Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Iron Man 3 Treats Islamist Terror Like a Joke

Warning: some spoilers are necessary to diagnose the film's shameful, cowardly values.

John Boot


May 3, 2013 - 7:30 am

There’s nothing that makes Hollywood more nervous than portraying Islamist terror. As far back as 1994, James Cameron’s True Lies was denounced as racially insensitive for imagining a chillingly plausible Islamist terror threat involving nuclear weapons. Cameron, anticipating accusations of unfairly linking terrorism with Islam and Arabs, took care to try for “balance” by placing an Arab-American character on the good guys’ side (the actor who played him, Grant Heslov, this year won an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo). Yet the advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) slammed the film anyway. The hysterical 1998 movie The Siege imagined that, in an overreaction to a terrorist attack, Brooklyn would be placed under martial law and all young Muslim men would be interned in Yankee Stadium. Ridiculous.

Since 2001, of course, Hollywood has almost completely avoided showing any Muslim involved in terror, changing the bad guys in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears from Palestinians to neo-Nazis. The 2005 Jodie Foster movie Flightplan, about an abduction on an airplane, used a hint that Arabs might be responsible as a red herring. The actual villain: an all-American air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard. Several Middle East themed movies like Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies essentially saw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamists, saying both sides were up to comparably nasty stuff in the War on Terror.

Iron Man, though, is a smart franchise and initially, despite its comic-book soul, took an admirably unsympathetic view to Islamist terror, portraying Tony Stark as an unapologetic arms merchant who properly believed his weapons were keeping America safe from the barbarians, and who was in turn kidnapped and abused by Taliban-types in Afghanistan who hoped to get him to make a weapon for them. There’s a nice scene in which Tony uses his Iron Man suit to rescue innocent Afghan villagers from their evil oppressors.

Yet Iron Man 3 is a huge step backward that openly mocks the War on Terror via the villain the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). With Islamic imagery introducing his regular hijacking of TV airwaves, he denounces America and warns of more terrorist attacks such as the one at a Chinese theater in L.A. in which a human bomb detonates, Palestinian jihadist-style, in a crowd, nearly killing Tony’s bodyguard (Jon Favreau).

The Mandarin (despite being based on a Chinese character in the Iron Man comics) is meant to remind us of Osama Bin Laden and the Islamist brutes who beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl on camera for the crime of being Jewish. The Mandarin does something very much like this in Iron Man 3.

And yet the character is apparently supposed to be… an American. Who, by his accent, is from the south or perhaps the rural West. Tony quips that the Mandarin “talks like a Baptist preacher.”

What’s going on here? In an age of repeated attempted attacks, some of them successful, by foreign-born Islamist savages, is the director, Shane Black, who wrote the muddled script with Drew Pearce, trying to make the case that it’s homegrown Americans we need to be worried about? Is he afraid to be accused of racism if he depicts terrorists as what they tend to be in reality — foreign Muslims?

Spoiler alert: Read no farther if you don’t want a central plot twist ruined. But what happens in the second half of the movie is critical to understanding the spinelessness of Hollywood and its revolting willingness to reduce the War on Terror to a cheap laugh.

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.

John Boot is the pen name of a conservative writer operating under deep cover in the liberal media.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
There was a Blue Bloods a few weeks back that had a Catholic father honor killing his daughter for converting to Islam. What real true incident could that have been based upon? Good luck in finding one.

Before WWII, Hollywood mocked the Nazis (Charlie Chaplain, The Marx Brothers). Now, against the present tyrant wannabees? LOL. The cowardice of our artistic community is despicable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (30)
All Comments   (30)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
I too was hoping for the Mandarin the trailers led us to believe we'd be getting, and the big bad being yet another scientist-businessman was a bit of a disappointing rehash. But conservative reviewers aren't doing us any favors by reaching this far to find political connotations wherever we can kinda sorta glean them by squinting the right way. We shouldn't moderate our views or be afraid to call out elephants in the room, but at the same time we have to avoid giving the impression that we're obsessively unable to see things outside of our political prism or to recognize the context of things outside that prism.

