I finally got to see this on DVD this week and enjoyed it tremendously! Robert Downeyt Jr. was perfect as Tony Stark, the hero who moved from self-involved arrogance to idealistic heroism without ever losing his engagingly irresponsible attitude.
The rest of the cast was also very good, especially Gwenneth Paltrow as Stark's long-suffering personal assistant. I've heard criticism that Jeff Bridges as the villainous Obadiah Stane wasn't as good a villain as he could have been. I actually liked him a lot in this. He may suffer by comparison to Heath Ledger's tour de force as the Joker in Dark Knight, but everyone this summer will suffer when compared to that.
There was a lot to like about the movie, but there was one scene that made me really think. Disillusioned by the fact that his weapons are being used to kill innocents, Stark develops the Iron Man armor and travels to Afghanistan to take on anyone misusing his weapons.
Iron Man is technologically superior to anything operating in the country. He only has a few rough moments in slipping past the U.S. forces and overpowering the insurgents. When they resort to using human shields, Iron Man activates a special weapon that targets all the hostage takers and knocks them out without a single innocent being harmed.
It's a fun scene, but it made me a little--uncomfortable might be too strong a word--but it made me think. It reminded me of the claims we heard in the Gulf War, which have been repeated in the war in Iraq. And the truth is that the U.S. has as huge a technological advantage over the rest of the world as Iron Man has over the real world. Despite that, war is still messy, collateral damage is still high, and innocents still suffer every day.
I recently listened to an NPR interview with an expert on the recent wars who said that the highest civilian body counts by far in Afghanistan these days are caused by U.S. air strikes. He blames poor communication between U.S. forces and international peacekeepers, and also the very different rules of engagement between air and ground forces. The lack of coordination leads to a chaotic situation that no level of technological superiority can sort out.
In the movie, Tony Stark decides that the armor he develops is too powerful to be trusted to anyone else. It needs to remain in the hands of a lone highly responsible individual. (Well, actually a reckless individual with a heart of gold, but you get the point).
That's perhaps the essence of the superhero myth. It's not superior power that ultimately makes the hero. It's courage, compassion, and wise decisions that define the hero. In the world of a movie or a comic book, those things are fairly easy to come by. In real life it's much messier. We can, and should, strive for the ideal, but we're a long way from being Iron Man.
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