Saturday, November 15, 2008

Iron Man

Last night we watched Iron Man, possibly the best superhero movie ever. I'm only sad I didn't see it on the big screen. What I liked most about it was the way it hit one of my favorite American themes. When Iron Man rockets into Afghanistan to save the refugees and starts taking out the bad guys, I said, "Hey, this movie is the same as Three Kings." And Three Kings is one of my favorite movies.

The message is basically the same. It begins with a critique of American wealth and power. At the center is the brash young hero Tony Stark, who has a lot of money and a lot of weapons. In this case the hero has made his money making weapons-- his father made his money contributing technology to the Manhattan Project, and the son followed in the business. However, when he becomes a victim of war and sees war firsthand, he is in a position to make a moral choice for good, thus redeeming himself. In Three Kings the soldiers head into Iraq to steal Saddam's gold from the remnants of Saddam's army who are out terrorizing the townspeople. When they see what's happening to the people, however, they use some of their might to try to save them. In the end, they have to trade the gold to get the refugees across the border. They make the right moral choice and show themselves to be true Americans-- not interested in gold but in freedom. Of course, they don't trade ALL the gold-- they have a little nest egg for when they get back, a reward for their making the right moral choice.

What strikes me is that in both movies the critique is not of the wealth, the power, or the technology, but only of how it's used. In Iron Man, Tony Stark doesn't in any way reject the technology or his wealth. He simply refocuses his intellect, wealth and power to build a super-machine, which is actually a super-weapon, Iron Man, that he can use for rescue instead of for destruction. In the end he triumphs, and he gets to keep all his ill-gotten wealth and power. He is the ultimate American hero-- possessing all the goods of our society and also possessing the moral compass that allows him to make choices for the good of humankind.

In fact, the evil character, Obadiah Stane, another man in the company-- the one who has been running the company while our hero lived the role of spoiled playboy-- steals the technology and makes a BIGGER Iron Man machine, so that we have for a brief moment the David and Goliath battle we also love. Tony Stark, a man who has everything, for that moment has less than his opponent and yet is able to triumph through intellect and wit. When it comes to the warlords in Afghanistan, he can outeweapon them (despite the fact they're using his own company's weapons), as we believe we can outweapon any third world country's army and thus any foreign enemy. But against an American enemy, there is still a greater excess to be battled. It's again not a critique of power itself, but of how much power, and how it is used. (And we should remember that the "power" here is Tony Stark's heart, his very life force.)

This movie could not have come at a better time. It embodies the current situation Americans find themselves in. We are against the war in Iraq, where we clearly are not the force for good and liberation we wanted to believe ourselves to be. In Afghanistan, we hope to be able to triumph over the warlords, but we fear our own weaponry has gotten loose in a way that threatens our own troops.

Back at home we're in a deep financial crisis caused, we believe, by the greed of giant companies. The people at the top of these companies, like Obadiah Stane with his government contracts, have mismanaged them, lining their own pockets and building themselves giant armors of wealth that we, the ordinary people, can't penetrate. We need an Iron Man, someone who has the brains and ingenuity-- and also the insider position-- to rescue us. We're looking via the government for an advisor (and we know Paulson isn't it) to come in and straighten things out. It might be an economic czar, maybe Warren Buffet, maybe Larry Summers-- someone whose own intelligence has put him in a position of wealth (success) but who has also served the country and shown altruistic behavior that makes him trustworthy.

It's mighty appealing, and awfully comforting, isn't it? This vision that lets us keep our power, our military might, our wealth, as long as we use it to save the refugees and ourselves.

1 comment:

DeeDee said...

Susan, I love the ending. He can't resist revealing that he is Iron Man. Downey was absolutely perfect for the role. And I read that the studio really didn't want him.

Tony Stark is superhuman, but humanly flawed in that his ego won't let him keep the identity a secret.