First, neither the Mandarin nor the terrorists of the first IM were ever identified as Islamic terrorists or affiliated with real-world terrorists. As others here have pointed out, Mandarin's trappings & symbolism are primarily Chinese/Mongolian not due to political correctness, but because those are the character's roots, which predate Islamofascism as subject of American political debate. To infer that because he's a media concoction in the movie, therefore we're meant to believe our real jihadist enemies are similarly fabricated is something the movie never says. Yes, it would be refreshing to see our pop-culture heroes take on America's real enemies, but to berate a film for not joining that fight seems too reminiscent of the Left's obsession with politicizing all aspects of life. Let comic-book escapism simply be comic-book escapism.

Second, the real villains are scientific/business contemporaries of Tony Stark because the trend in writing many of these superhero movies is to make the protagonist and antagonist reflections of each other in various ways, as well as to give their conflict personal stakes through shared back-stories. Yes, this is often unnecessary and overdone, but call it what it is: an artistic shortcoming, not a political one. After all, last time I checked, the Iron Man series' hero is still a billionaire entrepreneur and business owner, too.

Third, the review omits several details that contradict the idea that Iron Man 3 is some anti-American, liberal screed. For example:

- War Machine being re-named Iron Patriot and having his armor re-painted red, white, and blue: First, the movie has a running joke about the heroes preferring the name "War Machine," which the clueless politicians changed because they thought it too politically incorrect. Second, the missions we see him going on - unilaterally bursting into various locations in the Middle East, demanding answers at gunpoint, seems like exactly the sort of cowboy diplomacy liberals want nothing to do with, yet here it's portrayed as just fine. He even frees a room-ful of women in burqas!

- No indication of the president's party or politics is given, but it is shown that his basically hawkish stance is consistent with his personal courage. Not once is it suggested that he's a "warmonger" for wanting to take the fight to the Mandarin.

- There's an line about how the real villain, Killian, is going to execute the president atop a ship owned by a fictional oil company because oil companies are easily-villified in the public eye. If IM3 is to be blamed for allegedly painting Islam as a victim of scapegoating, doesn't it deserve at least a little credit for the more-explicit admission that one of the Left's favorite boogeyman is a victim of scapegoating?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"With Islamic imagery introducing his regular hijacking of TV airwaves..."

Uh...that was Mongolian script, not Arabic. And while the crossed swords certainly reminded me of the Saudi coat of arms, they are not a symbol specific to Islam and could potentially be used by any terrorist group.

In the comics the Mandarin was half-Mongol half-British. In the film he wears a Chinese-style tunic and makes references to "Chinese" culture in his recordings. And while his face and beard certainly make him look Arab, if the film actually intended him to be Arab you'd think they would've put him in Islamic garb rather than a kimono and actually used Arabic script and not Mongolian. The fact that he turns out to be a fully-British guy instead a half-British half-Mongol guy has nothing to do with Islam and the film is not trying to divert our attention from it. Relax.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your criticism is overhyped and more than a bit off the mark.

First, for you to say that "...despite its comic-book soul, took an admirably unsympathetic view to Islamist terror" is needlessly insulting. Superheroes, especially the Lee/Kirby heroes these movies are based on, were created mostly by Jews of the 1930s, WWII veterans or both. These are people who knew what evil looked like up close and weren't afraid to call it such. Suggesting that having comics as source material allows you to assume that it's going to be soft on terrorism is just wrong. And citing the Dark Knight films as a positive standard shows you're not just wrong, you're thoughtless. "The Dark Knight" included some pretty obvious slaps at G.W. Bush, the Patriot Act and the WoT generally.

The Mandarin as he was originally presented in the comics was a horrendous Chinese stereotype. Putting him in a modern film in anything resembling his original form is completely unthinkable. What you obviously don't realize is that A.I.M. and the Roxxon Oil Company are long-established malefactors in the Marvel Universe. Making them the bad guys instead of terrorists (and having them blame ersatz terrorists in order to play both sides) isn't being soft on Muslim terror, it's being faithful to the source material.

This was a movie that was aimed at people like me, adults who grew up reading comics and appreciate seeing them taken seriously on screen. I'm sorry you were disappointed that it wasn't a hard-hitting, realistic docudrama but you may want to consider the possibility that you're not the target audience.

Now if you want to complain that there was way too much Gweneth Paltrow I'll agree with you wholeheartedly.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Muddled script indeed.

