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A place for off-topic thoughts: Comic books, movies, television and whatever

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spoiler Review: Iron Man 3

I hate to sound like a broken record, but Iron Man 3 was a fun movie that managed to annoy me just enough to vent my spleen about it. This is not so much a review as "grumpy old man time."

Major, major spoilers ensue.

Seriously, if you haven't seen the movie, turn back now.

OK, it's on you.

I enjoyed much of Iron Man 3, the first Marvel Universe movie coming off The Avengers, which I loved to pieces. It built from The Avengers nicely, with Tony Stark struggling to make sense of all he experienced in that cosmic battle. So far, so good.

But while IM3 was plenty of fun, and by no means bad, I found myself scratching my head over some of its plot developments and even moreso its marketing.

The marketing first, because it doesn't really reflect on the movie. The trailers for IM3 basically give away massive plot points from the movie's final act, including the attack on Air Force One and the multi-suit deployment. It was clear from the first time Air Force One showed up on screen, much too early, how the mid-air rescue from the trailer was going to go, not to mention the fact that the trailer also showed fairly clearly how Tony was going to pull off the rescue.

Similarly, the deployment of Tony's closet full of Iron Man suits was featured so prominently that when it finally arrived it made that scene exactly the opposite of what it should have been -- an "oh yeah" moment, instead of an "oh wow" moment. I find it hard to believe that a trailer disguising these two key moments in the movie couldn't somehow have been concocted.

On to the movie itself.

In my extremely-similar-to-this review Dark Knight Rises critique, which inexplicably still pulls a lot of traffic, I complained about that film's bait-and-switch regarding Ra's Al Ghul. My objection to that moment pales comparison to what Iron Man 3 does with the Mandarin, one of the Iron Man comic book's most venerable villains, played here by Ben Kingsley.

If you were looking forward to seeing the Mandarin based on the comics, you were well and truly out of luck. Instead of getting Tony Stark's version of Lex Luthor, we got a terrifically menacing and creepy ultraterrorist who halfway through the movie turns out to be a drug-addled actor fronting for Aldrich Killiam, the just-fine-but-no-Ben-Kingsley head of an evil think tank, A.I.M.

Don't get me wrong, Killiam (played by Guy Pearce) was not bad here, but the first half of the movie features a spectacularly awesome villain who just fizzles into nothingness in a particularly undignified manner, starting with a toilet joke and going downhill from there. And you're left with a boring corporate type whose motivation (no joke) stems from the fact Tony Stark was mean to him many years ago (which he frankly deserved).

Despite his not being Ben Kingsley, Killiam does manage to put Tony through the wringer. And Tony makes it much easier for him by spending most of the movie out of his armor, which brings us to the second big buzzkill.

Early in the film, Tony gets walloped by a series of missile strikes fired from helicopters. Somehow this doesn't seem like something that could take Iron Man out, but OK, it does. Crashing in Tennessee, his armor damaged and in need of repair, Tony embarks on what is admittedly very entertaining banter with a young boy and a series of challenges to his life from A.I.M. minions while he seeks out the Mandarin and tries to figure out the big conspiracy.

What is difficult to comprehend here is why.

I mean, I get why from a psychological standpoint. Tony's messed up after the cosmic war in New York, anxiety-stricken and wondering how his tin suits can protect him from gods, aliens and planetary level threats. He needs to learn that the suit is just a suit, and that his brain is the weapon. That's a fine journey for this character.

The problem is that he's facing down a terrorist who has killed dozens or hundreds or something already, who has evaded the entire might of the U.S. government, is threatening an even-more massive attack that could destabilize the whole country, while also menacing his sweetheart, Pepper Potts.

Dude, breathe into a paper bag, put an Iron Man suit and take care of business. You can feel sorry for yourself later.

Although there are some vague allusions to needing time to get his multi-suit army online, it's not adequately clear that he couldn't have invoked this option when he calls Pepper from the phone booth. More to the point, it's extremely hard to imagine that Stark Industries -- or the government -- doesn't have a couple of Iron Man or Iron Patriot suits stashed in locations around the country for just this kind of eventuality. Like just for instance, in Stark Industries' New York office tower, where we saw several during The Avengers. His latest suit is the Mark 42 -- but we only see about a dozen in play. Where are the other 30?

