He did what?

iron_man_3_new_poster (1)Iron Man: the ultimate mecha-man.

I don’t normally go and see a movie on opening night, but I decided that if I wanted to enjoy Iron Man 3 without spoilers I needed to do it quickly. Fair warning: this post spoils the hell out of it, so if you want to see it with the element of surprise, stop reading now. It’ll be here when you come back.

So, what to say about Iron Man 3? First, it is the best of the Iron Man movies. Period. That said, I’m not sure if they’re doing another one, and I almost hope they don’t. Why? The franchise has turned into a one-trick pony. Admittedly it’s a good trick, pulled off perfectly in the first and third films, and almost perfectly in the second. Here’s the thing: in every Iron Man movie, the enemy has been the military-industrial complex. In Iron Man 1, it was Stane with Tony Stark’s own company. In Iron Man 2 it was rival defense contractor Justin Hammer. In Iron Man 3 it is AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics). The goal of each villain is the same, war-profiteering, and Tony kicks much butt by proving over and over that, while he’s out of the business himself he still makes the best weapons of them all.

(Let’s stop for a moment and unpack the logic of this: the Good Guys win by pursuing Peace Through Superior Civilian Firepower. In a moment of supreme irony, in the second movie Tony even has his own Charlton Heston moment; “You can have my armor when you pry it from my cold, dead, body!” That’s actually a Captain Rhodes line in IM3, but still pretty much what Tony told the United States Congress. It’s a libertarian’s dream.)

Back to the bad guys, though, I do not want to give the impression that I consider the movies to be sermons on the evils of militarism, or corporate greed, or some other sermony thing. The problem the Iron Man movies face is actually a result of the current zeitgeist (fancy German word meaning “spirit of the time”).

To put it simply, with the end of the Cold War, the US became–to use an ecological metaphor–the local apex predator. I emphasize apex here, not predator (although lots of America’s critics will buy that normative description). There is now no country, no ideology, no coalition, that poses or can realistically pose a true existential threat to this country. The existential threat posed by the former Soviet Union was both military and ideological, and my generation grew up under the threat of a cold war suddenly going very, very hot and then ending in mutually assured destruction. But democracy  has triumphed; with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-90s, America attained near-total hegemonic power–and we are finally starting to realize that we really don’t want it and especially don’t want to continue paying in blood and treasure to keep it. Even so, we can easily cut our military by half or more and still swing more bang and boom than any rationally conceivable coalition of nations combined. Of course Things Change, but for now the US has no external enemies that play in the same war-making league.

So, swinging back to the IM franchise, who could they write in as believable bad guys? Iron Man isn’t Batman; he isn’t about fighting crime. He has always been about fighting enemies fielding Better Weapons Through Science, and I have no problem with that. But here’s the thing. With no other military powers rising to the level of Credible Threat, we must be Our Own Worst Enemy. No external threat rings true with our modern viewing audience. Even more, in our current Politically Correct environment we can’t single out an internal enemy driven by any Real World ideology. This is why every one of Tony’s enemies has been a 1-percenter motivated by greed, greed, and oh yeah greed (except for one crazy who was motivated by revenge–but that was because of thwarted greed).

Don’t believe me? Think of all the real-world reasons why bad guys blow up lots of people and/or real estate, and not one of them is the monetary bottom line. In Captain America the bad guy wanted to take over the world, presumably to make it what he thought would be a better/purer one, and this is much truer to the Real World than Tony’s villains have repeatedly been; communists wanted a utopia of economic equality and were willing to wade through oceans of blood to get it, radical Islamists want Sharia to rule supreme for the greater glory of God, rabid environmentalists who occasionally blow things up want to save the world, etc. You can hate their means, but you have to recognize the sincerity of their goals even if you think they’re bug-nuts insane. (Note that this does not imply that I think that decent and law abiding communists, Muslims, and environmentalists are bug-nuts insane. Well, communists are politically insane, but then so are libertarians.)

And that is the touchstone of a truly dynamic, truly believable Big Bad. People will lie, cheat, steal, and kill for greed, but to threaten civilization or even a small piece of it takes conviction. Which is why in Wearing the Cape, while a coalition of super-terrorists get together to try and assassinate POTUS in a truly scorched-earth attack, the supervillain who levels half of California and kills 50,000 innocents is motivated by a sincere desire to Save The World.

So unless the Hollywood screenwriters suddenly get a clue and pick someone besides the Greedy War-Profiteer for the next bad guy (and in Iron Man 3 it is a greedy war-profiteer heating up the War on Terror for fun and profit), I’m afraid that Iron Man 4 will be a riff on an overused theme. Not that the three movies haven’t played some great riffs. Stuff blew up gloriously, heroes behaved heroically, great lines were delivered, and Pepper Potts rocks.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

10 thoughts on “He did what?

  1. Given your analysis for the source of villains to fight, I guess that’s why IM more often gets involved in team sports like the Avengers. That way, he fights a rather different range of adversaries, particularly in the animated series where he’s been forced to develop new suit capabilities using different (often extraterrestrial) metals. It was the only way to go to avoid flogging the dead one-trick pony,

    1. Agreed. The sad thing is that it didn’t have to be that way. AIM could have been led by someone seeking world peace through the creation of a world government, or by an anarchist who believed that if he smashed the current order a new and better world would rise. It would have raised the movie’s game, introduced some variation, and even made the willing participation of so many US Military veterans more believable by giving them a new cause, without changing the plot at all.

      1. I’m not sure whether the scriptwriters for films like this lack intelligence or they believe anything too intelligent will drive audiences away. Whatever the reason, the lack of intelligence usually kills films like this. So some credit should go to Shane Black for avoiding some of the more obvious pitfalls.

      2. Black did a splendid job, so good that my philosophical irritation with the points I’ve ranted on here didn’t kick in until after the final credits. (BTW, loved the little end scene with Tony and Bruce–hope you stayed for it.)

      3. I’ve never sat through the credits of any film to get to these ten-second bursts of plot. Life’s too short. When you have a spare moment, please send me an email to tell me what I missed.

  2. Downey’s contract is up, so unless they park a load of gold in his front yard there will not be an Ironman 4 with him. Although never under estimate ticket sales inspired greed. The Ironman myths is actually known for a couple huge moments. One is Ironman vs. Dr. Doom in various settings, the best in King Arthur’s court. The other is the demon in a bottle storyline. Those would depart from the movies made.

    There is one thing in response to your post. A movie can be wish fulfillment because there is no justice in the real world.

    1. I disagree. I believe there is a lot of justice in the real world–it just rarely makes the news. Injustice sells news-cycles, so it’s pretty much all we hear about.

      1. I guess I am coming from a different perspective since I do not see justice on a large scale.

      2. That is because there is no justice for people in the large scale, in fact “people” as a group don’t exist in the way that those who talk about abstracts like social justice think they do; there are only persons, individuals to whom right or wrong can be done.

  3. To me, the large scale is made up of all the small scale. If enough of the small scale purposely chooses to effect the large scale, the large scale changes. Justice on the large scale is a reflection of the efforts of the small scale.

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