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OK, as you all know, I was looking forward to this one. Call me a sucker for a good advertising campaign. Plus, I just loved the idea of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. And that part worked, unquestionably.
But I had some problems with this movie. The more pedestrian ones (boring music, hackneyed “origin story,” pacing problems) I will skip over. What I want to talk about is the MAJOR problem I had, which is that this film is basically liberal wish fulfillment.
Not that I have anything against liberals. I am one, after all.
But wouldn’t we all just jump for joy if one of these Cheney types suddenly developed a conscience and felt some moral responsibility for the chaos that’s occurring in remote parts of the world?
Tony Stark, the protagonist, builds weapons. He’s a reckless playboy who has no qualms about profiting from death and destruction. “They say the best weapon is the one you never have to fire,” Stark says during a demonstration of his latest weapon of mass destruction, The Jericho. “I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That’s how dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
Things go wrong, of course. Stark nearly dies, is taken captive by Middle Eastern baddies, and has an epiphany while forced into slave labor. He emerges as Iron Man, determined to stop manufacturing weapons, to destroy the people who use them for evil purposes, etc. etc.
Actually, I kind of liked the movie until this one scene. Stark is back home in his comfy uber-mansion. He’s flipping through the channels and comes across a TV report on some goings-on in the Middle East. Someone, unknown to him, is still selling weapons from his company, and now a village in Afghanistan or somewhere is suffering because of it. So what does he decide to do? Why, fly over there as Iron Man and kick the baddies’ butts, of course.
OK, now. Follow me here. Before the movie, we were subjected to about a half-hour of previews for upcoming flicks. One of them was the newest Batman movie, Dark Knight. The evildoer in this one is The Joker. No one can mistake The Joker for any kind of real-life person (especially now that Heath Ledger is dead, natch). The Joker isn’t meant to. Instead, he’s a symbol of something twisted in the human heart. He belongs firmly in Batman’s cartoon universe.
But in Iron Man, the bad guys Tony Stark is facing off against — at least in this sequence — are Middle Eastern terrorists. Who they are and what their agenda might be is kind of fuzzy. But the fact is, these aren’t super-villains or symbols. These are stereotypes, yes, but they’re pulled from the Real World. Our world. And I found that jarring, and actually a bit offensive.
I mean, in the movie, it’s real easy to tell who the “bad guys” are. They’re the ones pushing some crying kid’s dad against a wall so they can execute him, right in front of the kid. Of course, Iron Man flies in just in the nick of time. But no context is given. Who are these people? Why is the father being pushes up against a wall? Is this retaliation of some kind? We don’t know, We can’t be bothered with such details. He is a good man because he has a family and is about to be shot. The other is a bad man because he has a gun and is about to do the shooting. And Iron Man is going to kick his butt. Everyone cheers.
It’s one thing when it’s The Joker or The Riddler or some other type of symbolic character facing off against a larger-than-life hero. But to reduce something as immense as the thousands of years of conflict in the Middle East to something that can be solved by some simple American-sponsored butt-kicking just seems to me … more than a little dishonest.
If you’re going to inject the Real World into a superhero movie, be responsible about it, if you can. Be honest. In this case, given the restraints of the conventions of a superhero movie, there was just no way to do that. They had to simplify.
But the people who are living and dying over in that part of the world deserve better than that. Unlike Iron Man, they are not living out a cartoon fantasy. That is not an option.
And much as Americans like to think that they can wield flashy gizmo technology to beat the world into submission, I think we are quickly finding out that this is simply not the case. Often, we don’t even know who the “bad guys” are.
And maybe, at least some times, they are us.
The points you are making here emphasize, in part, why I like science fiction so much. One of the great things about science fiction is its ability, when tapped, to take problems we as a society are dealing with and present them in an entirely different context. This “other context” in the best of scenarios, disarms our preconceived notions/prejudices and helps us to view an issue from a new perspective. This works best when we don’t realize the connection until after the fact. Without bringing in spoilers for MH, a certain BSG episode in the New Caprica thread was a bit too heavy handed, in that it was all too clear what the writers/producers/whatever were trying to say from the beginning.
Super hero movies, from the days of GI Joe and Captain America, have been a little less circumspect in their approach. Sometimes, the message is just meant to be jingoistic fun, even when its trying to be Hollywood Liberal.
That being said, I too prefer the Batman approach of using icons. I loved Batman Begins, and look forward to checking out this new one.
I’m not saying I disagree, but what then makes it okay for someone like Indiana Jones (somewhat of a superhero) to fight a realworld enemy like the Nazis?
Is it the general worldwide disdain for Nazis? Is it the distance of time. Why is it okay for a hero to fight one kind of stereotype and not another?
Just as there is a deeper level to the conflicts of the Middle East, not all Nazis were Dr. Minghella or Herman Goering.
Again, not that I disagree with you, just a point of discussion.
I think you’re right — it’s the distance of time, Mike, and the fact that the Nazis have been thoroughly vilified.
But Jones, too, is an oversimplification, of course. But at least it wasn’t dealing with current events.
Likewise, I despised Top Gun.
OK, now you’re dating yourself, Dale.
And why is Dale dating himself by mentioning “Top Gun”? It came out in 1986, nine years after the first Star Wars movie. And I never saw “Top Gun” so how does that date me?
I’m not sayin’ we’re past the expiration date, but we might make someone take a whiff of the carton before gulping down.
I’m wondering if our generation(s) have gotten used to context-free villains and heroes unsullied by the uses of propaganda because we came of age in times in which such things were not as significant in the culture. Perhaps what you experienced with Iron Man shows popular entertainment is moving backward to a mode that was most prevalent before the Sixties. We have an Enemy again. And the popular pulp templates for exploiting that have never been subtle or sophisticated. And the distressing thing about Hollywood is that even with all its “liberal” sophistication, it “believes” in its traditions and their accumulated templates. It’s also due to Hollywood’s effort to be psychologically savvy–the old saw in entertainment is to try and get to the people where their anxieties are.
Plus, audiences don’t cheer for moral ambiguity.
To Poke and Provoke: JB attempts valiantly to keep one foot in popular culture and be a cheerleader for its cause. As a result, its utter corruption produces for him a cognitive dissonance which he tries to reconcile through earnest critical writing. He can’t accept his hero has feet of clay, so to speak. Response?
That was too easy…but I’ll accept your plea.