Film Review: 'Iron Man' (2008)
"Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy."
"That's a great line for someone selling the sticks."
"It could either become a god or a devil" is something of a stock line in anime, referring to any power large enough that its potential to be used for evil is scary enough to deter good people from using it, without deliberation and hesitation. Such a power is like the atomic bomb. Movies have been used to talk about the fear of war, especially nuclear war, getting out of hand since 1954's Godzilla. Wikiquote says in their "Quotes About Godzilla" section:
- Seen in context, Godzilla is not really a futuristic sci-fi fantasy, it's a very real reflection of contemporary terror drawn from contemporary events.
In that way, we have to recognize that Iron Man is also a reflection of contemporary terror drawn from contemporary events. It's remembered perhaps as a movie about explosions and cool cars, but underpinning all this stylistic flavor is a real message of deep concern about America's military role in the world. This is perhaps best exemplified by the early scene in the movie of Tony Stark being harmed by a bomb with his name on it.
We no longer fear nuclear war. But America has its own world-related woes - it wants to be the savior of humanity, but we're supplying the very weapons that are used to kill our own troops. In the early 2000s, it's also easy to forget the scandals surrounding the concept of private companies and mercenaries profiting off of war. That's what Tony Stark is criticized for by the press.
He represents the thing America is most proud of - innovation, while also what we're most ashamed of - destruction. This is exemplified by an exchange with a reporter, wherein she mentions Tony Stark has been called both "the Da Vinci of our time" and a "merchant of death".
Tony Stark is the genius billionaire inventor leading America's top weapons company. While he has been criticized by the media for aforementioned war profiteering, he also points out that major medical breakthroughs that have saved countless lives have also happened because of military funding.
When demonstrating a new kind of missile in Afghanistan, Stark is taken captive by terrorists, who torture him to try to make them build such a missile for them. They use waterboarding, which was a controversial method of torture human rights groups internationally have criticized America for its use of it on suspected terrorists.
Pretending to cooperate with the terrorists, he instead uses their resources to build his first Iron Man suit. It's crude, but it helps him escape. When back in the United States, Tony decides to disavow Stark Industries' weapons manufacturing past. He withdraws to his room like a sullen teenager, but he's not in there smoking pot and listening to My Chemical Romance - he's building a better Iron Man suit.
When he finally is able to use it in combat, it's shown that he can detect the difference between a civilian and a combatant. His goal is to fight wars in a way that is not just indiscriminately blowing people up, then - but to save people.
Types of Robots in Fiction
Enhances human potential, but blurs the line between human and machine.
Enchances human potential but maintains a separation between human and machine.
We create an autonomous human-like being with its own free will.
Human and machine merge into one.
Human and machine are two separate forms, but they join to combine their strength - the human mind guiding the invincible, powerful machine.
Human and machine are separate, and their differences are used to comment on the nature of humanity, what makes human beings special.
Examples: Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, the Magi System in Evangelion
Iron Man, Evangelion, Gundam, other Mech Anime
Isaac Asimov stories, Ex Machina, Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Commander Data from Star Trek: Next Generation, Astro Boy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ultron and Vision in the Avengers movies
The Ending - Spoilers in This Section
Obadiah Stane was Tony Stark's friend and confidant, and had been a friend of his father's, acting in a fatherly mentor role to Tony. But, he becomes evil, putting a hit out on Tony, because Tony wishes to push Stark Industries out of the weapons business.
He takes Tony's mechanical heart away, because it's a smaller version of the "arc reactor", a fictional source of clean energy Stark Industries had built, but had not considered cost-effective. Obadiah planned to use this to make his own version of the Iron Man suits, to to both sides in the war, just like how the Stark Industry missiles had been used.
Tony was unique in being able to build a small version of the arc reactor, which he used to power both his artificial heart, and his Iron Man suit. Refer to the table above, talking about different types of robots in fiction.
You can see that this heart represents a greater merging of human and machine, making Tony a little bit of a cyborg, because he gains a mechanized heart. Later Iron Man movies, and Iron Man's arcs in Avengers movies explore the Android/AI concept as well. J.A.R.V.I.S., an AI Stark uses as a personal engineering assistant, becomes more of a character in his own right. This concept culminates in Age of Ultron, which is about a rogue AI, made by Tony Stark, that becomes a threat to the Avengers.
The bad guy steals this mechanical heart. Further emphasizing Tony's cyberization is the fact that his other heart is given to him by a robotic helping hand.
Tony defeats Obadaiah's suit with his own in the climax of the story. Then the film ends with Tony Stark boldly announcing, "I am Iron Man", in a press conference. This is a wink at the concept of superheroes keeping a low profile and a secret identity. It's also implied that he will have a romantic relationship with his assistant Pepper Potts, which is a romantic sub-plot that has built up throughout the movie. So the movie ends on a badass note, but it piques the audience's curiosity for a sequel at the same time.
Marvel Studios & Fairview Entertainment, Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Avi Arad & Kevin Feige
Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, & Matt Holloway, Comic Character Created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, &Jack Kirby
Main Actors & Actresses
Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, & Gwenyth Paltrow
2 hours, 6 minutes
Box Office Total
MTV Movie Award for "Best Summer Movie So Far" in 2008, Taurus World Stunt Award for "Hardest Hit", "Best Fire Stunt", Saturn Awards for "Best Science Fiction Film", "Best Actor", and "Best Director"
This movie is pretty damn close to being the perfect superhero origin story. It explains not only how the superhero in question, Iron Man, came by his powers, but his worldview and philosophy surrounding the use of power.
The film has an interesting relationship to the U.S. military. As mentioned above, it's hard to not see the excessive product placement of U.S. military stuff as a recruitment ad. That makes me angry, because 2008 was the year I graduated high school, and such ads were directly responsible for recruiting my friends and classmates. I personally know someone who ended up with PTSD from the war in Afghanistan. It's impossible for me to talk about this with the detachment of a neutral reporter. On the other hand, the movie is also not a hawkish movie in its message - it's very critical of the way the U.S. often has a hand, directly or indirectly, in creating the very "monsters" it fights. It also appears to criticize the way U.S. military intervention during this "war on terror" period has a hard time distinguishing combatants from civilians. There is a perhaps naive hope that technology will some day help us get to where we stop bombing people indiscriminately, and better target the "bad guys" as separate from the innocent. However, the problem is that more than ten years have passed since this movie gave voice to this hope, and it hasn't yet been realized. We're still bombing people indiscriminately, and still causing the heartache of civilian casualties. Our actions are completely irreconcilable with our image as supporters of peace, justice, and democracy. More than ten years have passed since this movie came out, but sadly, the U.S. has not learned much from it.
Iron Man is, as I said above, nearly a perfect superhero origin film. It's a great exploration of Tony Stark's character, and his character is a symbolic reflection of greater themes. It's a great exploration, like any robotic sci-fi should be, of the ideas surrounding the connection between man and machine. The movie is a criticism of U.S. foreign intervention, and points an unflinching eye at the collateral damage caused by us seeing ourselves as the world's heroes. But it ends on a hopeful note, and the main character doesn't dwell on the hopelessness of the situation - he builds a way out of it. It represents a hope, that America can innovate itself out of its own messes, a hope that has not yet been realized.