1. Will audiences ever tire of supremely rich and powerful villains who have the power to control all broadcast airwaves at will?

2. Why would those wounded American soldiers repaired by the mysterious DNA process turn against their country? Pepper didn't.

3. Why does a villain have so many dimwitted henchmen willing to die for a madman villain? What's in it for them? Joker, I'm asking you, too: what power do you have over your henchmen?

4. Why is the villain always a string-pulling American or UK guy instead of the actual badguy actors on the world stage? (See the new Bond films, as well.)

5. True Lies is the only Cameron film not out on Blu-ray. It's Bond With Family Values fighting a real enemy...and, sadly, will never be equaled. Closest recent film: "Taken" with Liam Neeson, who sanctioned with extreme prejudice eastern European and Middle Eastern white slavers -- an issue that's actually current.

6. On the other hand, I could see Joe Biden doing what the IM3 VP did.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Actually I pretty much enjoyed Iron Man 3. I don't think movies should be structured around political correctness, or how things should be viewed. Frankly, fears that "young people" will see this and decide Muslim terrorists are harmless seem a bit overwrought to me. For one thing, the movie makes the point that the main bad guy can masquerade as a Muslim terrorist because they (Muslim terrorists) are so dangerous.

Also, in these movies people fly around, walk through fires, get shot and don't fall over, etc. Anyone who takes political thinking from this sort of thing is shallow enough that there's probably not much hope anyway. And the President and Vice-President are both portrayed in a neutral fashion. As far as I could tell, a party affiliation is never even hinted at.

It's a superhero movie. Trying to read too much into the plot, detecting underlying subtexts and so forth, is a bit much. As my wife is fond of saying, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

As for movies with Muslim terrorists as bad guys, check out "Rules of Engagement." It was written by Jim Webb, the Senator from VA. He was a Marine in Viet Nam and had a 2nd career for years writing novels, some of which were pretty good. If you haven't seen the movie, it's definitely worth it...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I disagree. I saw the movie this weekend and I don't think it treated Islamic terror as a joke. It didn't deal with Islamic terror at all. What it did do was resort to what is now the biggest Hollywood cliche since "all bad guys wear black hats." Which is: "All problems are caused by greedy/insane capitalists and their government lapdogs." I knew who the Mandarin was going to be about ten minutes into the movie. It's a bad story. Not a bad script - I enjoyed, as usual, the amusing quips and the banter between Tony Stark and the other characters. I even found the "Mandarin" (in quotes) to be fairly amusing. But the story? Totally predictable.

I know this is just another superhero movie. Superheroes are cliches in and of themselves. But the plot, the villain - I've seen the same old thing in dozens of movies and hundreds of TV episodes: the terrorists are not who you think they are.

The narrative is: Those people in funny clothes with funny accents aren't the real terrorists. The real terrorists are always from right here in the good old USA - corrupt, greedy businessmen and/or corrupt, greedy, jingoistic politicians. These evil men cleverly created the appearance of a foreign terrorist threat in order to advance their own evil ambitions. Osama, McVeigh, etc. - all red herrings designed to distract the gullible American citizen so the fat cats pick his pockets and take away his freedom.

And should it happen that some little brown people DO murder some innocent Americans, it's because they have legitimate grievances against the United States AND because they've been paid off, armed, and otherwise enabled by the aforesaid evil corporate/government cabal.

One can debate the accuracy of this narrative - I'm sure some commenters here and elsewhere will swear it's God's own truth. But as a plot element, I wouldn't touch it if I were starving for a story. It's no longer an interesting idea for a writer to play with or explore. It doesn't lead anyplace I haven't already visited. It is way past its freshness date. It's farshimmelt. It's so stale I can almost smell it during the opening credits. I know it's coming. Every. Single. Time.

Yawn. Please, Hollywood, show me something I haven't seen a million times before.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Executive Decision. 1996. Kurt Russell stops islamic terrorists from using an airplane to attack the USA. Ahead of it's time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Is Samuel Jackson (that vile and vulgar leftist) in this episode.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Can we please retire the made up P.C. term "Islamist" and use the accurate term "Muslim".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Does anyone expect anything different? If you do you are a bigger fool the the fake mandarin.

Who still pays money to go to a theatre to watch this tripe?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All