In May 2010, both Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. fanatics were let down massively, courtesy the second installment of the Iron Man movie franchise. The success of the first movie probably led the makers to believe that anything with RDJ in a metal suit will sell. It worked. But only to a small extent. Every comic fan knew that the movie, well, sucked. Me included. Still, by October, that same year, when Marvel released news about plans to release the third movie in May 2013, every Iron Man fan quickly got their geek-citement up and running to see Tony Stark in a red-and-gold suit on the silver screen again. Me included. Then came the trailers. Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin! War Machine with a new Red White ‘n’ Blue paint job! Stark’s Malibu mansion getting pulverised! All that was a little difficult to take in, in less than 2 minutes. But the pre-release excitement didn’t end there. Rumours about the movie being based on the Extremis series came up out of nowhere around 3 weeks before the release. That got me both excited and confused. Excited because the Extremis series is one of my favourite story arcs in the Invincible Iron Man comics. Confused because if it was based on Extremis, the trailers made absolutely no sense.
Just to get some background on Extremis, “The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis” is a six-issue story arc from the Iron Man series published in 2005-06. It was written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov. Let’s just get to the comparison to understand things better.
What was similar?
A lot of the storyline. What was really impressive about Iron Man 3 was that it was, in my opinion, the comic book movie adaptation which stuck to the original storyline the most. From the encounter between Tony Stark and Maya Hansen when they were younger, to the fire-breathing Extremis subjects. The movie really made comic geeks around the globe stop whining about the fact that most movie adaptations deviate way too much from the original storyline.
Tony’s and Maya’s story arcs. The individual arcs of the two lead characters in the comic, Tony Stark and Maya Hansen, as well as the encounters and relationship between the two have been very accurately shown in the movie right from the conference in Switzerland to revealing her twisted, but sort of righteous, motives at the end of the comic and movie.
The description of the Extremis soldiers. The Extremis project, the process, the reaction of test subjects. They got all of those almost entirely correct in the movie. Right from the scab-by phase they go through after being given the Extremis dose to having superhuman strength and speed. There were a few differences like the subjects exploding when they overdose and the ability to regenerate limbs, but that’s forgiven, considering the fact that they were crucial to the some plot-points.
What was different?
The Mandarin! For those who think that the Mandarin was a character made up by the film-makers for the purpose of this movie alone, well, he’s not. He’s actually a pretty kick-ass archenemy of Iron Man and one of the most powerful supervillains in the Marvel Universe. There is even a connection between Maya Hansen and the Mandarin in a later comic series. Which was why I was extremely confused as to how they managed to fit him into the Extremis arc in the movie. Before the movie released I expected his character to be underused like Whiplash in the second installment, but the movie’s depiction of the Mandarin being just a false face put up by Aldrich Killian to instill fear was actually quite brilliant.
Aldrich Killian. The Mandarin-maneuver that the film-makers pulled off did not only change the whole direction of the movie, but also the role of the primary antagonist. This honour was now laid in the hands of Aldrich Killian, who in the comics, was a scientist employed at A.I.M working with Maya Hansen on the Extremis virus. He dies in the 9th page of the first issue. In the movie, he founded A.I.M, co-developed the Extremis virus, took the Extremis dose himself and did all of this to get back at Tony Stark for leaving him hanging at a conference ages ago. Quite a bit of a characer shift, I’d say.
Eric Savin/Mallen. So in the comic, the Mandarin isn’t the main villain. And neither is Aldrich Killian. So who is the primary antagonist? A guy who walks into a slaughterhouse with two others who inject him with an experimental drug which causes him to throw up and almost die. They call him “Mallen”.
In the movie, there is no Mallen, and no, he isn’t the guy who takes the drug in the beginning of the movie and explodes. The movie counterpart of Mallen is, in my opinion, Eric Savin (the bald Extremis soldier who kicks Tony’s ass). After the Mandarin and Killian, he’s the only antagonist who gets enough screen-space to be able to substitute Mallen. Even the way they die is the same. Repulsor bean through the heart. Also, Eric Savin is actually a character in the Marvel Universe. He’s a highly trained Cyborg fighter guy who, incidentally, was a Lietenant Colonel in the U.S. Army at Camp Killian(along with Maya’s Mandarin connection, I’d say Marvel’s done a pretty nice job of sprinkling references for comic geeks all over the script)
Tony controlling the suit -Nanochips vs. Extremis dose. This is actually is a HUGE shift from the comic, which makes me wonder why this isn’y higher up on the list, but, meh, screw it. In the movie, Tony Stark, being the tech genius he is, finds out a way to inject nanochips into his body using which he can summon and control any of his Iron Man suits.
Was it that simple in the comic? Nope. In the comic, he actually takes the Extremis dose himself! Maya Hansen gives him an Extremis dose on his request after he got trashed by Mallen, the Extremis soldier, because he realises that he’s too slow in the suit and can’t defeat the Extremis soldier without taking the virus himself. A small change he makes, is that he regrograms the Extremis thingy to allow him to control his suit with his mind.
Tony’s arc reactor.
Another big difference is that at the beginning of the Extremis story arc, Tony Stark had already gotten the shrapnel outside his heart removed, and along with it his trademark Arc Reactor too. This happens only at the end of the movie, which is understandable, since removing it at the beginning would ruin the continuity of the movie series.
Depiction of Tony without the suit.
One of the main themes behind the comic and the movie is the fact that Tony Stark was now thinking about who he is without the suit. The primary argument any Batman fanboy brings up in any Batman vs. Iron Man debate is that Iron Man is nothing without his suit. Both the movie and the comic prove one thing.
Tony Stark doesn’t need the suit to be Iron Man. The only difference is the way they’ve portrayed that in the two versions. In the comic, they look at how the suit isn’t enough anymore. About how the suit should be his gateway to something bigger. The movie, too, looks at the same sentiment. But more so in a way where they’re trying to tell us that the suit doesn’t define Iron Man. The fact that the movie doesn’t really go into many details about the features and intricacies of the 13 different suits, shows that the suits are, in some sense, disposable.
In the comic, there’s no Pepper Potts.
And that is sad.
Which was better?
The movie having been inspired by the comic had a lot more opportunities to improve the storyline, and kudos to them for doing that. The potential causes for disappointment- screwing up Mandarin’s character, Adrian Killian having been a non-entity in the comic, etc. were dealt with quite neatly by the film-makers and hence, I’d say they actually marginally improved an already fantastic storyline whilst keeping the expanded story tight enough to be made into a truly awesome feature film.
Akhil Sukumaran (Industrial Engineering and Management)
Illustration by Advita Adyanthaya (Information Science and Engineering)