Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 4: ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’

thor-fightI’m now halfway through the Marvel blog-a-thon, and up next is a pair of sequels: “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.” “Iron Man 3” was well-received by critics but proved to be a bit polarizing among fans due to its villain “bait and switch.” “Thor: The Dark World” performed well in theaters but is one of the lower-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe films, according to Rotten Tomatoes. How well do these films hold up to repeat viewings?

Iron Man 3 (2013)

“Iron Man 3” was the first solo MCU film after the epic team-up “The Avengers.” I remember there being some concern as to how well these solo films would play after such a large-scale event movie like “The Avengers.” Would these smaller films now feel like a bit of a letdown? However, with a $175 million opening weekend, “Iron Man 3” proved audiences were still very much on board with more stories about these individual superheroes.

I’ve already commented many times during this blog-a-thon how much I love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark, so I won’t fill up another paragraph here. 😉 Downey still seems to enjoy playing this character, and I think the MCU owes much of its early success to him.

Whether you love “Iron Man 3” or hate it, one of the good things about this movie is that it does make an effort to be something different. It’s not just a retread of the first “Iron Man” film (“Iron Man 2” perhaps tried too hard to copy its predecessor). The film allows the hero to have some surprisingly vulnerable moments, showing some of Tony Stark’s panic attacks after the events in “The Avengers.” It’s completely understandable that he would have lingering anxiety after what would have been the extremely traumatic experience of fighting aliens and flying a bomb up through a wormhole into space. Sometimes superheroes in films seem invincible — physically, mentally and emotionally — and I’m glad Marvel let us see a (slightly) more realistic portrayal of how a superhero might deal with the aftermath of an event on the scale of the New York attack.

What divides some fans on this film is its portrayal of the main villain, Tony’s famous arch-nemesis the Mandarin. In the film, Tony discovers the Mandarin isn’t real: he’s just a character portrayed by a bumbling actor named Trevor Slattery who’s been hired by a scientist to create a distraction by spreading terror (I’ve got to hand it to Marvel — I definitely didn’t see that coming!). “The Mandarin” is just a smoke screen for the real villain, Aldrich Killian. While the twist did not bother me, I can see why some fans were upset; this is a well-known Iron Man villain, and some fans felt betrayed. I love the bait and switch concept in itself, but maybe Marvel could have done this with another villain and saved the Mandarin for a future film, with a portrayal that was more in line with what fans were hoping for. Still, I think there definitely is a chance the whole Mandarin thing could be a double blind; maybe Slattery is only playing dumb and is actually using Killian, who only thinks he’s using Slattery. We’ll have to see if Marvel returns to this villain in the future.

That being said, I think the themes in “Iron Man 3” are very relevant, and feel perhaps even more relevant now than when the film was released. Our enemies are becoming more and more difficult to identify or capture. Like the Mandarin in this film, today’s terrorists are using smaller-scale attacks to create fear, further spreading that fear through media. I think we’re drawn to films like “Iron Man 3” because we want to believe that there are still heroes in this world and that evil doesn’t have to win.

Anyway, I’ve spent too much time talking about “Iron Man 3.” 😉 Let’s move on to Thor’s sequel…

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Although not as polarizing as “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” is one of the lower-rated Marvel films. After watching it again, I’ve decided that it will probably end up at the bottom of my revised ranking. I did have a blast watching this in the theater; I went to see it with a bunch of friends who are also huge Marvel fans, and there are a number of fun (and funny) moments in this movie. However, the overall plot is not one of Marvel’s strongest and the film’s villain is one of the most under-developed.

The film’s primary villains are the Dark Elves, led by the vengeful Malekith. Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston, who is perhaps best known as the Ninth Doctor on “Doctor Who.” Eccleston is a fine actor, but he’s not given enough to work with here. Despite how cool and eerie the Dark Elves look in this movie, Malekith remains a vague and generic villain. I would have liked to see more background on the Dark Elves. What is their history and culture? How do they fit into this larger universe? Malekith needs more personality (again, this is the script’s fault, not Eccleston’s); he’s definitely evil but he’s not as intriguing as Loki or as scary as Ultron.

I also wish the film makers had done more to play up the significance of the Aether, a nebulous red substance that fills Malekith with a dark power he intends to use to destroy the universe. In a mid-credits scene that’s actually a teaser for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we learn the Aether is an Infinity Stone, like the Tesseract from “The Avengers.”

There are definitely some good things about this film, though. The visuals are spectacular, and I like how the film blends science fiction and fantasy. The final battle, which has Thor and Malekith dueling as they jump through portals between worlds, is pretty cool. This film also has my favorite ever Marvel cameo, having Loki briefly transform into Captain America and allowing Chris Evans to play Loki playing Captain America (it’s great).

It’s also interesting that the best part of “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t even Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth!). Hemsworth is great, as always, but Tim Hiddleston steals the show as Loki and also gets the most significant character arc. Loki has done plenty of bad things, but we never get the sense that he’s pure evil. He’s terribly conflicted, and while he resents his father Odin, he deeply loves his mother, grieving for her when she is killed protecting Thor’s girlfriend, Jane Foster. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have great chemistry, and I enjoy watching them banter as brothers. I’m also certain we haven’t seen the last of Loki, as the film’s twist ending reveals Loki is now impersonating Odin and ruling Asgard.

