Flutterby™! : Some thoughts on Iron Man

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Some thoughts on Iron Man

2008-05-14 17:36:34.368525+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

I'm gonna try to follow up to my initial reaction to Iron Man. I'll try to avoid being spoilerrific, but I'm going to put it in the comments, if you still want to see this film, consider yourself duly warned.

[ related topics: Movies Sociology ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-14 17:36:45.933265+00 by: Dan Lyke

As I mentioned, I was expecting a feel good testosterone charged movie. What I got was an attempt at that, but it was unsettling in enough ways that it didn't work that way for me. I'm not just talking about the out-of-place product placement ("Hi, Audi" and to a lesser extent, Burger King), or the fact that the female characters weren't very fleshed out, or even the "Maxim" pitch:

Pratt: Is it true that you went twelve-for-twelve with the Maxim Girls last year?

Tony Stark: That is an excellent question. Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict but fortunately the Christmas cover was twins.

although in that statement I think a picture starts to emerge.

We've all talked about emotionally stunted comic book geeks, and I think what leaped out at me from this movie is that even while we're making fun of "Comic Book Guy", we're, culturally, glorifying most of the traits that we claim to loathe. The Tony Stark of Iron Man[Wiki] is a glib asshole, he's meant to be an asshole, and the steps in the movie he takes towards his redemption aren't enough that I can get up and cheer his successes.

And then we have his relationship with the gorgeous and talented 'Pepper' Potts:

I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash. Will that be all?

This is a woman who dotes on Tony Stark, who's competent at what she does, tolerates all of his pecadillos, including, despite the fact that she's desperately in unrequited love with him, his one night stands with women he's philosophically opposed to, is squeamish just enough to be cute, and at best embodies some notion of attractiveness in womanhood that went out when airlines dropped miniskirts from the uniforms of their stewardesses.

So much like "The Matrix", where I felt a rush as the shell casings tinkled off the marble floor and then thought about what I was cheering, I found "Iron Man" unsettling in a "why does this resonate when it's so distasteful?" sort of way.

Here's the spoiler:

So in that last line of the movie, when Stark acknowledges who he is, I both had this "whoah he's being honest" moment, compounded by a "wait, we're also just seeing him acknowledge, and even celebrate, the rest of who he is".

Alas, I had to go pee, so I left before the rest of the credits rolled, and missed out whatever post-credit revelations there likely were, but the whole experience remains a bit unsettling.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-16 15:44:47.488649+00 by: ebradway

Were there post-credits? I left as well.

I planned the trip to see Iron Man with a bunch of guys from the department. The basic idea was that it was a trip to see a movie without our female partners, that maybe over-glorifies masculinity and violence. That's what we got. It was enjoyable in that right. It was a comic brought to life and I think it was more true to the comics in that sense. Comics are parodies of fantasy. It's where the basic idea of the "Super Hero" comes from. Not just a man - a "Super" man (or, in this case, an "Iron" man).

This genre of movie works best when viewed as something beyond fantasy. These movies are based on people who are beyond human - but they need to be set in recognizable worldly surroundings in order to gauge their "superness". I think this is why animated superhero movies don't have the same impact.

I think it's unfair to judge movies based on comics by the same criteria we would other movies. I think this was why Ang Lee, who is exceptionally adept at character development and balancing the masculine and feminine, failed with "Hulk" and why Marvel feels the need to revisit the "The Incredible Hulk" themselves this Summer.

I think we also miss the point that Pepper Potts was also a "super hero" in the movie and probably the comic series. She's the strong woman behind the iron man.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-16 22:31:50.092327+00 by: Dan Lyke

Hmmm... More grist for thought, and maybe the disturbing undercurrents in the film that I thought were too subtle to be intentional were put there on purpose: Spencer Ackerman in The American Prospect: Iron Man Versus the Imperialist, although Ackerman faults the movie for lacking, in relation to the comic, the things that affected me. Via MeFi: ...even after five agonizing years of the Iraq War, a summer blockbuster isn't prepared to say that not only is its action hero is corrupt, he's corrupt because America has become corrupt.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-18 21:35:21.712317+00 by: ebradway


Heroism, when applied to foreign policy, is a moral vanity that usually prescribes a cure more corrosive than the disease it confronts.

Wish someone would have told this to Bush... The purpose of waiting for UN support before invading Iraq is that it eliminates the moral vanity of waging war. Now Bush's image (and the US) is corrupted by his cowboy attitude...

Ackerman does a great post-modern analysis of the Iron Man series in context of US imperialism. I hadn't specifically thought of Stark as the anti-hero - interesting becuase the movie ends with his accepting "I am Iron Man..."

So the question is (and I'm sure it's been asked many times): why do comic books portray women so poorly? Sure, there are the easy answer: it's anti-social pre-teen boys who buy them. But Ackerman makes me think there is more to comics and the portrayal of women is just a carry-over in order to maintain the fantasy world in which the writers play out their critiques of the real world.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-19 13:38:52.246881+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, I normally scoff at post-modernism, but Ackerman uses it effectively.

So on to the "why do comic books portray women so poorly?" question: after thinking about it for a bit, I think the reason Iron Man's misogyny unsettled me so strongly was that I saw it as an echo of that in the cultural mainstream that I participate in. The movie got in and dealt with the Maxim style chauvinism right early, and then left us to deal with Pepper, where our expectation is "yeah, she's the strong woman making sure he succeeds", and all of a sudden I became aware of places that I had unreasonable expectations...

#Comment Re: made: 2008-05-19 19:26:43.678722+00 by: radix

the trailer (since we're doing spoilers) showed Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury (of S.H.I.E.L.D.) which cranks up the geek-comic factor and virtually promises a sequel.

It's not like Hollywood has any ideas of their own that are any good. The only things they seem to put out that make money are a) classic books overdue for a movie treatment (or *another* movie treatment) and b) comic books (X Men, spiderman, hulk, etc etc)