Iron Man

May 5, 2008

I give this 4/5 stars for entertainment- it’s a good action movie, and Downey definitely makes an entertaining Tony Stark. It at least touched on many of the issues that make the Iron Man series, though obviously did not dive deep into the more serious stuff (which, actually I’m sad about with comic book movies in general).

Now, onto the media criticism part of it. Some spoilers.

I already walked in expecting problematic stuff with the arabic folks in the movie from the preview. I was hoping they’d condense the Iron Man origin story to a tiny 15 minute thing. Instead I got 30 minutes of “OMG! TERRORISTS!”

So let’s see- the TERRORISTS are randomly killing people in their own region, with no real motivation or context or history other than the usual “brown people are violent for no reason, and only refugees are ok people” (sort of how the media paints a lot of places). Meanwhile, the conflict in America at least gives you an understanding of the motivations of the villain.

Then, the solution to each also tells you a lot. The answer to dealing with the mideast situation is to kill a lot of people. And then build better weapons, and kill them more. And leave the military there, to kill more of them. (Oh yes, the one GOOD arab guy dies sacrificially to save the white man- check). The answer to the problem on the American side is to remove the one bad apple (never mind the military, the corporation, the investors, and everyone else who was complicit in the evil). Oh yeah, I’m sure the folks selling weapons to both sides suddenly stopped as well and the refugees are all safe.

What’s sad is that the comics did a much better job of considering this issue. Stark lost his company because the board threw him off. The military branded him an outlaw when he disabled their weapons using his stolen technology.

Though other movies are just as bad or worse than this, I think we ought to coin a race version of the Frank Miller test, and we can call it the “300 Test”:

If the proportion of people of color to be killed to neutrally presented people of color in his story is above 1:1, he fails.

The Hathor Legacy covers Pepper Potts fairly well, though I wanted her to have a little more hard core going on, since, uh, she’s basically running the administrative side of high end corporate business? You think she doesn’t have some cold steel in her? I was hoping she’d get a little more “Assistant Badassery” ala Alfred from Batman or Owen from Gargoyles.

I did find it problematic that her role was basically to follow instructions from Tony, pick up his life like a good secretary/wife, and to lust after him even if she is unattainable at the moment, and that the rest of the women existed as eye candy. The comics did an incredible job of generally showing the complicated relationships Tony would get into- fucking up good relationships, coming back to bad ones, and basically making a mess of his life.

The one really positive change from the comics was that Rhodey wasn’t the “street talking blue collar” stereotype, but rather a pretty well put together military man.

So, uh, pretty much the enjoyment of this movie depends on putting on your blinders over the many, many who are dead from our war on terror. I imagine for most people in the US, that’s actually not going to be that hard. For others, it’s like a 1/4th of the movie is about celebrating war for “America Fuck Yeah” Lulz.


WOC PhD does a deeper, more thorough analysis (thanks to Naamen for the link).



  1. If you coin a Frank Miller test for race, it would be cool of you to create a FSF Wiki entry for it as well.

    (FYI: there have been people who’ve quibbled over the wording of the Frank Miller test for prostituted women itself, in a couple of threads at the FSF blog: http://blogs.feministsf.net/?p=308 — I don’t agree with the “substantive” concerns, but reading the complaint that it was structurally confusing could help you circumvent that issue with your version of such a test.)

  2. Just saw it tonight, and yep.

    It was interesting too in that while we see Tony Stark start to develop feelings for a woman that are more than fuck her and leave her, he never gets fully there, and it feels more like “oh, he’s growing into a new stage of life” than “oh, wasn’t he kinda a sexist pig for having his stewardesses stripper dance for him.”

    Watching the movie I had a lot of fun. After the movie I couldn’t help but feel dirty about a lot of it. The sad thing about it being that I think the writers of the movie totally felt they were moving away from racism and sexism. I think they actually tried to show deeper level problems. But I think they mostly failed, and in many ways accidentally regressed.

    (My personal moment of “fuck that” was when the white mercenaries were able to disable and butcher the mujahideen like they were punk bitches. It was a total moment of “the scary brown fighters are just unprofessional punks, not like the well trained white warriors.”)

  3. Ide Cyan- That link is… um, wow. I think that the basic test boils down if IF X THEN PROBLEMATIC and folks looking for more than that are pretty much splitting hairs and missing the point of snark tests in general.

    Next movie I watch that fails the 300 Test, I’ll toss up an entry.

    Brand- My personal fuck that was the whole “glory” scene where he’s flamethrowing these folks left and right.

  4. Yup, your review matches my feelings pretty well. The solution to terrorism being more violence was especially dumb, considering our current quagmire. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that the ridiculous, overly ambitious “new Genghis Khan” terrorist (did we ever get his name?) didn’t get a chance to fly around in a suit. Instead, Jeff Bridges? Please.

    Some of the criticism of the military-industrial complex was welcome, but, overall, totally missed the opportunity to say anything worthwhile about war and violence. Which I guess is part for the course for disposable summer entertainment.

  5. I leaning towards 3/5, but was well entertained apart from things you’ve already mentioned. The Guardian’s reviewer Peter Bradshaw called Stark a “pacifist” after Stark’s character change – Mr Bradshaw missed not only the flamethrowers but the whole “my weapon is much awesomer than yours, but it’s okay for me to kill you with it because I’m RIGHT.” Unless pacifism changed meaning since I last looked it up πŸ˜‰

  6. It’s even more disturbing when you realize that Stark not only had access to non-lethal weapons (as Stane proved), but he instead chose to roll with his kewl new repulsors to use on unarmored human beings…

  7. Chris,

    Oh shit, I’d forgotten about the flamethrower scene. Yea, that was brutal. I even remember thinking “you know, shooting and punching people through walls is comic book fare, but burning all those people to death is really much.”

    I mean, you could even say the repulsors weren’t killing people (which they wouldn’t have been in a comic book, but sure as hell looked liked they were in the movie) — but the flamethrower was pretty obviously lethal. But hey, they had justifying guns, so that makes it all alright for the cowboy to butcher them like animals.

    Also, isn’t it interesting how you don’t have to change anything at all to move the threat from the yellow peril to the brown peril — cause its all the fear of the Asian horde.

  8. I was particularly impressed by the way they had a load of arabic(-looking) actors playing the terrorists… led by a guy who was blatantly Indian*. His accent is practically English, too.

    “Hey, he’s brown enough, no-one will notice”

    *Actually looking up the actor (Faran Tahir) shows him to be Pakistani – but it is only the country next-door so I’ll let myself off there)

  9. Hey, I read your review linked from deadbrowalking and it kept me from a lot of headache when I saw the film, since I was prewarned. You’re dead on.

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