Up next is the double-bill I’m most excited about on the Marvel blog-a-thon list: two of my top Marvel movies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

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12 thoughts on “Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 4: ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’

  1. Nope, Marvel couldn’t have done the Mandarin Twist with another villain, because it is a very deliberate commentary which would have been lost. When the Mandarin was conceived, he was pretty much a result of anti-Asian racism, a physical representation of not so hidden fears. That’s what Iron Man 3 is commenting on with the twist, and that’s why Slattery looks vaguely Arabian, representing our current fears. The interesting part of the Marvel movies is that they sometimes reflect on the history of the company itself. Captain America commented on its role as propaganda tool, Iron Man 3 comments on the treatment of Asians characters in Comics and Agent Carter on the fact that the comic book industry sidelined female employees and writers after WW2.

    And I think the main problem with Malekith is that he isn’t threatening because he gets taken apart a little bit more each time he encounters Thor. The Cursed comes of as dangerous, he comes off as some sort of pansy who is nearly helpless without the Cursed at his side.

    • That’s a good point. Iron Man 3 certainly felt very timely, as did Captain America: The Winter Soldier. These are fun action films that also give us food for thought. That’s also a good point about Malekith; I think it’s an intriguing idea for a villain, he just needed more development.

      Thanks for commenting and stopping by!

      • I don’t think that lack of development was the problem. In a way Malekith got plenty of development, but every step on the way went wrong. If at least he had been the one who killed Frigga…but the guy isn’t even able to follow the aether properly (that part makes no sense, if Malekith follows the call of the aether, why should he fall for the fake copy of a person he never encountered before? Shouldn’t he fell where the aether actually is?)

  2. Coming from a comic reader’s perspective, I liked the twist. I’ll admit that I was a little let down not seeing the actual Mandarin but it worked within the context of the universe Marvel has been building. Besides, there is a chance we may see the actual Mandarin (it was hinted at in the one-shot All Hail the King), although I’m not holding my breath for that. I really enjoyed IM3 but one of the things that disappointed my was how narrow the extremis was shown compared to its comic book counterpart. In the comics, it literally rewrote DNA (like the movie version) so it could give essentially any super power. The giant fight scene at the end would have been a perfect showcase for this. It was nice that Tony’s enemy wasn’t another Iron Man clone.

    I seemed to like Thor: The Dark World more than most people do. What I like most about it is what you said: The relationship between Thor and Loki. Hemsworth and Hiddleston knock it out of the park on that front. And Hiddleston absolutely steals the movie. Again. Another exciting part was seeing more of Asgard outside of the palace (which was most of what we saw in Thor 1).

    Great reviews, Ashley! I’m looking forward to the next set.

    • Thanks for commenting! I have not read many of the original comics, so I always enjoy hearing what those who have read the comics have to say about these films. I’d still like to dive into the Marvel comics someday, I’m interested to see what they’ve used for these films and what they have changed. I also enjoyed seeing more of Asgard, and I love how it blends medieval-looking fantasy elements and very futuristic sci-fi. Tom Hiddleston is just great in these movies, and his character really shines in “The Dark World.” I’m really curious about what happened to Odin; did Loki imprison him as payback for his own imprisonment?

      • And I like hearing about what non-comic book readers think about them because it’s hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t know a lot about these characters or their histories. We’re learning from each other. 🙂 I think according to Norse mythology, Loki is the one responsible for starting Ragnarok (although I may be completely wrong on that), so I wonder if his kidnapping Odin will be a catalyst for that. I can’t wait until Thor: Ragnarok to find out.

  3. Really great write up! I haven’t read the comics and didn’t have any expectations about who the Mandarin was. The twist was funny to me and I liked Iron Man 3 a lot.

    The Dark World is an interesting one. I liked it but I wonder how it will hold up for me on a rewatch. Loki is so great in it, I don’t think my feelings about his chemistry with Thor will change on a rewatch. I’m pretty excited for the next Thor!

    • I had a lot of fun with The Dark World in theaters but found it didn’t hold up as well on rewatch for me. However, the Loki/Thor interactions are the best part of the movie and are definitely still fun to watch!

  4. Interesting double-bill – one of these sequels I really enjoyed; th other I cldn’t care less!

    Th 1st time I watched IM3 i fell asleep (long-dist flight); got it on disc to review it – amazed how it just didn’t grab my attention. Takes ages to get going: th main problem is it focuses on Tony Stark rather than Iron Man.
    Trying to remember just “one of those good things” about it; th helicopter attack on his swanky pad was cool, but other than that…
    On my list of Marvel movies, this would b @ th bottom (sorry!)

    Just watched Thor:DW; it began w awesome action, loved seeing more of Asgard; i dig pasty-faced villains spouting indecipherable claptrap in a deep voice, so Malekith works for me!
    SO GLAD u mentioned Evans’ cameo – it was hilarious!
    And of course, Hiddleston’s Loki is fantastic. He and Hemsworth share some great moments together: “I AM PRESSING IT GENTLY!”
    Stan Lee’s cameo is a classic!
    Drawbacks?
    What happened to Odin? Has Loki imprisoned him somewhere?! We don’t get to find out.
    The 1st scenes in London are dull – i just fast-forward them.

    Your next double-bill features 2 of Marvel Studios’ finest, so looking forward to catching your views.
    Cheers!

    • Sorry to hear you weren’t a fan of “Iron Man 3,” but that’s the great thing about the Marvel movies–there are a variety of characters and film styles so what doesn’t work for one person may work for another; there’s something for everyone! 🙂 And I just love Robert Downey Jr. as an actor so I tend to rate his Marvel movies a little higher. 😉 I loved Hiddleston and Hemsworth in “The Dark World”; their bickering and love/hate relationship is fun to watch. I’m very curious about what happened to Odin; hopefully they’ll cover that in the next movie. It’s a big cliffhanger!

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