk doesn’t understand how he can accept his fate so easily. Spock, meanwhile, is the voice of reason for the vengeful Kirk after Pike dies. By the end, their positions are reversed: Kirk makes the logical decision that his life is worth the crew’s, and he sacrifices himself to save them without hesitation. Spock, moved to tears by Kirk’s death, is acting on anger when he goes after Khan moments later. Maybe some die-hard Wrath of Khan fans didn’t care for the Kirk/Spock role reversal in the final act, but I thought it was a great callback to the volcano scene. In that moment, Spock was deliberately unemotional about death, and Kirk couldn’t see the bigger picture. Neither could comprehend the other’s thought process until the whole ship and crew are threatened; Kirk is forced to start thinking like Spock, and vice versa. After the events of Into Darkness, it can truly be said that Kirk and Spock are friends, because they’ve learned from each other: they now fully understand each other’s perspective, and they’re better men for it.

VILLAINY

“Yes, Khan Noonien Singh is my birth name! Why does everyone always ask me that?!”

Benedict Cumberbatch is predictably amazing as Khan/John Harrison. In the original timeline, it’s remarked that Khan is noble in his own way, and he makes a great foil for Kirk because they have many similar qualities. The same is true in this film. Khan is a cunning and savage fighter, and he has no use for rules or limitations. In that way, he’s very much like Kirk, just distorted to the extreme. Indeed, both men are aggressive, determined, and fiercely protective of their people, but Khan is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, damn the consequences; Kirk has to learn the danger of that kind of attitude.

I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that Nero from Star Trek (2009) wasn’t a particularly compelling villain, but thanks to great writing and an intense, nuanced performance from Cumberbatch, we don’t have that problem here. Interestingly, in his first appearance on the original Star Trek show, Khan was initially going to be a big Nordic guy in order to hammer home the whole Nietzschean ubermensch concept. It wouldn’t surprise me if Cumberbatch’s casting was a clever nod to what almost was.

MAKING THE MOST OF AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE

WOO WOOOOOOO WOO WOO WOO WOO WOOOO (Imagine that noise coming from a theremin and you’ll get it)

Into Darkness makes excellent use of the alternate timeline concept established in the first film. The chain of events that brings the Enterprise into conflict with Admiral Marcus and Khan can be traced back to Nero’s attack on Vulcan and Earth. The Federation’s leadership realizes that it’s vulnerable, so it becomes more paranoid and militaristic, aggressively exploring as much space as possible. They find Khan (Presumably aboard the Botany Bay), realize who he is, and exploit his strategic genius in order to prepare for inevitable conflicts with the Klingons and other threats. It’s an interesting idea that Khan, despite being from the past, would have a better understanding of weapons than people living in the more peaceful 23rd century. We can also see less obvious signs that Starfleet has become more militaristic: the uniforms are darker, more official looking, and certainly not what we would expect from benign explorers (whether they were meant to or not, they reminded me of the Soviets). At any rate, the story manages to address 21st century terrorism and our responses to it without appearing heavy-handed, not an easy accomplishment.

I saw Into Darkness with a friend who had seen the 2009 movie and nothing else from the Star Trek franchise. He also thought it was great, and I believe that’s evidence enough that Abrams has succeeded at making Star Trek accessible to new audiences without alienating old fans. The references to the original timeline were enjoyable (though not too excessive), and I think it was smart of Abrams to have Into Darkness mirror The Wrath of Khan without blatantly stealing from it. In a way, it’s comforting to know that some things are MEANT to happen, regardless of the timeline we’re in.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EVERYBODY WHO ISN’T KIRK, SPOCK, OR KHAN?

Given the huge focus on Kirk and Spock’s budding bromance, the supporting cast is surprisingly well-developed. Even though he’s not in the movie for long,Bruce Greenwood’s Admiral Pike adds a lot to the story. Into Darkness confirms his status as Kirk’s surrogate father, and their scenes together are really touching; we can tell that they genuinely care about each other. Uhura has more to do this time around, and her interactions with Spock are a little more believable. It doesn’t look like we’ll see the resurrection of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship that anchored the original films, but Karl Urban is more comfortable as McCoy this time around, and the character’s friendship with Kirk is strengthened; he also gets to participate in more of the action, which is fine by me. Scotty continues to be comic relief, but he plays a major role in the movie, demonstrates his expertise, and gets some good dramatic moments as well. Peter Weller and Alice Eve are also great as Admiral and Dr. Marcus, adding emotional heft to the Enterprisetussle with the Vengeance.

NITPICKS (OKAY, FINE…I DO HAVE A FEW)

There are some minor things I would have changed. I will now list them:

1. Sulu and Chekov have nothing to do. I wanted to see Sulu fence again and I wanted Chekov to see some combat.

2. Not enough Klingons. Especially disappointing, given their awesome redesign. Here’s hoping the next one will be about them.

