Iron Man 3 as Literary Fiction (and other bullet points)

[This post is full of spoilers, obviously]

I saw this, then at 5:30 am I sat down and wrote this synopsis of the novel that Iron Man 3 could have been, and thought it was funny. Blame 5:30 am:

Tony, a middle-aged polymath, has been traumatised by the (before the opening of the novel) recent attack upon the Earth by aliens. He is unable to sleep, his relationship begins to fall apart, and he turns to tinkering with machines  for comfort. Then an old enmity, based on Tony’s accidental rudeness to a stranger at a party years ago, returns to haunt him.

Tony lives in a world that is increasingly complex, with technology, and even human biology, changing too quickly for many of its characters to keep up. Meanwhile, a new terrorist threat seems to have arisen in China. As the story progresses we learn some banal truths about narratives of terror, recent construction of China as major threat, the complicity of US politicians in some of the less pleasant aspects of capitalism. But Tony, with his vivid memory of recent events, sees these things for the hollow sham that they are. Once ALIENS HAVE ATTACKED, who cares about the threat from China?

Eventually, Tony throws himself into these simpler causes. He saves the US president, whom the novel has already accused of doing awful things; he disbands and undoes the research of rogue scientists (that might, as unethical as it was, have been of help to us next time ALIENS ATTACKED)*. In the face of a vast and unknowable universe potentially full of ALIENS. THAT ATTACK, in the end Tony can only cling to narratives he knows to be outdated.


Bullet points:

  • People’s clothes (and hair, as Adam Roberts pointed out on twitter) are disturbingly flame-proof.
  • Villainous sidekick character resembles evil China Mieville. Which naturally recalls this.
  • Ben Kingsley is hilarious and a wonderful surprise–what seemed like a racially (and otherwise) dubious plot and casting choice turns out to be (mostly) about our construction of racial others as threats and so forth. Except:
  • (1) It does so by, (quoting Gerry Canavan quoting Ramzi Fawaz), “bizarrely mak[ing] disabled veterans villains as a way of deflecting assumptions about Middle Eastern people as terrorists”
  • (2) I’m now very curious about the version of the movie that opened in China, with an extended role for Fan Bingbing.
  • (3) …okay, this is probably too long for a bullet point, but. Given the context in which this movie was made and released, one gets the feeling that the audience discomfort with the idea of the Mandarin as supervillain (and of his being played by Ben Kingsley), or with the  was a vital part of the reaction the film wanted to evoke, it’s a film about itself, pre-empting and reacting to the fans. Which is interesting, but this is all it does. There has to be a middle-ground between the po-faced grimness of the Nolan movies (that begs to be parodied) and this half-hearted postmodern-lite.
  • (4) all of which makes me wonder, if the rumours about Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in Star Trek: Into Darkness are true, whether that movie will also negotiate its casting choices in a similar way (or will they go for straight up offensive?). Twice in one month might be a little hard to stomach.
  • For the majority of this movie Stark is not in his suit. Taking the superhero costume out of the superhero movie makes a big difference. Man in hoodie facing indestructible, glowing bodies is a different genre, visually, from man in outlandish red and gold costume facing indestructible glowing bodies. In those moments it looked a bit like a horror movie. That was pretty cool.
  • We know that Stark is traumatised by the events of The Avengers because he kindly sits down and tells Pepper Potts that he is traumatised by the events of The Avengers. As this review (which is harder on the film than I am, I did genuinely enjoy it) notes, the film seems to set itself up to show us “how Stark will reach within himself while facing fearful odds to overcome his trauma but there is not ONE single scene during which Stark performs any kind of real introspection.”
  • I love you, Paul Bettany.
  • I love you most of all, Rebecca Hall.



*I’m aware that some fans have read that situation as Stark figuring out the glitches in Hansen and Killian’s work, leaving Pepper still superhuman but less likely to suddenly explode. I didn’t get that sense at all, to me it seemed obvious that he’d managed to rid her of (as she seemed to want) all the effects of the treatment.

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