Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man

I'm not sure if the new razzle-dazzle IRON MAN qualifies as a conservative or liberal movie. They tried hard, it seems, to split the difference.

Spoilers ahead.

For instance, during the early scenes in which the evil terrorists in Afghanistan take Tony Stark (hotshot weapons manufacturer and war profiteer) hostage, I am not at all sure the numerous ill-behaved, noisy suburban brats behind me understood that this was not how all dark-skinned Muslims behave. His ally during captivity is a lighter-skinned, well-educated, erudite sort (played by Shaun Toub), while the bad guys are all dark, dirty and mean. I felt uncomfortable with that, and would have found it necessary to editorialize if I had brought small children to the movie.

At one point during these early scenes, the ally complains he doesn't understand what the terrorists are saying because they are speaking in Hungarian. Hungarian? Obviously, someone on the set complained and they decided to throw that in for those of us who might complain all the terrorists are Arabs.

Later in the movie, we learn the situation is not as we thought (and nicely done, I must say!), but I don't think the younger kids behind me could fully understand the twists and turns of the plot. Jeff Bridges (great villain performance, bravo! Good movie villains are hard to come by, and Kevin Spacey really disappointed me in SUPERMAN RETURNS) morphs into the the villain in a deliciously-greedy fashion and we discover he has hired the terrorists to kidnap Stark and take over Stark Industries. But doesn't this mean the Arabs are still mindless and evil, just that they are working for an American instead? Is terrorism for American dollars and weaponry supposed to be better than terrorism for some supposedly righteous cause?


The Man of Few Words comments on the trailer:

Ok, I have to be honest. Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark got rich off of developing weapons to massacre Vietnamese peasants for the US government. So in essence he is providing weapons to evil terrorists while his antagonist happens to be doing the same albeit to a different breed of terrorists. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to be taking that sort of interpretive direction and so America of course represents all that is good while beards and turbans represent the kind of evil that cannot be allowed to play with expensive toys.

Avi Arad, the head of Marvel Studios, was born and raised in Israel and so perhaps the sophisticated characterization (caricatures) of Muslims has roots in his own origins.

In all fairness, without more information I can’t encourage Muslims to start a ruckus and boycott this film while complaining loudly. I would have to wait for critical reviews in order to make a sound judgment but I would like to let people know that this is an issue and warn them not to be seduced by two heavily armed automatons tossing exploding vehicles at one another. Racism, bigotry and stereotypical movie making should not be supported no matter how potentially cool the special effects are.

I’ll update you the more I learn. (*EDIT: Here is his later review, May 6th)
I also decided to go snooping in National Review Online, to see what the right wing is saying about the movie. Peter Suderman writes:
After his escape from their clutches, Stark quickly develops a hatred of war profiteering and the military-industrial complex (which, if the movie is to be believed, his company leads). This might make things a little more clear, except that he continues to delight in building outlandish weaponry and deploying it against the sneering Afghan baddies. Only in Hollywood can you charge millions of people ten bucks to gape for hours at extravagant gee-whiz weaponry while simultaneously decrying capitalism and U.S. militarism.
He has a point.

And I'm curious: Who decided women in comics must have alliterative names? Possibly a holdover from the alliterative "Perils of Pauline"? Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Vicki Vale, Linda Lee, and Gwyneth Paltrow plays the perky Pepper Potts. (Exceptions to this rule include Spiderman and Mary Jane, and Captain America's love, aptly named Betsy Ross.) Also--check out Gwyneth's amazing 7-8 inch stilettos; I can't believe anybody can walk in such shoes, much less deliver lines. When she has to haul ass in a hurry, they only shoot her from the knees up (obviously, she has switched to her Nikes) and then when she stops running, back to the stilettos. (I hope no little girls try running on stilettos at home.)

I am a huge Robert Downey Jr fan, as I have said before, and he really cooks in the role. Too bad they never give Oscars for superhero roles, because he is just plain fabulous. Maybe this will be the first? As Bob Mondello at NPR commented: "If every superhero franchise had a Robert Downey Jr., the genre might actually be watchable again."