Once A.I.M. discovers Tony is still alive, which happens pretty damn quick, there's no imaginable scenario in which it makes sense for an armorless Tony to storm the Mandarin's stronghold by himself. Even if he's too much of a wreck to suit up himself, why not call the coordinates into Seal Team Six instead of wasting hours on a road trip? We're all glad you found your mojo again, Tony, but did you have to imperil the free world to do it?

If you're willing to turn off (or at least turn down) your brain, Iron Man 3 is still a cool ride with plenty of laughs and great moments. But given that the movie is all about smarts as the ultimate weapon, that's kind of an ironic demand, isn't it?

End grumpy rant.




Jihad Joe by J.M. Berger Jihad Joe is the first comprehensive history of the American jihadist movement, tracking the phenomenon from the 1970s to the present. The book has been praised in reviews by the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, the Washington Times,, Library Journal and more. It is available in hardcover eveywhere books are sold, as well as Kindle, Nook and Google ebook editions.


ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. BergerJessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the new book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, on sale now, examines the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy and a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.

Read an excerpt in The Atlantic | Listen to an audiobook excerpt

Buy now | Buy Kindle version


Spoiler Review: The Dark Knight Rises

OSINT on Terrorism and Extremism, Social Media Monitoring, Analysis and Strategies | Read More...


For NPR's On the Media, J.M. Berger dissected problems with the coverage of Inspire Magazine.

J.M. Berger discussed the Boston Marathon bombing with BBC television and radio, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Berger also wrote about the attack for Foreign Policy and spoke with reporters from The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, the Christian Science Monitor, Radio Australia, AFP and many others.

J.M. Berger discussed the State Department's counterterrorism initiatives on social media with the Associated Press.

The Associated Press spoke with J.M. Berger about the recent reward offered for the arrest of American jihadi Omar Hammami

Wired covered a story first broken on INTELWIRE about American Al Shabab member Omar Hammami denying he wrote the jihadist raps attributed to him. "The raps were pretty terrible," J.M. Berger told Wired. "If he's not responsible for even one, that's a black mark erased from his record."

J.M. Berger was quoted in a Buzzfeed story on the Christopher Dorner case.

Berger was quoted in several recent stories on terrorist use of the Internet, including the suspension of Al Shabab's Twitter account. Associated Press, LA Times, Al Jazeera, Washington Times, Toronto Star.

CNN's Starting Point (above) and Out Front with Erin Burnett invited J.M. Berger to reveal new details about Wisconsin white supremacist shooter Wade Page and his recent encounters with law enforcement sources investigating domestic terrorism.

Berger was quoted in stories on on Wade Page, the white supremacist who opened fire on a Sikh religious assembly in Oak Creek, Wisc., by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and more.


New America Foundation panel, "Infiltration and Surveillance: Countering Homegrown Terrorism," with J.M. Berger and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman.


J.M. Berger was named one of Foreign Policy's Twitterati 100, "the 100 Twitter feeds you need to follow to make sense of" global turmoil and conflict.

In an exclusive report for Foreign Policy, J.M. Berger reveals the reason that Somalia's Al Shabab wants to kill American jihadist Omar Hammami.

J.M. Berger's investigative piece Patriot Games: How the FBI spent a decade hunting white supremacists and missed Timothy McVeigh was named a long-form journalism pick of the week from

INTELWIRE and J.M. Berger were quoted in a New York Times story on the latest Al Qaeda terror scare.


  • Homegrown violent extremism (HVE and CVE)
  • Terrorist and extremist use of the Internet
  • Lone wolf and loosely networked terrorism
  • American jihadists including Anwar Awlaki
  • History of jihadist terrorism in the U.S.
  • History of right-wing extremism in the U.S.
  • Al Qaeda infiltration and targeting of U.S. military
  • Early Al Qaeda history and structure
  • Terrorist tactics and financing
  • Jihadist activity during Bosnian civil war
  • Document research and FOIA


    New York Times: "a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective"

    Washington Times: "How these American jihadists became radicalized, recruited and trained... constitute the core of Mr. Berger's important book."

    Zenpundit: "Berger neither condemns nor excuses: he sees, he asks, he researches, he reports. ... a book to read... a book to admire." "well-researched and incredibly accessibly presented history of American involvement in violent jihad."

    Publisher's Weekly: "lifts the veil on the phenomenon of American jihadists..."

    Library Journal: "an easy read... the better choice for those seeking ... objective [journalism]."

    Buy "Jihad Joe" now!