Iron Man

In this film iteration of the comic book legend, Iron Man follows a modern remediation of a classic hero. Here Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., is depicted as a rich playboy, which is not at all a diversion from canon, but instead his motives and values are predicated by issues which are timely and appropriate. Instead of being driven simply by his own genius and his desire to do good, or by his selfish desire to prolong his own damaged life, Stark seeks to eliminate the damage done to the world by his family and his name.

Stark Industries builds weapons. These weapons were designed to fight the kind of modern asymmetrical warfare that is prevalent today, where one side is vastly superior in technology to another, but yet cannot root out the enemy decisively due to numbers, tenacity, and resourcefulness. What comes to haunt Stark, however, is that his weapons are not solely being used by the governments of the world to root out terrorism. Instead, they are being bought by governments and terrorists alike and the only real loser in the bargain are the innocents caught in the middle.

This appears to be a direct response to the geopolitical events of the previous eight years. While terrorism is still a scourge and a threat to people all around the world, as it is certainly portrayed in this film, the unilateral good of the West is called into question. Furthermore, the film draws into direct criticism the military industrial complex. Embodied in the role of Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges, the unity of capitalism and militarism become one of the scourges Iron Man faces. Stane takes on the persona of Iron Monger, an improved Mecha version of the Iron Man armor. Stane plans to kill Stark, and continue selling arms to both sides of the war to procure more profit at the expense of humanity. Terrorism is still present, in fact, his debut mission is to thwart a junta from rampaging in a distant part of the world. In this regard, terror becomes a symptom of militarism, rather than a catalyst for it.

This type of message would not have been tolerated in the years following 2001. Any voice of dissent would have been summarily quieted before it reached celluloid, and almost certainly been artificially retooled with an obtusely patriotic message. That sort of flag waving would, instead, not be tolerated today. The mixed reaction from audiences would range from pride to rejection of the display as inappropriate and untimely. It is interesting to note, given this film’s tone, that in the comic book continuity, Iron Man is currently a proponent of the kinds of governmental and military rule that his film counterpart might reject.

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