Entry updated 24 January 2017. Tagged: Film.
Film (2013). Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures and DMG Entertainment present a Marvel Studios production. Directed by Shane Black. Written by Black & Drew Pearce, based on the Lee/Kirby/Lieber/Heck comic. Cast includes Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce. 130 minutes. Colour, 3D (converted).
While suffering post-traumatic stress following the events of The Avengers (2012), Tony Stark is drawn into a personal confrontation with super-terrorist the Mandarin (Kingsley), who is weaponizing veterans into bombs using the unstable Extremis serum developed by Maya Hansen (Hall) and marketed by arms dealer Aldrich Killian (Pearce).
Lavishly budgeted at only slightly less than the cost of The Avengers, with a generous running time and spectacular action set pieces, this was the biggest film of its year at the box office and a swaggering curtain-raiser for the "Phase 2" cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comprising Thor: the Dark World (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and The Avengers 2 (2015) along with the first two seasons of the television series (2013-current) and its prequel series Agent Carter (2015). The Extremis arc from Warren Ellis' run on the comic title in 2005-2006 had already been cherrypicked for elements of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), but here is incorporated into the narrative spine of the terrestrial MCU: the supersoldier programme initiated in World War Two (see Captain America: The First Avenger) and a succession of twenty-first-century attempts to revive it.
Veteran action writer Black, a newcomer to Marvel but an experienced wrangler of Downey's extravagantly improvisational performance style, takes over directing duties from Favreau in a smartly written bar-raiser, with Kingsley a particular standout. The actorly concerns of the second film are projected further in a number of ways: in Tony Stark's somewhat tiresome anxiety attacks and a long middle section out of uniform which is held hostage by a demographic kid sidekick; more interestingly, in a series of inventive and resonant variations on the relationship between the man and the suit, which he can now control and interact with remotely, as well as marshalling an army of remotely piloted outfits from the comics back-canon Mecha wardrobe; and more interestingly still, in a thematization of acting itself as a synecdochic bridge between the face of evil and its underlying reality, with the geopolitical thematics of previous instalments extended into a deconstructive reading of the comics Villain and a comparatively adventurous exploration of the displacement of conventional political structures by self-concealing private interests. Sensitive to the growing centrality to its profit model of the Chinese market (for which additional scenes were shot featuring local stars and product placement), the film radically reconceives Iron Man's most celebrated comics nemesis the Mandarin as a figure of artfully constructed ethnicity who embodies western archetypes of the terrorist other while in fact being a front for domestic Villainy from within the traditional military-industrial capitalist incubators, and the villain's master plan being to "privatize the war on terror" by controlling both the US Presidency and its global antagonists from behind the scenes.
The Extremis plot was sequelled in the first season of Agents of Shield, while Pearce directed a 14-minute sequel All Hail the King for Marvel's One-Shot series of Blu-Ray bonus shorts, in which it is suggested that the Mandarin deception may not be as entirely incompatible with comics canon as the film professes. [NL]
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