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Iron Man Three: On What Was Done

Iron Man 3 Robert Downey Jr. Headsup Display

Hey folks. Other than that AWESOME NEIL GAIMAN ANNOUNCEMENT it’s been a while. I was still kind of recovering from Fringe, to be honest. Anywhoddle, as you know, Bob, part of my remit here is that I talk about cyborgs, robots, artificial intelligence, time travel, magic, alternate realities, and human augmentation, and all the ways those things show up in popular culture; and so, with that in mind, if you thought I was going to miss out on seeing Iron Man Three as soon as was inhumanly possible, then you didn’t read that last clause back there. Yeah, that one.

I’ve been looking forward to IM3 since it was announced, and since they started talking about what the screenplay was going to be based off of (more on that below)–so when we got to the theater and that theater was mostly empty, I was a little sad. I’d wanted a big crowded experience, and there were literally about twenty people in our showing. But still, I was with friends and I was content to enjoy this highly anticipated film in their company. That, plus the new Thor 2 trailer the manager was gracious enough to splice in for us guaranteed that it was a really fantastic time.

[ad#longpost]First things first: this isn’t going to be a recap of the plot of the film. Those are around and out there, and that’s not what’s on my mind. Right now, I’m much more concerned with–and having conversations about–what the plot of the film did and means. Now, if you are somehow unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point, then welcome back from your mission in Shi’ar-Controlled Space. So far we’ve covered Iron Man‘s origin and his dealing with the life and death of his father; the Hulk‘s just-post-origin story concerning how he came to control his powers; Thor‘s introduction to coffee; Captain America‘s introduction to Tommy Lee Jones; and Agent Phil Coulson teaching everyone how to pose as a team when shit gets real. Throughout all of these things we’ve had one rule when we talk as we shall: There Will Be Spoilers.

When I got back from the theater, late Thursday night/Early Friday morning, all I could think was “Iron Man 3: You Will Believe Someone Writing A Movie Containing Autonomous Created Intelligence and Cyborgs Thought Seriously About How An ACI Would Operate A Body.” Because that J.A.R.V.I.S. scene, people. Damn. All of the designs on which Tony had been “tinkering,” from the Mark I forward to the Mark XLII (and can we take a moment to talk about how the suit version at which Tony Stark rethinks the meaning of his life, the universe, and everything, is Mark FORTY TWO?), controlled by the J.A.R.V.I.S. machine consciousness, in glorious concert. Pieces of the suits detaching and independently attacking our villains during the climactic battle sequence. Because a machine intelligence wouldn’t need to keep several hundred, if not thousand independently-operable pieces of flying weaponry attached together in the shapes of anthropomorphic suits of armour, unless it was absolutely necessary. To J.A.R.V.I.S. each one of those parts–each boot, each gauntlet, each missile system–is a limb. J.A.R.V.I.S. could orchestrate all of these components into a fractal snowflake and still make sure all the systems on both the Malibu house and the Helicarrier had the proper TiVo settings (Supernanny‘s on at nine, yo). Which, honestly, would have been a great add-in line, just to hammer home that J.A.R.V.I.S. was doing crap that wasn’t even at all connected to this battle…but I’ll take what I got, and say thank you.

Iron Man 3 Poster

What I’m trying to to say here is Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s treatment of these things went over quite well with me. I posted these reflections on the tubes, and I was quickly inundated with other reflections on various aspects of the film. What follows is a bit of the conversation that sprang from there. Whatever, if Chris Hardwick can gather his friends to flail about on a couch on two different networks, then I can shoot for trenchant analysis with mine, damn it.

MoonAndSerpent: You will believe someone will struggle with the boundaries of their prosthesis in an intelligent fashion.

Wolven: EXACTLY! So happy about that!

MoonAndSerpent: The more I think about it, the more I think it might have been my favourite Marvel movie not called “Avengers.” It’s certainly the smartest. But it also couldn’t exist without the well established characters and universe. It’s the kind of story you can only tell in a developed continuity.

Wolven: Precisely correct. Well said. I’m going to have to see it at least one more time. Shane Black did a fan-damn-tastic job, and I really do appreciate that he brought in and tightly knitted the lessons from both the Extremis *and* Invincible arcs.

MoonAndSerpent: [Matt] Fraction’s The Five Nightmares. My only complaint was the handling of Pepper.

Wolven: Yeah, I wanted A) [more of] her in the suit and B ) her and Tony “Fixed,” Bleeding Edge-style.

MoonAndSerpent: And I kind of think what is a large part of why this movie seems so decisive is that it’s trying to be a super-hero movie, and not a comic book movie… While say The Avengers or the 1st Iron Man are big bold superhero comics brought to life on the screen, IM3 is an artifact of an alternate timeline where “super-hero” is just a type of genre film. Does that make sense to anyone not me?

My complaints about Pepper go deeper than that … I felt that in a movie about Tony finding his identity, her identity got lost.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3

Wolven: 1) That does make sense, but, again, as though that timeline can’t exist without the decisive work of the previous timeline. [It’s like a] Pocket Universe.

2) Yes. I feel that. I want a longer cut with more development of Pepper’s sense of self, with this added perspective[, of having had two distinct sets of super powers in a week.]

