A Tale of Two Tuesdays…

…written on a Saturday.

(WARNING: Will contain spoilers.)

Back in May I went to the cinema twice, each time on a Tuesday (because that’s the day I can get in cheap with my discount card), and these are the films I saw:-

Iron Man 3

Okay, so there is a new menace on the block, a ruthless terrorist known as The Mandarin, and he’s threatening the US in oh so many ways. Cue Tony Stark/Iron Man making himself a target to draw the bad guy out, but he succeeds a little too well, and ends up in boonies USA with only a kid to help him out. Of course you can’t keep a hero of IM’s calibre down for long, so he eventually tracks down The Mandarin only to find that the guy is a front for homegrown baddies Advanced Idea Mechanics, led by a couple of people Tony snubbed back in the day. And cut to the no holds barred showdown.

Mixed feelings about this. It was better than the second, but not as good as the first. Robert Downey Jr was, as ever, riveting as wisecracking Tony Stark, the playboy genius in a metal suit, a role that he has truly made his own, to the point that I will now never be able to imagine anyone else as Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow provides sterling back-up as the feisty Pepper Potts, a woman who knows her own mind and can give Tony a piece of it when his own is lacking. I liked the rest of the supporting cast as well, some well rounded characters given flesh by skilled actors, and the scenes with the young boy were a comedy delight. Of course, this is a superhero movie, and there was plenty of the kind of action you’d expect, with loads of explosions and derring-do, cinema as pure spectacle, with an army of Iron Men taking on a host of fiery bad guys in the finale.

So what’s not to like? Well, there were moments when Ben Kingsley threatened to steal the film as the megalomaniacal Mandarin, a distillation of pure evil, and then they went and pissed it all away by showing him as a whiny English thespian playing straight man to the real villain, Aldrich Killian of AIM. It sounds like a clever plot twist in principle, but I hated it. The Mandarin was one of the iconic villains of the Marvel Age of Comics, a character I grew up with, and here they just trivialised him. You can of course find all sorts of subtexts, such as fear of the yellow peril shown as unfounded while the true bad guy, as ever, is the representative of corporate America (and there is an element of chauvinism in that interpretation), but to me it simply felt wrong, a travesty of all that I’d expected, the monster having his mask taken away in the final reel. So yes, I enjoyed this film, it had so much going for it, plenty of bang for your buck, but in my heart I felt cheated.

Give me back my Mandarin, you bastards.

Oh yeah, Stan Lee showed up as a beauty pageant judge.

Star Trek – Into Darkness

The second film in the Trek franchise reboot opens with Kirk breaking the Prime Directive on an alien planet to save Spock’s life. He is relieved of command of the Enterprise, but you can’t keep a good man down and no sooner has the terrorist Harrison launched an attack on Star Fleet than Kirk is back in the saddle and charged with tracking the enemy down and bringing him back to face justice. The mission is slightly complicated by the fact that Harrison is hiding on a planet in Klingon space. In fact not a lot here is what it first seems – Harrison is revealed as Khan, one of fifty odd superior beings bred for war in a previous age and kept in cryogenic suspension ever since, and Khan’s end game is to set his comrades free, but he himself, along with the Enterprise, is being used in a plot by a Star Fleet admiral who wants to spark a war with the Klingons.

I don’t have any reservations about this, aside from a few plot elements which seemed slightly off kilter, but as a big budget space action movie it hit all the right spots. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto et al were fine in roles that didn’t really require much of them except to throw themselves around in a heroic manner and emote manly friendship, though we get a bit more depth/range courtesy of a Spock/Uhura romance, exploring the former’s ability to feel and the latter’s coping ability when confronted with a man so emotionally stunted as to pass for a borderline sociopath. Simon Pegg’s Scotty provided a smidgen of humour, though at times this seemed slightly forced. Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan acted everyone else off the screen, and held the viewer mesmerised for any scene in which he appeared, and the character was far from being unsympathetic, as there was some justice to his cause if not his methods. There were plenty of battles, both between individuals and starships, and it all kept you on the edge of your seat and eyes wide at what was appearing on the screen, wondering how they could top that. At the end, as with Iron Man 3, the real enemy turned out to be ‘one of our own’ pursuing a personal agenda – this seems to be an emerging Hollywood trope, never blame the outsider, never admit that anyone other than those already in the gang could destroy the gang, a curious form of self-deception at the societal level, but at the same time probably a good thing as the power of right wing groups with their hate filled agendas grows. Or perhaps there’s a more subtle subtext/comment, with the terrorist Khan the creation of the society he has set out to undermine.

Which film did I prefer?

Oh, Make Mine Marvel, for all its flaws.

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