Iron Man 3: On The Mandarin
There are more than enough reviews of Iron Man 3 out there already so I won’t be giving one beyond saying that I enjoyed the movie, but certainly didn’t see it as flawless. What I do want to comment on is an issue that this movie spotlights well. That is the question of how faithful an adaption of a comic book should be. Specifically, do you owe it to comic book fans to keep the characters and stories they like faithful to the comic books or is it acceptable to change things.
For those who have watched the movie you already know what I’m going to discuss, for those of you who haven’t there will be spoilers and you should continue at your own risk.
I am of course talking about the Mandarin. A character who had his name in the show, but that was about it. Now I fully admit that I don’t have all of that strong a connection to Iron Man or his enemies. I’ve read some of the classics and a few random books, but mostly I’ve seen him in other people’s books, so perhaps if it was a character that I loved I would feel a bit differently, but I enjoyed what they did with the Mandarin.
Primarily I like it because it surprised me. I recognized early on that there was something more going on as they went out of their way to say that Mandarin meant advisor to the king, which implied that there was a king, and I even suspected who that was likely to be. There simply weren’t all that many options. My suspicions aren’t the point though. The point is that the Mandarin wasn’t really all that much of a villain. He certainly didn’t have ten magic rings. He was simply an actor on some type of drugs being used by someone else. This was reasonably funny, but I can understand why people who were looking forward to the Mandarin might be upset by this, but beyond that the question is whether there is anything wrong with it.
To begin with it’s worth considering how many people even knew who the Mandarin was enough to really care. Assuming that ten percent of the audience are comic book fans (which is a stretch) and that a quarter of them are fans of the Iron Man books. That would mean that 2.5% of the audience really cares at all about the character, and some of them aren’t going to really care that it was changed. Of course this is the 2% who were most excited about the movie and drug their friends to it, but they are still a small number and financially upsetting them simply isn’t going to matter all that much.
There is another reason that I think people tend to overlook though. There is a reason that the Mandarin is a popular villain. Something about the character worked. By changing it you’re saying that the writer of this movie knew better than the dozens of writers who have refined that character over the years, but you’re also admitting that this is a movie, and not a comic book, and just like some costumes simply won’t work on screen some characters are going to need to be adjusted as well and honestly the Mandarin was probably one of them. And while he certainly didn’t need to be moved as far away from the character as he was I can understand the worry they may have had, especially if they wanted to get the movie released in China.
I didn’t love the way they did this, and I can understand the frustration, but in many ways having the Mandarin be nothing was better than at least one possible alternative. They could have had him actually be the Mandarin but gut most of what he was. The reason this would be worse is because as it is they can still use the Mandarin character in another movie. The name might have to be changed but they didn’t destroy their options.
Compare this to the villains in the later batman movies. The Penguin character couldn’t have been used afterwards, but you also never really got the comic book character and the same is largely true for Mr. Freeze, The Riddler and most of the others. But they aren’t the only ones to do it. Far better comic book movies have taken interesting villains and gutted them. The xmen movies are filled with interesting villains turned into sidekicks or extremely poor jokes. (Not that the toad is actually all that interesting, but the joke is certainly bad, and The Juggernaut could have been far better).
Beyond all of this all that really matters is whether a story is well told. People have gotten so interested in plot holes and comparing different types of storytelling that they seem to have forgotten that the real point of the story is to have fun. It really doesn’t matter how people are talking to each other during Avenger’s movie because it was fun to watch and while the nods to comics are fun I actually want stories I haven’t already read already.
In conclusion, if you hated the Mandarin in this story try to think of it this way. There really is a character out there called the Mandarin, but no one has seen him, so it was easy to hire an actor to pretend to be him. So this was really just a setup for having the real character in the next movie. Moreover try to relax a bit and remind yourself that the comic book character is still safe and sound in his books and you can read about him anytime you want. At least until the comic book writers decide to adapt that part of the movie into the comics.