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Iron Man, Iron Man, Does Whatever An Iron Can (Very Mild Spoilers) - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
May 5th, 2008
09:18 am

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Iron Man, Iron Man, Does Whatever An Iron Can (Very Mild Spoilers)

Scratch the surface of any popular superhero, and you’ll find what we want to be. Superman was the perfect hero for the 1940s; patriotic, all-powerful, and serenely confident in his own self-righteousness. Come the 1960s and the advent of inward reflection, and you get Spider-Man – a man bound by worries and a thousand niggling debts, but somehow able to surpass them (most of the time) to become something greater.

It’s been forty years since we’ve had a relevant superhero since then. Vietnam and Iraq II have drained America’s collective self-confidence, making us a little afraid to be proud, and the rise of the individual has left us without a collective center. When you have a thousand microtargeted magazines and cable shows, is there really one America any more? Or just a million Balkanized subsections?

But I think, thanks to the wise eye of director Jon Favreau (who also directed Swingers and Elf), we finally have a superhero for the new millennia. Someone who embodies what most of us want America to be.

For Tony Stark is America – arrogant, lavishly rich, hopelessly sexist, and blithely unconcerned in his morality because he has a long legacy of being right and he will always be right. He’s sold weapons like his father, making cutting-edge tech that cuts deep into the enemy.

Yet for all of that deep amorality he holds, Tony is strangely charming. You want to like him because he’s also insanely clever and quick with a quip. He seems reachable, even if he’s completely disinterested in people as anything but tools. But in the end, he’s just another gun for hire….

…until he winds up hostage in the hands of the enemy in Afghanistan. The terrorists, too, love Tony Stark’s guns, and they want him to build a missile for their own nefarious purposes. And in a distant cave, Tony Stark instead opts to build a weapon of his own.

There have been parallels drawn between Tony Stark and Batman for years – they’re both multimillionaire businessmen who are only superheroes because they’re smart and dedicated. But while Batman Begins handwaved all the hard work it took to create the Batmobile and Batman’s “wonderful toys,” Iron Man takes the souped-up Mythbusters route. Tony Stark is a Do-It-Yourselfer, a hacker who spends way too much time in the basement fine-tuning his suit. You are constantly reminded that the technology he works with comes from a long line of failed experiments, constant tweaking, and upgrading; the suit itself is a constantly moving nightmare of gears, cogs, and screws.

And when Tony Stark finally realizes exactly what his arrogance has cost him, he has the Jerry Macguire moment where he finally Gets It. He’s doing harm, and he can no longer write it off… And in that fine American tradition, he’s not paralyzed by guilt, but rather galvanized by it.

Tony Stark is going to fix this. And in an imaginary world, he can.

The glory of Iron Man is that Tony Stark single-handedly does what America is incapable of. Spider-Man, lovely though he is, rescues Americans in New York City. Superman makes some vague passes about helping the world, but really he mostly works between West American Coast and East American Coast.

Tony Stark, on the other hand? He’s America’s good instincts. Rather than saving Americans, who are doing fine, he flies to Afghanistan and saves the poor bastards who are being herded and shot down by terrorists. He’s not out to make his own world safe – he’s trying to help people he doesn’t even know.

It felt relevant. Up until now, I’d never realized how masturbatory all the other superhero films felt, saving us from the mostly-imaginary evils of muggers and bank robbers - who’s ever seen a bank robbed? They’re heavily guarded, they don’t need Spider-Man to protect them. And supervillains are completely imaginary.

But Iron Man is striking at the worst thing we can imagine these days. And he’s doing it not here, saving fattened old America from a bomb, but where he can help a few downtrodden folks out from under from the boot of an Afghani warlord.

The core value of America is “We want to help.” Problem is, we’re remarkably bad at gauging what needs fixing these days. But in superhero land, Tony Stark is everything America wants to be – powerful enough to get the job done, wise enough to choose the right targets, and moral enough to try to make up for his past failings. He’s going to save the world, because unlike the collapse of the Bush administration, he knows precisely how to enact a plan.

(This works, incidentally, because the terrorists are dumb as dirt, too brain-dead to recognize that the various pieces of a walking suit of armor look nothing like a missile casing. I’m really hoping they reenvision The Mandarin, Iron Man’s classic old villain, as a warlord with brains and Tony’s vision.)

Like America, Tony’s not perfect. He’s still too quick to go off on his own, a rebel who doesn’t work well with others (and sometimes pays for it). He’s supremely disinterested in the larger picture. And he’s bad at sensing the motivations of his enemies.