3. Always nice to see Nimoy, but his cameo felt really forced and didn’t contribute much.

4. I was fine with the naked cat ladies because…well, OF COURSE they would be unclothed after spending the night at Jim Kirk’s place. But the scene with Carol Marcus changing in the shuttle was an unnecessary, blatantly obvious chunk of cheesecake trailer-bait.

5. I don’t expect anybody to agree with me on this one, and I admit it’s weird, but I REALLY like the design of the Starfleet flight suits in Into Darkness, and I kind of wish they had been the new standard uniform. It seems really unfair that the female crew members have to wear skirts all the time.

I know. I know! I KNOW, OKAY?! I DON’T KNOW WHY I LIKE THEM EITHER!

6. Okay, this isn’t actually a nitpick at all, because I loved Cumberbatch as Khan, but I can’t help but wonder how Benicio Del Toro would have done in the role if the rumors about his casting had turned out to be true. I bet he also would have been pretty amazing. Just an observation.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE FRANCHISE?

Obviously, J.J. Abrams is moving on from Star Trek, which is for the best. I mean, even if he weren’t, we’d still have to wait another four years until the next movie in the series, and I REALLY don’t want to wait that long to see what happens with these Klingons! That’s where I think the series is headed, by the way (at least IT BETTER BE!). If Brad Bird were to take over like he did with Mission Impossible, I wouldn’t be too broken up about it. To be honest, I’m much more excited for the next Trek than I am for episode VII of Star Wars. But hey: here’s hoping Abrams gets better results from copying George Lucas than he did when “paying homage” to Steven Spielberg.

Iron Man 3: A Spoiler-Heavy Review

I love this poster.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

I saw Iron Man 3 last night and I loved it. I mean LOVED it. I was satisfied with Iron Man 2 (unlike plenty of other folks) but it had its flaws, and it certainly didn’t fill me with as much joy as the first Iron Man did when I saw it in theaters. But when I heard Shane Black was going to be co-writing and directing the most recent installment, I knew we were going to get something special. In case you didn’t know, Shane Black is responsible for writing the first two Lethal Weapon films, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Action Hero, and for directing Robert Downey Jr. back in 2005 in the excellent comedic noir thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which he also wrote. I’m a fan of all those movies, especially the last one I mentioned, so you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that Shane Black was writing AND directing Iron Man 3. I was not disappointed; the movie I saw last night was heartfelt, hilarious, and full of jawdropping action. I can think of very little I didn’t like about it. And because I can’t contain myself when it comes to Iron Man, I have to talk about it at length to no one in particular. For the sake of convenience, I’ll assume you’ve already seen it. Sound good?…I don’t care. HERE WE GO!

THE PLOT

The Extremis story arc from The Invicible Iron Man  comics ran from 2005-2006, and it always kind of irritated me. Despite being well-written and beautifully illustrated, there were just elements of the story I didn’t care for. I won’t go into everything that went down in the comics, but the story basically ended with Tony Stark embracing the Extremis technology in order to defeat a criminal who had been augmented with it; he integrated it into his armor and his body, so that he could operate his tech faster than thought and essentially became a living computer. I won’t pretend like my ideal of Iron Man is  more valid than other fans’, but I didn’t like that. Tony is Iron Man, but he’s still Iron Man when he isn’t wearing the armor; it doesn’t define him, or at least it shouldn’t. So of course I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to discover that Shane Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce essentially had the same notion! We’ve never seen Tony so effective without his armor, and it reminds us that he’s plenty dangerous with just the random stuff a ten-year-old kid can gather up from around the house. And, at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony decides that he’s got everything he needs to be complete and the armor had become a distraction for him, so he destroys the armor he has and removes the arc reactor from his chest (with surgery of course). Given the fact that Tony operated without any kind of life-support system for years in the comics, I don’t see any reason to think that we won’t see Tony as Iron Man again. I suppose there’s another, somewhat controversial plot element I ought to address. So I will. But first, an aside.

I’ve read every single issue of The Invincible Iron Man that exists. EVERY. SINGLE. ISSUE. Years ago, Marvel thought it would be cool to release digital versions of their comics on CD-ROM so as to be “hip.” They had one for all of their main characters, including Iron Man. I have plenty of hard copies of my favorite issues, and plenty of graphic novels, but between the 500 issues of The Invincible Iron Man on the aforementioned CD-ROM and the remaining issues I collected to fill in the gaps, I’ve read pretty much every appearance of Iron Man in the Marvel Universe. I remember watching reruns of the Iron Man animated show from the ’90s (it was terrible, but it was Iron Man). So yes, I’m quite the Iron Fan. What I’m about to say next, I don’t say lightly.

It MIGHT have something to do with this fellow.

