Humor in Iron Man 3

Ben KingsleyThere was one thing in Iron Man 3 that I really liked: Ben Kingsley. When I saw that he was in the film, I figured he was slated to play the bad guy. Those tend to be the kind of roles that he gets. And at the beginning of the film that looks about right. Actually, it sets up a plot with two bad guys who are working together. One is an evil scientist, played very well by the pretty boy in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Guy Pearce. The other is the Kingsley character, basically a fictionalized Osama bin Laden named “The Mandarin.” But there are tells.

Before I go on: you do know that I don’t think there are such things as “spoilers.” Well, that’s not exactly true. I wouldn’t give away what’s really happening in The Sixth Sense if you hadn’t seen it. But even in it, the film is really good even if you know. In fact, it is better. So if you really think that knowing what happens in Iron Man 3 is going to ruin it for you, then please click away now to this picture of a happy lamb. You have been warned!

I had a hunch that “The Mandarin” was not all that he seemed. But the truth was a lot more fun than I ever expected. “The Mandarin” is just a character being played by English Shakespearean actor Trevor Slattery. It seems the poor man had a real hard time staying off drugs. So the bad guy comes to him with an offer. Tony Stark says, “He said he’d get you off drugs?” Slattery, half nodding out, perks up and says, “No! He offered me more!” So the drug addled actor just thinks that he is performing a role. When he’s not on camera, he’s kept occupied with drugs and prostitutes. But that’s not what was so great!

What was so great was Kingsley’s performance, which is hysterical. And it was really great because his “The Mandarin” character was entirely believable. It was just the way you would expect a Shakespearean to perform it. Think: Patrick Stewart. And it is a nice reminder of many great actors (e.g. Gary Oldman) who come from working class backgrounds: after seeing them on the screen speaking the king’s English, it is shocking to hear them speak with their normal lower-class accents. Kingsley works that into comic gold. He also uses the drugs and the typical actor narcissism.

I thought that I ought to point this out. I don’t ever recall seeing something in one of these films that I liked so much. Even still, I doubt that there is more than 15 minutes of Kingsley in this 2+ hour monstrosity. But having anything that is really good is unusual, and worthy of note.

Afterword

I’ve long thought it interesting that The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a film about three gay drag queens, stars three actors who generally play badasses. First there is Terence Stamp of The Limey. Then Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith in The Matrix. And Guy Pearce of Memento. I find that curious.

0 replies on “Humor in Iron Man 3”

  1. JMF says:

    The "spoiler alert" rule is a good one because of the different ways people enjoy their entertainment. In "Death And The Maiden," is Kingsley a monster or a case of mistaken identity? When we watched it, the SO could only enjoy Kingsley’s performance without feeling gnawing tension if I revealed the ending early, so I did.

    Me, I like surprises. I remember watching "Kane" for the first time at 15 or so. My Dad came home from work, asked what I was halfway through watching (nothing modern allowed, God apparently only approves of movies made pre-1965), said, "it’s a sled," and went to bed. It doesn’t really affect how one watches the movie, but still . . . dick move.

    In general, I think surprises are unnecessary in very high art (Lear dies at the end, I’ve ruined it now) and don’t make much of a difference in very low art (knowing Kingsley isn’t what he seems in "Iron Man" now makes me interested in getting it from the library in six months, whereas I probably wouldn’t have before.) They can be a huge part of the fun in enjoying well-made thrillers or melodramas; say, "North By Northwest"’s twists and turns.

    And different people, again, enjoy different things in different ways. So spoiler alerts are very democratic.

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