Friday, May 02, 2008

Iron Man

The Tin Man needed a heart. So does the Iron Man. He finds it not from a wizard, but in moral responsibility and repentance.

Anyone remember the theme song from the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes animated series?:

“Tony Stark makes you feel,
he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.”
Bonus points to Favreau and company for inserting the tune into the movie (even as a ring tone for one character’s phone). The lyrics fit to some degree, but in this film Tony Stark actually does begin as a cool exec with a heart of steel.

Stark’s journey to become Iron Man is ironic. As his heart is damaged by his own weapons, he recovers his spiritual and moral heart. He is no longer content to be the “merchant of death” and instead vows to use his power and influence to improve the world. The second irony, which the film does not explain away, is that he builds the world’s greatest weapon (the Iron Man armor) in an attempt to redeem his part in mass producing weapons of mass destruction.

Stark knows that he is complicit is a system of imbalanced power and destruction. Other characters such as Obadiah Stane and James Rhodes are also a part of that system. No one is above critique. However, we can sympathize with Stark because he accepts his culpability and takes the bold actions to change it. He learns to administer justice rather than cater to the highest bidder, even though he may do so imperfectly. This is an accurate picture of redemption.
Iron Man was one of my favorite comics. I grew up with these characters, so this film was huge for me. I know that Shell-Head has always been Marvel’s most political character (perhaps even more so than Capitan America). In the 1960’s Iron Man’s enemies were communists. We were scared of the Red Menace and so Iron Man kept the world safe for capitalism.

Now his origin is updated for our times. Our threat is terror, so Stark's conversion takes place in the Middle East and his captors are some sort of terrorists. Even though the terrorist group in the film is identified as a multi-national group called “The Ten Rings” (which is a reference to The Mandarin, an old Iron Man foe from the comics), it is difficult not to feel that this group isn’t Al-Qaeda. In the opening scene I felt the rage, anger, and powerlessness generated by video executions conducted by extremist groups. Who wouldn’t want the protection and power of high-tech armor? Who wouldn’t want to protect the innocent and rescue the oppressed with the power of repulsor rays? Yet, how do we walk the line between revenge and redemption? It’s a question left open and I applaud this movie for opening the dialogue. I hope the media and the public will engage this dimension of the film as much as it engages the special effects and celebrity glitz.

P.S. We will definitely be hearing from Iron Man again. Be sure and stick around for the surprise scene that follows the credits. Every comic-book nerd around the globe must have cheered wildly over that scene. I did. Go see the movie and then come back and talk to me here if that last scene leaves you wondering.


Curt said...


I saw Iron Man four times on four consecutive days.

You have helped me begin to release my inner geek.

Now I just need to figure out which "Marvel Essential Iron Man" I need to pick up.


Chris Benjamin said...

If you can stand it, there's a DVD-ROM with the complete Iron Man on it

There's also a $100 book with all the Tales of Suspense and early Iron Man comics. It's in color. Comics should be in color - that's the only downside of the Essentials.

Curt said...

By the way , Chris, I've re-launched
The Fun, Safe Place for Kids.

Take a look and tell me what you think.