In the comics, Tony Stark has become everything that’s bad about America – our arrogance, our willingness to oppress with technology, our terror of terror. But thankfully, Robert Downey and Jon Favreau flipped that to make Iron Man the movie into a statement of hope and joy. We can win…. If we acknowledge our mistakes.

Because in the end, the story of Iron Man is the story of a very talented jerk who’s trying very hard to become something better. And maybe it’s just me, but I can empathize.

(125 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
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From:onceupon
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:41 pm (UTC)
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The movie was so incredibly refreshing for me BECAUSE Tony has become such a proto-fascist in the comic. I hate what has been done with the character - it goes against everything that has been established about what he is.

But the movie, you are so right, nails the way he goes after things, the way he builds on lessons learned from failure, the way doesn't waste his time brooding about the past. Tony moves forward.

I think he's also really powerful because he doesn't have traditional superpowers - he has his intellect. He seriously sends the message that if we are all just smart enough, we can figure things out and make them better without needing alien heritage or radioactive spiders or cosmic rays or whatever.
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From:anivair
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:12 pm (UTC)
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I don't know. tony's always been one of marvel's most flawed heroes. i think that he's supposed to represent how even a good person can be overtaken by the rhetoric. but i agree that most of the marvel writers are so violently to the left that they aren't really able to portray him as anything but a joke at the moment.
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From:paradisacorbasi
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
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He’s America’s good instincts. Rather than saving Americans, who are doing fine, he flies to Afghanistan and saves the poor bastards who are being herded and shot down by terrorists. He’s not out to make his own world safe – he’s trying to help people he doesn’t even know.

I'd argue that point.

He was angry that his weapons were being misused, but he was also taking revenge on the people who hurt him. He took out the majority of the group, then left the ringleader for mob justice. If he was helping them, he'd have just swept the group up and away and dumped them on the army's doorstep.

He does learn better, but I don't necessarily call that particular scene an illustration of our good instincts.
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From:chibininja
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
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I'd like to disagree.

While you are right in that Tony was kind of lashing out, I think leaving that guy to the mob is exactly what the people he just saved needed. They had what little thunder they had stolen from them by Bad Men with Guns. By being able to (or allowed for that matter) to deal with the matter of the leader themselves, they were able to get some of that back.

Tony may have been acting out of a desire for some payback, but he also empowered those people in a way, and I like to think that that is ALSO something that America is about: Power for the people.
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From:jfargo
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
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I know this isn't the point, but I've actually seen a bank robbery. A failed one, but a bank robbery none-the-less. Since it was failed, I suppose your point stands even more firm.

This is probably the best review I've read so far. Others were mostly "It rocked!" This one told me why it was good, and made me want to see it. Thanks for the review!
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From:chibininja
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
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Once again, Mister Ferrett, your insight amazes me. Good work.
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From:bec76
Date:May 5th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
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Interesting review - I'll have to ask zodarzone if he had similar thoughts. (I haven't seen it yet; Finals, ya know.)One question...

Spider-Man – a man bound by worries and a thousand niggling debts,

Do you mean doubts? I mean, I know PP's got debts, but somehow his electric bill getting paid on time doesn't seem as important as saving a nice old lady from a mugger or preventing Doc Oc from trying to take over NYC.
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From:theferrett
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
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No, I meant debts. He owes everyone time, and he's always behind on the rent. That's part of what makes him Spider-Man - he doesn't have a rich lair. He's just this schlub struggling to make his nexy paycheck.
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From:peterchayward
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)

Coming at it from a dirty foreigner's point of view.

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I was amazed - truly surprised - to discover that I didn't enjoy the movie. I wouldn't say I hated it, there was the occasional bit that interested me, but overall, I'd put it on the same level as The Fantastic Four 2.

Yeah. That bad.

My main problem with it was the same as what you loved - the movie is for Americans, by Americans. I'm not an American.

I've found that I'm pretty much alone in this. Everyone else loved it, or at least really enjoyed it. I thought the only good things were Robert Downey Junior, and the guy at the beginning who is killed off pretty quickly. I hated Gwenyth Paltrow's character particularly.

And that twist, about halfway through? Come on.
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From:onceupon
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Coming at it from a dirty foreigner's point of view.

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and the guy at the beginning who is killed off pretty quickly

That would be Yinsen. He's always been a particular favorite.
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From:icewolf010
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
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...saving us from the mostly-imaginary evils of muggers and bank robbers - who’s ever seen a bank robbed? They’re heavily guarded, they don’t need Spider-Man to protect them.