And there were two winks at the 12-Steps in the movie; two quotes lifted wholesale from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Did anyone else catch those? It was very nice, as if he was waving just to us.

We love you too, man.


thene said...

There was a great Punkass thread about the film that included a comment about the military's involvement in filmmaking. "You don’t get to do blockbuster-level special effects using lots of real, state-of-the-art military equipment without kissing their ass and making them the good guy."

Alliterative names in comics - it's not just female characters. See Scott Summers, Peter Parker, Clark Kent (same sound!), Warren Worthington, Wade Wilson, Matt Murdock...

I'm glad to see someone else was troubled by the race dynamic. I tried whining to my guy about it, but he said it's not Marvel's fault the US are fighting two wars against brown people atm. *le sigh* The second time I saw the film, I realised exactly what had bugged me - that bit where Tony shoots five people at once to let the Nice Innocent Brown People get away? That's troubling because some fucking idiots seem to think that's what fighting wars is really like, and those fucking idiots are the ones running the country and invading every place they feel like. They think they have the ability - and the magical white right - to separate Nice Brown People from Evil Brown People and kill the latter with pinpoint precision. Sure, put it on film, forget that we know it's the most innocent and powerless that will suffer the most.

I'm cooking a post on this + GTA + other stuff...woo! I shall link you.

Aishwarya said...

The movie did seem extremely confused about its own politics.

I mean, does he decide to stop making arms because he's contributing to a global industry in which he makes arms, people use them and people die; or because evil brown people might get the weapons and the wrong sort of people will die? Does the movie even see a difference between these two positions?

Similarly with the sexism, I think we're expected to think Stark's an asshole at the beginning with his treatment of the woman driving the vehicle he's in (though she likes it of course. If I was in the armed forces I bet I'd enjoy sexual harrassment too!) but the other women we see? The reporter who sleeps with him despite her politics (which are dismissable, of course) and gets referred to as the 'trash', and Pepper Potts, his own personal doormat.

I really, really wish I could just watch movies where things blow up (because movies where things blow up are excellent) without being constantly alienated by this sort of thing. :(

annie said...

i love robert too... thanks for the review.

things have finally settled down here in moving-land, and i've added you to my links.

Vanessa said...

Yeah, the evil Arab terrorist was certainly on huge display.

Mainly, though, the scene where (spoiler) Iron Man saves the village full of innocent people, mainly made me sad because in real life shitbag capitalist warmongering Americans are war profiteering to the detriment of innocent villagers somewhere and there isn't really a superhero to save them.

thene said...

[FYI: in the comicverse, the Evil Arab Terrorist - the leader of the Ten Rings - is Chinese. Because you can switch around non-white ethnicities like that, right?]

credit savvy said...

i bet there was alot of ass kissing in this movie

credit repair

CrackerLilo said...

Actually, the Hungarian's not *that* weird. Afghanistan has many ethnic groups, languages, and dialects, and Hungary's got a problem with heroin, which helps fund the Taliban. The only thing I find wrong with that is that Hungarian is one hell of a difficult language for non-native speakers to learn--it literally looks and sounds like no other on Earth.

As for the rest...I can see the point. *Now*. I was too busy looking out for the nine-year-old boy I took's personal safety. (Incidentally, he's black and urban.) I told him too that this isn't how all Afghan people look or act, and compared the terrorists to a small group of bullies that takes over a school. He related.

I loved both Jeff Bridges' and Robert Downey Jr.'s performances. The nine-year-old took it as a story of a selfish man becoming less selfish, with lots of eye candy.

Now for a movie where a Muslim and/or Arab can be a hero, a buddy, a *something* besides an actual or suspected terrorist...

Rootietoot said...

Robert DOwney Jr is so pretty to look at. And Jeff Bridges looks just the like my first real crush. And no. I really don't think any deeper than that.

