Sunday, May 09, 2010
I've just about had it with grown-ups going on about Iron Man, with bloggers on the right insisting he's some kind of conservative or libertarian hero, while one progressive blogger plays alone with the meme by insisting that the main villain of Iron Man II is, in fact, Tony Stark himself. It's time to come up for just a little bit of air all the way around.
In the first Iron Man, Tony Stark, after suffering a debilitating, life-threatening injury, decided to devote his incredible wealth, resources, and talents to doing good, to make up for all of the destruction he had caused as the boss and inventive genius of Stark International. What were the evil deeds which caused him to want to turn his life around, the mistakes he wanted to rectify? He had created weapons for the US military. So I think we can just on that account alone say goodbye to his conservative credentials. Not that conservatives really are war-mongers who want to bring bloodshed and destruction on the world for no purposes other than power and personal enrichment. But conservatives do understand that as long as there exists people in this world who hold positions of power and who act in brutal, even insanely violent ways to hold and expand that power, such people have to be met with firm and steady opposition. Sometimes, diplomacy, even hard diplomacy, really is not always enough after all. Not very often, in fact.
But now we're up to the current installment, Iron Man II, in which Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is appearing before a Senate Committee headed by-hey it's Gary Shandling's Show, with Gary playing the role of Arlen Specter-under a different name, of course, but still a Pennsylvania Senator of no clear party affiliation. He insists that Stark should hand his Iron Man invention over to the US military.
This is the scenario that has conservatives creaming on their keyboards. Stark is refusing to hand it over, claiming it as his own private property, otherwise boasting that he has privatized world peace, and generally making an obnoxious ass out of himself. In the real world, he would be hit with a contempt of Congress charge. To say nothing of the fact that anything he invented through the auspices of Stark International, by nature of his arrangement with the US government as a military contractor, might well be legitimately considered government property. Senator Shandling, if he really had his stuff together, could probably pull out the terms of Starks contracts to point this out in no uncertain terms.
And while I can appreciate anybody that has the balls to ridicule and lash out at a bunch of elitist Senators (who actually just want Stark's invention in order to make gobs of money for one of their favored contractors-an inept fool named Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell-as well as themselves), and while I certainly appreciate and agree with Stark's stated appeal to property rights, that doesn't change the fact that he is on pretty shaky ground here. Nor is his stance necessarily all that conservative.
Liberals could also easily approve of Stark's obstinate refusal to turn his Iron Man armor design over to the military, who might actually use it to-gasp-kill people.
Of course, there's more going on here than a defense against big government encroachment, from the conservative point of view, and even more than a fear of a government abuse of a powerful weapon and technology against some poor, misunderstood, dictatorial regime with whom we would be better served by engaging in diplomacy, from the liberal standpoint. Stark has bigger fish to fry than mere political or ideological considerations. He is dying. The device he invented to keep his heart beating is now poisoning his blood. That's why he's being such an ass in this movie. It's not because he's such a maverick. It's because he's scared to death that he won't be able to come up with a solution to his problem. Of course, he does, by-wait for it-inventing a new element, one which evidently negates the poisonous effects of the chest device. I kid you not. Tony Stark then is not a conservative. Tony Stark is not a progressive. Tony Stark is God. No wonder he's so fucking arrogant.
Before all this though, Stark is genuinely concerned that his better days are far behind him, and he starts to booze it up, leading to an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Russian villain, Mickey Roarke's Whiplash (who somehow has morphed from his beginnings as a glorified assassin and executioner for the criminal Maggia to some kind of tortured, brilliant physicist) who later at the behest of the aforementioned Justin Hammer creates a robot army, which is ultimately dispatched by Stark and his friend and partner James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), otherwise known as War Machine.
Rhodes tries to get into Tony's head and bring him down to earth, as does his newly minted CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), but nothing seems to work. Not even Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury can reason with Stark, who tells Fury he's not interested in joining his super-powered boy band.
