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America—and it would seem the world—cannot get enough of superheroes these days. At least that’s what Hollywood is seeing from the box office returns. With almost a dozen superhero movies released in the last ten years and another dozen or so expected in the next ten, I see this as America’s opportunity to make an evaluation of "the supers." It is time to see which really are iconic and mythological and which are due a falling by the wayside.
In my opinion, the latest and bravest superhero film in theaters, Iron Man, is not good for young children with undeveloped discernment, but is an excellent iconic hero story that will have influence in this country for years to come. It’s time for Christians to take the fictional heroes as seriously as they take non-fictional heroes, as they make a great, if not a greater, impact on our culture.
Unlike Any Other Superhero…
Whether you have or have not seen the film yet, there’s one thing you’ve got to know that makes it stand out from the rest of the super-movies. Iron Man is different than the rest of the superheroes. Period. Tony Stark, Iron Man's “secret identity,” is a business tycoon selling advanced weapons/technology to the military—very pro-American, but other than that, Tony doesn’t have any lasting, personal values until his life is turned around (at the beginning of act two) from a near death experience. I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll leave the details at that.
It is refreshing to see a superhero in film—like Iron Man—who doesn’t develop tremendous inner turmoil and drama. Stark, from beginning to end, does not develop a complex of deep inner turmoil and a wrenching heart for his loved ones and his “purpose” in life. He simply comes to the realization that he needs to grow up in some areas of his life, forms resolve to take action, and thus needs super-heroics to achieve his calling in life. It’s neither for revenge, hate, nor gifts that he puts on the armor clad techno suit, but for the pure innocent objective of righting some of the wrongs his company, Stark Industries, has committed. He’s compelled to do this to protect his country, the world, and to honor the memory of his deceased father.
Stark’s “superpower,” if you want to call it that, is his genius. He’s not an idiot at the start who must learn all the ins and outs of real life and the world around him—like so many other superheroes. He’s very consciously aware of the evils around him and most of his life has been dedicated to protecting the innocent anyway—so the super heroics aren’t a new thing for him. In the movie, it is simply the first time he is personally putting his own life in harms way to protect and to right his own wrongs. This is something else characteristic of most superheroes that sets Tony Stark as different: he realizes he is flawed and he’s working to solve his own failings—not pump up his ego with everything he’s capable of doing with his gifts.
But like Bruce Wayne, only better.
Bruce Wayne (Batman) is compelled to use scare tactics to frighten the criminals into inactivity in Gotham. What happens after Batman dies of old age or, God forbid, he gets himself killed by a criminal who can now boast and destroy everything Batman fought for? Bruce is flawed in his approach to “war on crime” because his narrow focus, and ultimately I believe his fear of man, inhibits him from taking on crime with full force with Wayne Enterprises at his disposal. Bruce Wayne is arrogant for believing he’s the only soul that can be entrusted with the task of saving the world (again, a lot of superheroes have this immature attitude).
On the other hand, Tony Stark isn’t afraid to use his company to advance his new mission, nor is he afraid of letting the public know what he wants to do with his company (to save lives) at the expense of financially crippling the company and enduring bad press. With Bruce, everything is a facade, secretive, riddled with deep inner turmoil. For Stark, all his laundry is hanging up on the clothes line for all to see, so there’s no secrets, no complex psychology, no facade for the public. He’s just Tony Stark carrying out the latest thing he is compelled to do (without giving away too much of the story) with a spirit of genuine humility.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like Batman. There is room in good story-telling to depict all types of heroes with all kinds of character flaws. What I am saying is it is refreshing to see a hero who is not like all the rest shown in this movie genre. Ultimately, the character Tony Stark is 100% refreshing. If you get bored easily with super-movies because you don’t “get them” and they all seem the same, then you may still like this one.
So that’s the hero. What about the movie?
It has some highly developed characters, interesting locales, dazzling technology (demonstrated in lots of cool detail), real world conflicts (global as well as national) and a few plot holes as it progresses. You will not go away unsatisfied with the action, character development, special effects, the music, or pure entertainment value. I may note, however, that this film is not about the action as much as it is about the drama. If you hoped to primarily see action you may not be satisfied, although the action is top-notch.
Tony’s progression makes sense from start to finish (good storytelling), but the greatest downside to the film is the villain’s does not. There are some cool twists about the bad guy’s character throughout (mostly predictable if you’re paying attention) and he is an interesting, collected, realistic guy—up till it is time for a finale of the movie. He brings out his “secret weapon” that obviously would’ve taken much more time to create than the movie allows, and he uses it on unsuspecting victims without merit to fulfill his ultimate scheme of keeping his diabolical plot secret. He let’s the whole ugly cat out of the bag, and if he does survive the battle at the end with Iron Man, he will be running from authorities and joining foreign terrorists to live out the rest of his days (at best). The villain’s “secret weapon” will do him no good because he cannot maintain his reputation as an honorable businessman and get Stark Industries to produce his devices of destruction. You’ll see what I mean if you watch the movie. It’s hard to overlook.
Other than that plot hole, I may note that the film, like any other superhero action-flick, does have just enough language, innuendo, and a sampling of sexual activity to get it the PG-13 rating. That being said, the sexual content is part of Stark’s character and would be difficult to side-step altogether since the man is made of low moral values at the beginning. I see this flaw/weakness in his personality as a reminder that he has some areas to grow in during the rest of the film as he turns his life around. The film doesn’t pass off the immorality and his philandering as justifiable or right; Tony does it because of his immaturity and he has nothing else he lives for. It is also encouraging that his associates do not support him in his personal affairs and exhibit their disapproval.
And because this is an action-superhero flick, of course there’s going to be some “violent” nature to the stunts that the hero pulls to save the world. However these were handled tastefully and with merit, demonstrating that violence is not a pleasure to behold. The focus is on the heroics in all demonstrations of a violent nature. The villains are demonstrated as wrong in their behavior entirely.
I give this film 3 out of 4/3.5 out of 5 stars. It is a fun film and inspiring to me as a creative designer (in a similar fashion with the hero since he is a designer by profession in the film). The film reminds us that not all corporate titans are evil, while unfortunately making the point (like so many other Hollywood movies) that some of them are real villains waiting to happen. It implies spirituality at least three times (concerning afterlife, a God given purpose, and an ultimate standard of morality) but doesn’t flesh these out anymore than the next super-hero flick. The basic message of the film is that you can do a 180—make your sins right and make a difference in humanity long after you are labeled a lost cause.