The Avengers inspired me to start sharing Marvel’s Cinematic Universe with my kids.
I wrote about it in this column at the time, but the opportunity to show my oldest son a movie where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fights The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) while Captain America (Chris Evans) helps Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) keep S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hovercraft in the air was too mind-blowing to pass up.
Needless to say, our boy, P.J., went gaga over Joss Whedon’s blockbuster. We watched it in the theater, then brought it home when it finally reached Blu-ray, which in turn gave our youngest, Brendan, a chance to see these heroes on screen. We graduated from there to the standalone origin stories in the MCU. For the most part, the kids took all of the comic action in stride. The only one we skipped was The Incredible Hulk, which – because of the character’s nature – is an angry, violent affair.
So yeah, P.J., age 9, was leaping out of his skin waiting to see Iron Man 3. I decided that since he’s seen The Avengers and the standalone Iron Man movies, he’d be cool with part three. And he was … but in hindsight, I kind of wish that I had waited.
Want to know why? Let’s invent 47 new Iron Man suits, challenge The Mandarin, rescue Pepper Potts and figure out when you can watch Iron Man 3 with your kids.
Red Flags: “Oh my God, that was really violent!”
That quote is delivered by Gwyneth Paltrow’s heroine near the end of the film’s explosive conclusion – and Pepper plays a pivotal role in this franchise, giving the Oscar-winning actress far more to do than hold Tony Stark’s clipboard and flirt.
And she’s accurate. Iron Man 3 is more violent than its predecessors, with a few key factors helping it stand out as a mature, edgy sequel.
This time, thankfully, I could go right to the source to see what worked and didn’t from a kid’s perspective. After the screening, P.J. and I talked at length about the movie … helping me realize that he didn’t really follow the twisty plot or the motivations of lead villains Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and The Mandarin.
I’m not going to get into plot spoilers here. There’s a lot to be discovered in the Iron Man screenplay, which director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce treat as a detective noir. But I do want to dig into The Mandarin, because his campaign of domestic terror bothered my son the most, and it’s easy to understand why.
As played by Sir Ben Kingsley, The Mandarin is an opportunistic, media-savvy criminal with a Middle Eastern appearance and a serious ax to grind with our President. He regularly seizes control of the U.S. airwaves, televising threatening and violent messages meant to instill fear in the American public.
They effectively instilled fear in my son … particularly one uncomfortable scene where The Mandarin appears to assassinate an accountant on live TV.
At the same time, the violence associated with Killian and his soldiers – glowing warriors enhanced by an Extremis technology – didn’t affect my son nearly as much as the actions of The Mandarin, who just comes across as a more credible, less comic-based threat. And he should. It’s important to the story Black wants to tell. There’s also an irony to this that you will realize once you see the film and learn a truth about Kingsley’s villain. But for the bulk of Iron Man 3, Mandarin can intimidate younger audiences.
The language was crude, given the fact that this is a Marvel movie that is designed – to a certain extent – to appeal to younger audiences who read comics. Part of that has to do with Stark’s personality. He’s a callous, egotistical womanizer who might be a hero, but can’t completely shake his old ways. "Pussy," "God damn" and "son of a bitch" caught my ear. Once, Pepper invited Tony to join her in the shower. P.J. didn’t bat an eye at them. Yes, I’m probably overly sensitive, but I’ve found that curse words are HUGE with our third grader as he's starting to learn about them from school friends. I wonder if they’re big with your kids around this time, as well.
Green Lights: “You know who I am.”
At the same time, this is an Iron Man movie, and it comes with all the Marvel bells and whistles comic fans crave from these effects-driven blockbusters.
Marvel wisely is pouring its profits back into its second Phase. The action sequences in Iron Man 3 are Grade-A, with the conclusion rising to the level of the New York City fight that wrapped The Avengers.
I found it really interesting that Iron Man 3 goes out of its way to carry over an emotional connection from Whedon’s film, as well. Stark – a human being in a metallic suit – is profoundly affected by the extraordinary (and terrifying) things he witnessed in Manhattan, and that cloud lingers over the story in this sequel.
A lot of kids who check out Iron Man 3 will connect to Ty Simpkins' character, who arrives in the middle of the movie when Tony detours to Tennessee. The young boy, an inventor by nature, helps ground Tony while also assisting him on the narrative’s central mystery. The two actors form a nice dynamic that brings out the humanity that lurks beneath Downey’s arrogance.
It has to be noted that Iron Man 3 suffers a bit of iron deficiency. There’s a lot of Tony Stark, but he’s out of his signature suit(s) for long periods of time.
When Iron Man 3 is firing on all cylinders, however, the eye-popping effects and tech-driven action sequences are worth the price of a 3D IMAX ticket. The decimation of Stark’s Malibu mansion, the aerial rescue outside of Air Force One, and the final confrontation with Killian’s Extremis warriors are the types of scenes that lure audiences to theaters in the summertime.
I mentioned in the intro that I kind of wish I’d waited with P.J. to bring him to see Iron Man 3. The Mandarin is a militaristic and cruel villain who is more realistic than Loki, Red Skull or the usual cache of comic-book criminals. And Stark - because he’s the billionaire playboy - comes with a sexist and chauvinistic atmosphere that’s not tailored to kids.
But when Iron Man is soaring, the movie soars with him. In hindsight, I’d say that 11- and 12-year-old kids who are familiar with the Marvel movies can handle Iron Man 3. But it’s meaner, and more mature, than the previous two Iron Man movies, so parents who are on the fence might want to preview before you decide to share this sequel with your kids.
As always, if you do take your kids to Iron Man 3, please let me know how it goes!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.