Heroes And Hypocrisy: Batman Begins vs. Iron Man 3

Batman Begins Iron Man 3The following article contains spoilers for Batman Begins and Iron Man 3.

Ever since 2005, when Christopher Nolan opened The Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, comic book fans and general moviegoers have been unanimous in their praise of his singular vision. In particular, they’ve commended the way in which he overlooked or nigh-on reinvented established characters to better fit his own take on the source material.

The more unlikely villains in Batman’s rogue gallery were ostracised for fear that they detract from the film’s more realistic feel, while others like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman were toned down and never referred to by name; Robin was all but left out as Nolan sought a more serious tone, one that had little room for a Boy Wonder; and finally, unable to settle on a love-interest from the character’s seventy-odd-year history, he fabricated one of his own: Rachel Dawes.

One year on from the trilogy’s completion, following the release of The Dark Knight Rises last summer, Nolan’s trilogy is widely regarded one of the best — if not quintessential — series in the genre. After all, it saved DC’s Batman franchise from an early grave dug by Joel Schumachar, and simultaneously appealed to more casual cinemagoers previously put off by the character’s sillier elements. It even won a couple of Oscars for its efforts.

From this example you’d expect faithfulness to rank pretty lowly on audiences’ individual checklists. Put a great director in charge of a comic book adaptation (preferably one coming off the back of a lesser instalment) and let them make the best movie they can, just so long as they pick and choose enough elements from the source material so that it is still recogniseable, if only in name. Not so, it seems.

Having united each of its constituent franchises (and, it seems, every audience member alive today) in 2012’s The Avengers, rival studio Marvel finally moved into phase two of its plans for a cinematic universe. Hiring another filmmaker straight out of left-field, Marvel put Iron Man 3 in the hands of Shane Black, then best known as the writer of Lethal Weapon and the director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Like Christopher Nolan, Shane Black was an auteur, and one who was only too happy to bend the source material to meet his own directorial style. But where Nolan was commended for his changes, Black was criticised; suddenly it was disrespectful to drop characters, an insult to mess with established canon and irreverent to make your own movie, rather than that desired by the audience at large.

The main point of contention here is The Mandarin. Whereas Nolan could reinvent Ra’s al Ghul — for fear that pitting Christian Bale against a 600-year-old martial artist who digs magic holes might stretch credibility — Black, it appears, couldn’t. In the comics, The Mandarin is a racist stereotype with ten mystic rings capable of doing everything from rearranging matter to disintegrating foes. This time it seems that is what must be delivered, and nothing else.

But Black didn’t. Like Nolan’s insistance that Batman is a symbol and not just a man, Black pursued an alternative approach: as with Ra’s al Ghul, The Mandarin is presented as a decoy, a man playing a part while the real villain operates in the shadows. Ben Kingsley threatened to steal the film as out-of-work actor Trevor Slattery, the mouthpiece for Guy Pearce’s true villain. Unlike the case of Ra’s al Ghul, the fans weren’t having it.

The only difference between the two approaches that I can see is that while Nolan delivered a trilogy packed with pretense and cod-philosophy, delivering a psuedo-intellectual film that could be held up as proof that comic book movies aren’t just for children, Black treated Iron Man 3 as one big, universal joke. But rather than enjoy the wit and humour of Black’s misdirection, the fans have taken offence at it, viewing such flippancy as an attack on the characters and culture that they hold so dear.

But it’s the same situation: auteurs imposing their own style on a beloved character, often at the expense of convention and canon. Both are solid, worthy movies, it’s just that Black decided to make his fun to boot. Really fun.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

4 Responses to Heroes And Hypocrisy: Batman Begins vs. Iron Man 3

  1. Tom Beasley says:

    This is a very interesting perspective. I was never that big a fan of Nolan’s Batman films.

    My only disagreement from you would be that you see Black’s jokey approach as a good thing. I agree that he turned the Iron Man franchise into one “big, universal joke,” I thought this really detracted from the drama and the action, especially in the case of the Mandarin.

    • I must admit, I was taken aback myself when The Mandarin’s true identity was first revealed, but I (and, by the sounds of it, a fairly large part of the audience) couldn’t help but laugh.

      I do have my issues with Iron Man 3, but the fact that it was funny is not one of them. To me it’s always going to be a saving grace.

  2. Pingback: Some thoughts on Iron Man 3 and the Mandarin (spoilers) | The Popcorn Muncher

  3. Pingback: May 2013 – I’ve got a tank on my ass! | popcornaddict

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