 Are you ready? Come closer…closer……GUESS WHAT?! I DON’T LIKE THE MANDARIN! THAT’S RIGHT! Yeah, I think The Mandarin’s dated and dumb. Marvel should have let him die with the other racist stereotypes from the Cold War era. But no, he stuck around for decades afterwards, even acquiring this weird status as Iron Man’s greatest foe. I still don’t like him. He’s got magic rings (I don’t care what kind of techno-babble he uses to describe them; they might as well be magic, the way they’re shown to work), he thinks he’s a modern-day Ghengis Khan, he wants to rule the world (with the occasional variation in his plots as time goes by), he has super martial art powers, and he lives in a palace in the mountains of China. You know what all of that says to me? Meh. MEEHHHH. Even at his most sleek and modern, the Mandarin never seemed any different from Fu Manchu or Shihuan Khan from The Shadow series. I was actually thrilled when Ben Kingsley was announced as the Mandarin and he was revealed to not be Chinese. I figured that at least his motivations and personality would be different from the stuff we usually see in the comics. So when “The Mandarin” was revealed to be a besotted stage actor being manipulated by the REAL villains? YES. YES. In addition to being a remarkable ego-free performance from Sir Ben, we sidestepped all the weird awkwardness we would have gotten if The Mandarin actually was some kind of Far Eastern warlord. And, without being TOO obvious about it, Black’s decision to have unethical American businessmen be the REAL villains makes for good political commentary (and it keeps the theme we had from the last two movies with crooked executives pulling strings as well). Plus, having “The Mandarin” be an actor who was desperate for work is consistent with the theme the movie has of the best intentions and goals being twisted for unethical purposes. So no, I don’t agree with people who were disappointed with The Mandarin’s depiction in Iron Man 3, and yes I’ve read the comics, and no I don’t think he’s worth much in the comics either.

A word or two about Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, the real villain of the movie. I think he does a great job portraying a sort of anti-Tony. When Sam Rockwell played Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, it didn’t quite work. I saw what he was going for, but it rang false for me. He was never threatening in the slightest, and while I didn’t care that Hammer was altered from the comic books to be closer to Tony in age, I DID feel that he needed to keep his ruthlessness. Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 is never in control, and he’s never shown to have any deeper motivation than competing with Stark Industries for government contracts. Aldrich Killian, on the other hand, is a great character. He starts off as a brilliant, eager-to-please, nobody who has nothing but ambition. Tony’s rejection is what gives him the motivation to move forward with Extremis and reinvent himself. He wants to be like Tony in the sense that he wants the same kind of power and respect, but unlike Tony, his defining moment as a scientist was divorcing himself from morality and taking what he wanted regardless of the costs. At the same time, he also can’t completely divorce himself from the validation he craved as a nobody. Which he recognizes. Guy Pearce gives Killian the charisma, confidence, and borderline lunacy that makes him a perfect dark mirror for Tony.

Oh, and I don’t know if this was controversial for anyone, but I also should mention that I don’t care if Rhodey is in the Iron Patriot armor. I know Norman Osborne was in the Iron Patriot armor. Who cares? If I were the United States government and I had access to mobile weapons platform, OF COURSE I’d call it Iron Patriot and not War Machine! Especially after the events of Iron Man 2. I didn’t care for the Iron Patriot armor in the comics, or much of the Dark Reign saga either, for that matter, so I prefer to see the Iron Patriot armor in something I DO like.

I really like how Tony’s relationship with Pepper is shown to be deep but not untroubled. Clearly they’re meant to be together, but also to fight a lot, too. And Pepper finally gets to wear the armor for a bit AND kick some tail in the finale! You’ll notice, she’s never not instrumental in saving the day at the end of an Iron Man movie. Incidentally, how does Gwyneth Paltrow get progressively MORE glamorous with every one of these movies she’s in?! Really, how?! WHAT IS YOUR SECRET GWYNETH PALTROW??!!

THE ACTION

What to say about the action except that it was breathtaking? I was worried that the final fight with all the armors vs. the Extremis operatives was going to be boring and repetitive, but man was I wrong. The plane crash scene was fantastic (I applauded), and as I mentioned before, I loved seeing Tony in action without depending solely on his suit. Black was able to combine really well-choreographed action set pieces with expertly timed humor, and it works wonders on film. I really hope this isn’t Black’s only foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Speaking of…

THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

As promised, Iron Man 3 is not a tie-in to any larger story. That was one of my biggest problems with Iron Man 2, so I’m glad they learned their lesson. Not that the events of The Avengers weren’t referenced; in fact, it was really cool of Black and Pearce to make Tony’s PTSD from his near-death experience in that movie serve as his motivation in this one. The reason Tony can’t sleep, can’t stop building armors, can’t stop improving his techonology is that his technology almost failed him in New York that day; it’s got to be better. And he has to deal with The Mandarin and the Extremis operatives by himself because he needs to believe that he can still cut it, not just as a superhero, but as a scientist. Seriously, Shane Black and Drew Pearce are real champs. I wish them success. I have to say, though, I would have preferred a post-credits scene that was a little juicier. Maybe there isn’t enough out there to work with yet. But hey, there’s always the next Thor movie.