Iron Man 2: Military Industrial Libertarians Make Confusing Superheroes

I’m going to lay all my cards out on the table ““ I don’t read any comic books, but I enjoy the hell out of super hero/comic book movies. I like the over-the-top villainy, the exciting storylines, the improbable technology, and the CGI-enhanced explosions. There’s a reason these flicks make for good summer blockbusters.

But the story of Tony Stark, capitalist wonder and savior of the American Dream of free enterprise and guns, is something I can only be sold on halfway. In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has to come to terms with his own mortality, do battle with his chief competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) of Hammer Industries, figure out what’s going on with his lady/CEO/personal assistant, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), decode Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson)’s identity, and not get killed by an angry Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke). It’s a lot for one man to deal with, even with a palladium heart and a super fight suit that looks like a Transformer mated with a suit of armor.

This movie has all the ingredients necessary for a fun summer flick ““ explosions, shiny technology, attractive men and women ““ but it also has a dash of something unexpected, something oddly libertarian. The government is painted not as corrupt or particularly evil, just mean towards rich white men and thoroughly inept. There is a fierce individualistic current throughout the movie, with Tony Stark putting the security of the USA on his shoulders and defending the rights of the military industrial complex. At one point in the film, as Tony, clad in his super suit, dances across a stage with scores of blondes in red bikinis, the American flag waving behind them, I could swear I had been transported into a right wing wet dream, with gigantic guns and patriotism for all!

Now, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows about Stan Lee’s goal for Iron Man. This quote, attributed to Lee, was retrieved from Wikipedia:

I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military… So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist… I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him… And he became very popular.

Iron Man was intended to turn the idea of a superhero on its head. That’s a fun way to play with the genre, but, at least in the film Iron Man 2, something went terribly, terribly wrong.

See, for a superhero film to work for me, the superhero has to be fighting for something meaningful, like the lives of civilians. If they can’t work for world peace, maybe they can do a little bit to ease the amount of hate, violence, and fear that exists in the world today. Iron Man 2, instead, is the film of a personal vendetta. Sure, it wasn’t Tony Stark’s fault that the vendetta got started, and all that stuff about Hammer Industries posing a threat to Stark was interesting, but in the end, the only real threat I saw came from an angry Russian physicist who wanted to kill Tony Stark. That can be a compelling story, but that doesn’t make a superhero.

So I could only buy into the story halfway. I liked the B-plot with Iron Man’s attempts to become part of The Avengers. I liked Don Cheadle. I liked the cool fake technology, the eerie blue glows, the way Iron Man was able to boogie. There are a lot of fun things to enjoy. But the greater storyline fell flat for me. If I were to rate this film, it’d get one peanut butter sandwich out of two gigantic double-decker hoagies. What I mean, in case my food-to-feelings conversion chart is off, is that this is a good flick to watch on Netflix with some popcorn and cold frosty drinks, but it’s not a must-see by any means.


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