F COUNT: 0
The film starts with Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) in full-on cool mode, swilling whiskey on the rocks and quipping “no gang signs” when a soldier holds up a peace sign. A bit later, this womanizing head of a mega-weapons corporation notes that there is no profit in peace – that it would, in effect, put him (and many others) out of work. Yet, Stark has a change of heart (quite literally) after being almost fatally wounded in a secret snuff attack by his partner and nemeses, Obidiah (played with tycoon nastiness by Jeff Bridges). With the help of Yinsen, another captor, Stark is saved and has a new heart in place – literally, a technological heart that keeps him alive, but also, more significantly, a heartfelt awakening to the realities of war and weaponry.
However, as Sarah Seltzer at RH reality check writes, “the movie seems to imply that his moral doubts kick into gear mostly because the dark-skinned baddies got their hands on his stockpile.” Or, in other words, Stark isn’t too concerned about militarization and arms dealing until the arms are in the hands of the ‘evil terrorists.’ Unfortunately, the film does nothing to trouble the ‘you’re either with us or your against us’ dichotomy. According the logic of the film, the Afghan baddies are ‘against us’ (except for Yinsen, the doctor who saves Stark and is, of course, conveniently nixed before the film is in full throttle). Moreover, as the side character from SHIELD (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) plays a considerable role in saving Pepper Potts and Iron Man while also making the annihilation of Obidiah possible, the film suggest that the real enemies are ‘over there’ and what we really need are bigger ‘shields’ to protect us – a message with which the current administration would certainly approve. And, even though the baddie is a corporate white guy, he is not framed as bad because he makes weapons or loves wealth and power, but because he trades with the wrong people (the Middle Easterners that the film stereotypically casts as terrorist cave dwellers). This representation of ‘baddies’ using U.S. weapons for evil purposes is furthered when Khan finds the remnants of the first Iron Man suit in the desert in order to retool them for his own use. Here, good U.S. weapons (the Iron Man suit) are stolen by bad terrorists (Khan). Thus, the message is not so much anti-weapon as anti-weapons for (middle-eastern) Others.
Once back in the good ole U.S.of A. (yet another dichotomy the film fails to unpack: US good, Middle East bad) Stark, the head of a corporation at the heart of the military industrial complex, announces at a press conference that his company will no longer make weapons. Heads start spinning and stocks start dropping – just as they would in the real world if Lockheed Martin or General Electric decided to disavow making weapons. Weapons are big business – one of the biggest – and, as the film in its techno-glam super-hero style vaguely reveals, this business requires perpetual war (as well as selling weapons to as many buyers as possible- whether ‘friend’ or ‘foe’).
While its nice to think some of the pro-peace, anti-military industrial subtext will travel home with theatre goers, when I asked one of the boys that joined my kids and I at the movies what he thought the movie was trying to say about war, his enthusiastic reply was “Weapons Rule!” Unfortunately, I think this is the message that many will ultimately take away from the film – that technology rules and what we really need is “better weapons” which could rule the world in an ultra-cool way – via Iron Men! Seems like this type of weapon would in fact be Bush’s wet dream – wasn’t that the sort of look he was aiming for when he donned the flack suit and announced “Mission Accomplished”? Can’t you just see Bush all rigged up in that neato red and gold Iron Man suit, quipping “I ain’t only gonna smoke you outta your caves, I’m gonna fire blast you out!” Of course, Stark plays a much different Iron Man than Bush would – he has a heart and a brain, and really does seem to have turned against the idea that weapons are the answer – only problem is, the audience may not be able to make that turn with him when the movie makes it look so damn much like “Weapons Rule!”
*As an aside, is there any reason Pepper Potts has to wear heels so high she can barely walk? And, why the hell didn’t she ever get to gear up in a Iron Woman suit? I suggest purple and silver, with no heels.