The Iron Man 3 / Man of Steel Conundrum
This summer saw two big superhero releases: Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. Both of these were phenomenal successes and won over most fans. However, they are also extremely divisive. I liked them both (Iron Man and Man of Steel reviews here) but I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach about Iron Man 3.
This article is completely spoiler filled. FYI.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (Downey) faces off against the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Well… Kind of. It turns out that the Mandarin is a puppet terrorist created by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is the real villain. As a fan of the Marvel universe, I felt like I was kind of slapped in the face. The Mandarin is Iron Man’s nemesis, his greatest villain. He wields incredible power and influence. So… to see him debased into an alcoholic actor named Trevor was viscerally disturbing.
But as I watched Iron Man 3, even though I was having this horrible reaction to that news… the audience was eating it up. They laughed, they clapped, they loved it. So was it because I was so invested in the world that I was upset by this move?
This past weekend, I saw Man of Steel. Here, I was in the opposite role. I don’t know much about Superman, other than the basics. I knew enough though to notice when changes were made to the mythology and the character that I knew would upset the fans.
And I was right. When my roommate, an avid DC fan, came home from seeing it, he hated it. They changed the character of Superman, they made the relationship between Lois and Kal-El something else entirely, and they erased an entire mythology that had been developed and embraced by fans.
What did they change? In Man of Steel, Lois Lane discovers Kal-El’s identity early on. A key piece of the mythology is that Lois is in love with Superman but apathetic about Clark Kent (at least, to an outsider, that’s my perception).
There’s also one key moment at the film’s climax where Kal-El kills fellow Kryptonian General Zod. Superman is a good guy, why would he kill? I’ve read a few other pieces and it makes sense, to me. He chose Earth. He gave Zod the chance to redeem himself and he wouldn’t, so Kal-El did what he had to do. And it wasn’t easy, as he let out a horrific howl after he did it.
So to me (again, an outsider to the DC world), I didn’t mind. Both of these choices seemed interesting but they didn’t upset me. But to others, who are invested in the world, and wanted to see their Superman done right, they were really upset.
Let’s see how divisive Man of Steel has been so far.
Another complaint was that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel made Superman into an action hero. Fight fight fight. The movie was an all-out brawl. I enjoyed it, since I criticized Superman Returns for being too light on the action. However, fans of Superman criticized this film for being too focused on action and brawling, especially the epic climax, which was about 30 minutes too long. So maybe this movie overcompensated for the faults of its predecessor but lost the heart and soul of the movie, in exchange for action scenes.
I don’t remember films being this divisive before. I remember some mixed reactions, especially about The Dark Knight Rises, but these two films seem to be especially double-sided.
Are we too close?
So here’s the big question. What do we want these movies to be?
When I sat down to see Iron Man 3, did I want the Mandarin to be exactly like in the comics and cartoons? Did I want him to wear ten rings of extraordinary power, even though it’s a huge step away from realism? Or is it okay for the directors and producers to make amendments?
I know I had a very visceral reaction to the Mandarin twist, mostly because I saw huge potential with that villain. But I appreciate the bravery of Marvel to do that. In the “cinematic universe” that they’ve created, they have to take some licenses. We, as fans, need to trust in the system. This was actually a clever move and a shocking twist. I’m a member of a Facebook community about the Marvel cinematic universe and Iron Man 3 was simultaneously chosen as one of the best Marvel films so far and the one that members wish was erased from the continuity.
We need to let go. Mandarin, while nothing like what I had thought, was kind of a smart move in Iron Man 3. It’s rare that a twist like that hits the hardcore fans, because we might have the entire history memorized. When Jean Grey was killed in X-Men 2, it wasn’t a tragedy, because we knew she was arise as the Phoenix. So kudos to Marvel for actually managing to sneak one past us.
So in the Man of Steel universe, were the changes they made reasonable?
Lois Lane knows that Clark Kent is Superman. Ruins some of the mystery, but at least they’re not asking us to accept that the world’s most famous man can put on some glasses and be totally unrecognizable, especially to her. And what about Superman killing General Zod? As I mentioned above, it gave him a moment of anger and regret and a little bit of humanity, which I think was the point of the whole film. While he’s an alien, he’s just as human as the rest of us.
And what about the overall tone of the film, becoming an action-intensive summer blockbuster?
I’m going to stick with my original thoughts, that they might’ve overdone it. I loved the touching moments, such as the flashbacks to Kal-El’s childhood. But this intense final climax seemed to overshadow all the good work they had put in so far. Superman deserves a more reserved film, with a few huge setpieces to remind us that he’s still … super.
So here’s my final thought.
Embrace change. Go with the flow. Consider this an alternate universe (well, it is actually). Nothing is safe. Be excited that anything can happen. What if… Lois knew that Clark was Superman. What if… the Mandarin was just a puppet. I think it’s a cool opportunity to see our favorite characters on-screen but possibly imagined in whole new ways.
I might continue to have visceral responses but hopefully I can step back and say “I appreciate what they did there.”
So, what say you? Did you have a problem with Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel? Or did you love them?