Oh, I don't know. Maybe not too many banks get robbed, but there are plenty of times and places that a superhero could have come in damn handy.

Oddly enough, while I appreciate your analysis on an intellectual level, it's actually put me off seeing the movie, at least in theaters.

Edited at 2008-05-05 02:31 pm (UTC)
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From:theferrett
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
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Why's that?
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From:kaelstra
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
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I've heard that Iron Man, the character, was created by Stan Lee on a dare to see if he could "make an asshole a lovable character", and later said that "Iron Man gets more female fan mail than any other of my characters."

I could see it. I wouldn't have believed it until I saw the movie to be honest, but dammit, he really is a lovable asshole.
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From:kaelstra
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Ah boo, open html for the fail.
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From:kehrli
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Tony Stark is what I have always secretly wished Bruce Wayne would be.
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From:theferrett
Date:May 5th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
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I can totally see that.
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From:freak_in_need
Date:May 5th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
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I am amused to see Marvel going "Wait! Don't go! We can show you a character with some balls, we swear!" after showing us Toby Maguire getting all sensitive in Spiderman 3. Iron Man was way more fun to watch.

Any hope at all for Hulk, by the way?
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From:onceupon
Date:May 5th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
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My hope for Hulk has a name and that name is Edward Norton.
From:pi216
Date:May 5th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I’m really hoping they reenvision The Mandarin, Iron Man’s classic old villain, as a warlord with brains and Tony’s vision.

I'm guessing you caught the couple of veiled references to him? They bode well.
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From:khiron1416
Date:May 5th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
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he was in the movie. the guy who got burned in the face, who kept stroking his signet ring. He was talking about genghis khan and everything.


"with 10 suits like that. You could rule all of Asia."
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From:chaosdancer
Date:May 5th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
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I so loved this movie. I'm not a technogeek so I wasn't getting all turned on by the hardware like some of my engineer friends would be, but wow, I was really blown away for all the reasons that you mention. This is really the way our popular cinema seems to be going. Art films have been making the same points for years, but it needs to be in stuff that people actually go out to see, in droves. We need to make people look at issues while entertaining them. And the characterizations were fabulous. I was really blown away by all of it, even the draggy bits (and there weren't many).

I yelled at people to wait until after the credits. Not many people listened. Too bad for them. :-)
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From:sam_lamander
Date:May 6th, 2008 09:37 am (UTC)
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We need to make people look at issues while entertaining them.

Seconded. Charlie Wilson's War did that for me : it actually helped me understand how the US got themselves in the situation in which they are, while giving me a good laugh. Any good history book on the question would have enlightened me just as much, but it wouldn't have been as entertaining and enjoyable.
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From:wiredwizard
Date:May 5th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
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There have been parallels drawn between Tony Stark and Batman for years – they’re both multimillionaire businessmen who are only superheroes because they’re smart and dedicated. But while Batman Begins handwaved all the hard work it took to create the Batmobile and Batman’s “wonderful toys,” Iron Man takes the souped-up Mythbusters route.

Aie! I'm getting images of Adam & Jamie trying to replicate the IM Mk. 3 armor in their workshop - and all the explosions that would follow...
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From:hitokiridirk
Date:May 5th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Oh god, that just evokes the image of Adam & Jamie doing backflips into mattresses with their fully-functioning rocket-boots XD
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From:hitokiridirk
Date:May 5th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
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You know, I brought a non-geek friend of mine to this movie last night, and we were both able to enjoy the HELL out of it, albeit for different reasons. I was telling her how perfect Robert Downey Jr. was for the role of Tony Star/Iron Man, before I even knew that John Favreau had picked him for the part specifically because of who he was!

I had my geeky, straight-from-the-comic book moments, and she got to have her dopey summer action film moments, so it ended up being a good movie for the geeky and non.

I also really enjoyed the scene where they show Tony struggling to get out of the armor. Sure, he's got the robots to help him put it on, but it doesn't change the fact that it's a suit of armor that probably weighs more than he does, and so therefore it's like trying to take off a sweatshirt that's too tight. It kind of humanizes the whole "Super Hero Super Suit" thing, that leaves you wondering how they get in and out of these spandex and rubber monstrosities that they all wear.
(Deleted comment)
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From:simianlovedoc
Date:May 5th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
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Saw it this weekend, really enjoyed it. I thought they nailed the core of what Iron Man is about and for me, Downey now IS Tony Stark. I don't want to wait two years to see the sequel.

Also, just an FYI; Doug Liman directed Swingers, not Favreau. Favreau wrote it, as well as starring in it.
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