Bianca Reagan said...

I refuse to see the movie based on Mr. Downey's upcoming blackface role. If he drops out, or the character is changed, then maybe I'll see Iron Man. But now that I've read your review, maybe not.

Joe said...

There were 4 good guys
Tony, Pepper, Rodney, and the doctor.

Neither Rodney or the doctor were "light."

Daisy said...

Joe, have you forgotten Shaun Toub, the guy who helped him build the first Iron Man while he was held hostage? And the light skinned vs dark-skinned villagers, upon his return?

I'm talking about the scenes in Afghanistan, the interrogators, etc.

I think you're being willfully obtuse now.

joe said...

Joe, have you forgotten Shaun Toub, the guy who helped him build the first Iron Man while he was held hostage? And the light skinned vs dark-skinned villagers, upon his return?

I'm talking about the scenes in Afghanistan, the interrogators, etc.

I think you're being willfully obtuse now.
Sorry about the short comment. My kid woke up and I had to go get her. (I do blogs before I go to work, unless she wakes up early.) I meant to cancel out the comment but, obviously, I didn’t.

Shaun Toub is who I meant by “the doctor”. I never caught the characters name.

My point was that there were light and dark skinned characters on both sides of the line, and in roughly equal number for the main characters.

You may be right about villagers being lighter than the terrorists. I don’t really recall. They all coded as ‘dark’ to me. But I was looking more at the shiny red and gold suit than anything else.

My take, and I wasn’t keeping notes on this, was that the bad guys were central Asian. That made sense to me since Afghanistan is in central Asia. I remember the doctor saying they spoke Urdu, Pushtu, Arabic, and making a comment on other languages. I did think that the Hungarian speaking terrorists looked more European but I don’t know if that was because he said they spoke Hungarian or because they looked more European. I thought it was funny because it seemed an obvious attempt to be PC. I suppose they could have had Neo-Nazi’s from Germany kidnap him at a party, but I don’t think that would have been as good.

Part of the point with setting it where they did is that Tony realized that ‘collateral damage’ means real people and having seen them he wasn’t as able to ignore the part he played in their death. He kept building weapons, because we live in a violent world, but he no longer trusted his best weapons to the current system so kept it in the hands of the only person he trusted, himself.

I’m curious, how would you rewrite the movie to make it ‘better’ but still the Iron Man movie, still somewhat true to the source material?

Sorry again if my last comment was annoying. Not my intent.

Daisy said...

I would not have any terrorism-related plot, which I think is a cheap shot during wartime. I consider it akin to "yellow peril" cartoons during WWII. This is propaganda, pure and simple. The kids will not be able to differentiate, just as I couldn't differentiate between Muslims and Arabs, above. The desert, the clothes, the weaponry, the hostage video that looked so familiar, the references to Allah... it all runs together. And this is a movie lots of children will see.

I don't know how I'd rewrite the movie. That's somebody in the WGA's job. I'm sure if I was lousy at what I do, they'd complain loudly about me, so I guess I can complain a little if I think THEY are slipshod about their job. :)

joe said...

I guess we disagree. I'm not saying that this another "look who's coming to dinner" but clearly the creators put some thought into making sure that this wasn't a propaganda piece. Also, the bad guys weren't terrorists. We were just supposed to think they were until we found out that the real villain is the military industrial complex as lead by an evil white dude. Maybe they were too subtle about it. But if it makes you feel better there are right wing blogs pissed that he 'libbed out.

Regarding your question about if it's a conservative or liberal movie. I don't think it's either.

Saranga said...

Interesting debate. I liked the movie, but seem to have blocked out most of the Afghanistan scenes which came across as total and utter proganda for the current war. However my excitement at the hidden scene sort of obliterated most of my other memories of the movie!
Not a very insightful comment but it's late and I'm knackered.

Anonymous said...

It was nice to hear the two AA phrases in the movie, I'm glad that I'm not the only one to hear them!