It turns out that the Mandarin is actually an actor, and a bad one — a Cockney hired from the fringes of the British stage scene by mastermind Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). We first begin to suspect the Mandarin isn’t actually a terrorist when we meet him behind the scenes — he’s warning a couple of gorgeous babes he shares a bed with that after his latest trip to the bathroom, “You might want to give that 20 minutes.”
Millions of fans too young to remember 9/11 will line up to see Iron Man 3, but it’s not just to them that Hollywood’s leading filmmakers have a duty. Reducing the alarmingly durable threat of Islamist fundamentalism to potty humor is an insult not just to Daniel Pearl’s family but to the millions of Americans who continue to wage the War on Terror. It’s as if, a decade after Hitler, a movie portrayed a Hitler-like villain as a harmless oaf who was no threat to anyone.
Am I asking too much of a comic book movie? Actually, I’m asking very little. The Dark Knight films proved that a superhero series can reflect serious real-world issues in an adult way, to a large and appreciative audience. Most blockbuster movies are, of course, lightweight and meaningless. But though the first two Iron Man films, especially the second one, engaged with the real world in an interesting way, the third entry is worse than silly: It’s frivolous. With respect to the War on Terror, it’s a travesty.