As an original Firefly fan there is a special place in my heart for Joss Whedon and anything he puts his name on. So, when I saw he wrote the screenplay for Avengers, I took an interest in all the supporting films, and was pleased to discover they all contained the subtle (and sometimes explicit) liberty themes that made Firefly such an awesome series. Now it’s been announced that Whedon is one of the writers for Avengers II, and the supporting films are in the making. So, even though Whedon isn’t a writer for Iron Man 3, and the upcoming Captain America 2, they represent the support infrastructure of Whedon’s Avengers 2, and seeing the liberty themes continue in Iron Man 3 just makes me that much more excited about the entire Avengers franchise.
Warning: The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Iron Man 3!
In the opening we get a hilarious sequence in which War Machine is rebranded “The Iron Patriot” because it polls better. It’s a perfect allegory of State propaganda. War isn’t popular? Slap the word “Patriot” on it, and paint it red, white and blue. We even get a tongue in cheek montage of popular media personalities making fun of what is obviously State speak, and Tony commenting on how stupid he thinks the change is.
The dominant theme throughout the Iron Man series has been true free market capitalism (represented by Stark Industries) against the corporatist military industrial complex. The government tends to play the role of bumbling side show, sometimes friend, and sometimes foe, but always a pawn in the plot of others, which I find pretty funny.
In Iron Man 3 the corporatist villain is one of Stark’s competitors, a scientist named Aldrich Killian. Sounds like a reference to The Aldrich Plan, which gave us the Federal Reserve in 1913. In these two characters we see two sides of the same coin. Aldrich, the industrialist who gets in bed with the State, and Tony the industrialist who maintains his independence.
The biggest innovation of the film is the reinterpretation of Mandarin. The comic Mandarin is an honest to goodness super villain, complete with magic rings. The movie Mandarin is more comic relief than bad guy, but it’s a perfect allegory for the War on Terror. This is an unforgivable sin among comic fans, but fantastic news for libertarian culture warriors. Mandarin is given the paraphernalia of an Islamic terrorist, and takes credit for various bombings, but turns out to be an actor on a movie set in Miami, scripted by the weapons dealer who’s profiting from the hysteria. Genius!
Writer-director, Shane Black defends his controversial Mandarin saying”
“I would say that we struggled to find a way to present a mythic terrorist that had something about him that registered after the movie’s over as having been a unique take, or a clever idea, or a way to say something of use. And what was of use about the Mandarin’s portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it. And hopefully, by the end you’re like, ‘Yeah, we were really frightened of the Mandarin, but in the end he really wasn’t that bad after all.’ In fact, the whole thing was just a product of this anonymous, behind-the-scenes guy. I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world because I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of fear, that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them.”
Black’s transformation of the Mandarin may upset many, but in my opinion it’s a pretty brilliant modern adaptation of a comic villain who would probably be considered pretty racist by modern standards. Want to redeem a character who was originally a caricature of Chinese stereotypes? Hold him up as a mirror to expose how caricatures of Arab stereotypes are used today.
Bravo Shane Black! You’ve just joined Joss Whedon on my list of favorite screenplay writers.
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