Fury, incidentally, has little to do with the plot of this movie, but is there to provide a teaser for the upcoming Avengers movie. This is likewise the case with Scarlet Johanson's Black Widow, who also provides a degree of window dressing of an alluring nature, yet otherwise adds little to the overall basic plot of this film.
And the worse part of this is, future generations of movie archivists and historians might well be hard pressed to explain exactly what Jackson's and Johannson's roles are in a way that will make any sense-particularly if the Avengers movie turns out to be a stink bomb. In effect, time devoted to roles such as this, such as they are, helped degrade what could have been a pretty decent B+ film down to C- territory, and that makes such cumbersome character additions even harder to defend, even if the Avengers movie turns out to be an unqualified success.
The worse shame of it all is, it could have been a better flick than even a B+. Jon Favreau (the director who is, incidentally, not the speechwriter of Barak Obama of the same name) seems determined to keep his films from being just another batch of CGI love fests. He is intensely interested in character development, and in establishing a fidelity to the original comic book mythology, which by the way had its origins in the sixties, during the conflict in Vietnam-not Afghanistan. Naturally, that had to change, or Tony Stark, who really is a mortal man after all, might have to have a second armor plated device just to walk. And then there's the prospect that beryllium underwear would not really be an adequate nor a comfortable substitute for Depenz.
Other than this one understandable change, however, it is a crying shame that Marvel seems determined to avoid pursuing the Demon In A Bottle storyline, where Stark becomes an alcoholic sot (which in the comic led to Stark some years later suffering from a relapse that resulted in him losing his company to the villainous Obadiah Stane, and also was the impetus for his temporary replacement as Iron Man by James Rhodes-who then went on to become War Machine when Stark recovered). The Monte Carlo segment, unfortunately, is as far down that road as the movies seem fated to go, which is really too bad. For all the CGI and the determination to produce a quality product, it seems the movies haven't really evolved as far as the comic book itself. Where the comic book seems geared towards older teenagers, college students, and young adults, the movies by necessity are marketed, to a large degree, to the eight to twelve year old demographic. Hollywood, as ever, is actually well behind the curve.
Because of this, its not very likely we will see anytime soon a movie based on a superhero comic that delves deeply into such dark territories as alcohol or drug abuse, nor any other such personal character flaws. More's the pity, as film by its nature possesses the potential to have a huge artistic impact. Heroes are people too. Nor are they always good people. A hero who takes it upon himself to fight crime and in some cases save the world, so to speak, would by his very nature have to be a flawed individual on some level. It is not a stretch to see such a person eventually engaging in substance abuse, or any other number of self-destructive behaviors. Fantasy is one thing, but reality-that can be a bitch if not faced head on. Portraying such a thing on film can only be negative if it is shown as a good thing, or if it is portrayed in such a way that its overall negative effects are minimal.
I don't guess I would be too much of an ass by ending this with what might or might not be a spoiler, depending on how faithful to the comic book Marvel and Favreau intend to be. Pepper Potts eventually gets married, but not to Tony Stark. She becomes married to Happy Hogan, who is played in this movie in a cameo by director Favreau.
In another, more important development, however-one that is also pretty unlikely to be adapted to the screen-Tony Stark, in the comic books, shows his true colors. He's not a conservative at all. Nor is he God, not by any stretch. He is, in fact-a fascist, a man who wants to register all super-powered beings, by name and ability, for the good of the world. Yes, you read that right. Tony Stark, in a story line called Civil War, wanted to tax, spend, and regulate all super-powered beings.
It gets even better than that though. He wants to pay superheroes a government subsidized salary. Hell, as many super-powered beings as there are in the Marvel Universe, that would really explode the deficit. Why worry about TARP? The GM bailout and Health Care Reform bill costs would be peanuts compared to the taxpayer money involved in such a regulatory scheme, which would probably necessitate an entirely new Cabinet level government department.
Yeah, this guy Tony Stark is about as conservative as-well, as Arlen Specter. But then again, Iron Man is after all an anagram-for Rino Man.
Posted by Patrick Kelley at 4:46 PM
Iron Man Is A Rino