[Some time passes, and I encountered an internet post entitled ‘Why The Mandarin needed to be portrayed as he was in Iron Man 3’. If you’ve seen the film, then it’s really quite worth reading that piece, and I’ll wait. If you haven’t seen the film, the what in bleeding Nora are you still doing here?! GO! FLY TO A THEATER! SEE THIS MOVIE. You back? Good. Did you enjoy it? Great. Let’s continue. The conversation picked back up after I posted that piece.]

MoonAndSerpent: I agree 100% – and it’s also important to note that this version of the Mandarin was mostly developed in the first 2 movies. You can’t have the comics Mandarin in 3 when 1 & 2 – 1 more so than the brief tie ins in 2 – already set up *this* version of the Mandarin. (Which gets into my surprise how few people realize that EVERYTHING IN THE TRILOGY goes back to that one night in Bern.)

Wolven: Yup. As he said: That’s where it ALL STARTED. AIM/Killian gets to[:] Stane [and hence Stark Weaponry], through Raza [who then realises that the Ten Rings/Mandarin/AIM has Stark Himself]; to Hammer, directly; and then with a “Fuck It” right to Stark’s heart (as it were). [Addendum: Yinsen, whom Stark met, once, “At a technical conference, in Bern.” ‘Tony: I don’t remember. Yinsen: You wouldn’t. If I had been that drunk wouldn’t be able to stand, much less deliver a lecture on…Integrated Circuits.’ Yeah, Yinsen is in the cave in IM1 because he was interested in talking to Stark. “We Create Our Own Demons.”]

MoonAndSerpent: “We create our demons” – Tony created Killian/the Mandarin who in turn created Iron Man. And people tell me with a straight face there was nothing thematic going on here.

Wolven: Those People…were not paying attention.

MoonAndSerpent: To be fair to Those People, Shane Black and Drew Pearce didn’t screw around with info dumps, whereas the rest of the franchise has had no shortage of exposition. One of several reasons it felt Different. It didn’t pause for beats saying “this is where you get sad”, “this is Tony back to square 1 mirroring IM1“, “Tony risking everything to save 13 strangers falling out of a plane is a moment showing just how much he has changed”, “this is where we reveal Killian was the Villain behind all 3 films”, “this is all about America and the military industrial complex”, etc. Those moments are all there but it’s up to the viewer to digest them, whereas the style of the other marvel movies would be to have all those moments commented on. Different film-making language.

[And then Tuffley showed up!]

Tuffley: I think [Advanced Idea Mechanics] will very much become an MCU Avengers problem. I do wonder if AIM will be the connective tissue of “Phase Two” as SHIELD was in “Phase One”.

Advanced Idea Mechanics

MoonAndSerpent: AIM played a huge role in the comics version of The Winter Soldier arc, for example. Also, I can’t help but wish deep down in my fanpants that the slow introduction of Roxxon in IM2 & 3 develops into a Phase 3 Deathlok movie…


Tuffley: OK, so we know IM 3, Thor 2, Agents of SHIELD (IF/When ABC picks it up), Cap 2, Guardians, and Avengers 2 make up Phase 2. Marvel is sort of confirming Ant Man for Phase 3–I guess perhaps Dr Strange and a sequel or two fill it out. Maybe a Heroes for Hire TV show in place of SHIELD for Phase Three?

MoonAndSerpent: Heavy buzz that Black Panther will be in Phase 3, but he’s always trotted out as a “next” and there’s still talk (as recently as March) of Jessica Jones: P.I. if SHIELD manifests/is a success. Doctor Strange seems certain, though, and rumor ties Justin Theroux (writer of IM2) to the role. But you know Hollywood rumor, etc – nothing counts till it’s in the can.

Wolven: 1) With the DIRECT mention of Vibranium in Cap 1, he damn well BETTER show up, soon. I want my imperious, “Oh, you mined and synthesized a tiny bit of Vibranium for a shield? That’s cute.

2) While i would LOVE Jessica Jones to have her own show (and let’s not talk about how THAT makes me think about the slow torture that is [the development process for the] POWERS [TV show]), I just want them to finish the SHIELD Pilot and get the show on the air, first. I don’t want to get all cart-previous-horse on this.

3) If Doc Strange does happen, well… My screenwriter of choice is still Doc Hammer.

MoonAndSerpent: Bear in mind that AKA Jessica Jones is a far older project than SHIELD which got bumped–presumably for SHIELD–and is not Team Whedon, though it is a lot of the original people behind Dexter. Funny thing is that in Iron Man 2, the blueprints for the shield label it as Vibranium/Adamantium composite. (like in the comics). Between that and the WEAPON PLUS reference in Hulk, you can almost smell how hopeful they were to get Wolverine back when there was that brief window when it looked likely.

Wolven: I really hope Disney pays the money to at least use the characters. I want a full Avengers roster. That being said, I REALLY just want [Marvel and FOX] to figure out what they’re doing on the X-Men side of things. Which is not dissimilar from how I feel about the comics, so…

MoonAndSerpent: You will never see the X-Men characters in an Avengers movie – save the 2 that both studios own.

Wolven: I know. So sad.

So, yeah, the conversation went a little off the rails, but you know what? I’m okay with that, and I think you are too. In fact, I think we all learned something today.

No? Well too bad, because I’m thinking of doing this again–and maybe in A/V form– when we’ve all of us, you and me, had the chance to see Elysium. Maybe before. Won’t that be fun?

See you soon.