Revisiting Iron Man

So, with Infinity War coming out just last week I decided to rewatch most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. A look back at where the universe has been and where it is now. Now, when I rewatched these films I skipped 2008’s Incredible Hulk, which meant that my marathon began with the first two Iron Man films. An interesting beginning. I’ve never been Tony Stark’s biggest fan. I’m more of a Captain America guy. Looking back at the first Iron Man films is interesting because those films begin with Stark embroiled in the military-industrial complex. Now, Tony Stark may have transitioned away from that model into being a futurist, but his solo films are all about corporate power struggles and the next big weapon.

With that, it’s interesting to explore the world of Tony Stark and the political landscape of the first two films. When the first Iron Man films came out, I was 14 and 16 respectively. I had not yet become the politically-minded leftie that I am currently. Another factor that plays into a re-evaluation of the Iron Man films is our current political era. Trump and his cronies have highlighted the dark and dirty parts of the political machine of America. So, let’s look at the first Iron Man film. A film created and released in the final months of the Bush presidency.

You might remember that the first Iron Man film begins in Afghanistan where Tony Stark’s convoy is attacked and he is the only one left alive. He gets exploded by one of his own bombs and ends up attached to a car battery to survive. In the movie’s first third, we see Stark often speak glibly about how his weapons participate in the ongoing War on Terror. He jokes that he’d be out of the job with peace. Following the opening credits, we see a puff piece presentation of the character of Tony Stark. There is something of a Rockstar mystique about arms-dealer Tony Stark. He revels in the title ‘merchant of death’.

It might be easy for me to condemn this movie for the way it revels in war. Although, after a frightful experience Tony wants to stop selling weapons. That’s the point of the movie. Although it’s a bit hard to watch Tony Stark from this point on because most of his fortune was built on this foundation of money made from the war on terror. It’s hard to watch a moral billionaire whose money isn’t exactly moral.

The reason for Tony’s Afghanistan visit is the demonstration of the Jericho missile. Stark makes a comment that ‘the bad guys won’t even want to come out of their caves’ which one could reason assume was an at-the-time contemporary nod towards the suspected hiding place of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It is interesting to look back at this period and the fact that bin Laden was eventually tracked down in Pakistan. The operations in Afghanistan were largely justified in regards to finding members of al Qaeda connected to the September 11 attacks. Now, I must confess that I’m no political expert and especially not an expert on the early 21st century, a period of time when I was in the first fifteen years of my life. However, I think it’s uncontroversial to say that the September 11 attacks were the spark for the war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan and a lot of our current political turmoil is a steamroller effect from those events. Seventeen years later, the war in Afghanistan is still happening. US troops are still posted there. Wherever you may lean politically, it’s a weird geopolitical sphere to put a superhero into. It’s effective for the movie they’re making in the moment but it is an interesting world that spawns from that where Iron Man is one of the most beloved superheroes of the modern age.

Before we move onto Iron Man 2, there are a couple things I want to highlight that remind us how long ago ten years feels in politics. First, there’s quite a few gay panic jokes which feel weird in a modern context. Tony jokes to Rhodey about a previous time where Rhodey almost slept with ‘a lovely lady. what was his name, Ivan?’. Which feels weird and out of place when we have trans people mis-gendered by those with agendas and those bathroom bills that keep popping up. Secondly, Tony pressures Pepper to dance with him at a work event. She then shares concerns that Tony has a reputation and that people will start talking. Pepper’s assertion that ‘Everyone knows how you are’ feels frightfully #MeToo-esque. There may be some more of that in Iron Man 2.

One last point for this film, for a guy who is adamant about not selling weapons anymore he does jump right into the conflict with the Iron Man suit. One of the big action set pieces of the film is Iron Man sieging a town. So what exactly is Tony’s moral objection to selling weapons? That the other side gets his weapons? Civilian targets? It’s not 100% clear if he’s happy to use himself as a weapon in the conflict after he’s sworn off weapons.

Now this piece is getting a bit long so you know what, let’s split it into a two-parter. My thoughts on Revisiting Iron Man 2 will be available next week.


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2 thoughts on “Revisiting Iron Man

  1. Zach, nice article! My reply started turning into a full-on essay, so I will have to do my own write-up. You raise some interesting points, which if looked at too closely, undermine a lot of the messages the movies were trying to send.


    1. Thanks Chris. Glad to hear it got you thinking. Feel free to post the link below if you write your own write-up. I did debate in my head whether condemning Iron Man was throwing the baby out with the bath water. Either way, it’s an interesting time capsule.


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