NOTE: This article has been amended to correct factual mistakes and clarify arguments.
Iron Man (2008), starring Robert Downey Jnr. and directed by Jon Favreau, is objectively one of the most evil films ever made. Possibly the most evil, actually.
I’ll get around to justifying that opening statement in a bit. But first, I just want to say… ahem… fuck Tony Stark. Seriously, fuck him. The arrogant, smug, privileged, sexist, immature, selfish, capitalist prick. The rich, preening, self-satisfied asshole. The callous, self-involved, vainglorious, narcissistic wanker. This guy isn’t charming or funny or lovable. He’s scum, masquerading as humankind’s best friend. He’s the 1% as saviour of the world, at a time when the 1% are directly and knowing destroying the world. He’s the smiling face of the anthropocene (or rather capitalocene) extinction. He’s genocidal imperialism as (lone) humanitarian intervention. He’s neoliberal capitalism and neoconservative foreign policy as a series of bad-boy quips. He’s private capitalist industry as heroism. He’s mega-wealth as heroism. He’s white male privilege as heroism. He’s militarism, imperialism and American exceptionalism as heroism. He’s the War on Terror as heroism. He’s everything sick and twisted and rotten and filthy and evil and insane and false about our world, presented to us as aspirational role-model. He’s Donald Trump in a Robert Downey Jnr. mask… no, scratch that… Robert Downey Jnr. is a rich, reactionary dick too, isn’t he… so we might as well say that Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jnr. in a Robert Downey Jnr. mask. In any case, Tony Stark is everything we need to tear down, ruthlessly demolish, trample on and bury, presented to us as the best of humanity.
There’s no secret about this, of course. I’m not expecting any awards for searing, original insight. Everybody knows who and what Tony Stark is. He is, quite literally, stark. The films themselves make no secret about any of this. On the contrary, they loudly and proudly boast of it.
This stuff is baked into the character. It’s part of him by design.
I don’t pretend to know much about the Iron Man comics, original or contemporary. Generally speaking, I’m not a comics guy. I intend no disparagement of comics; they’re just not my can of Tizer, on the whole. So I come to these Marvel Cinematic Universe films (as I come to most films adapted from comics) as someone with little knowledge of the source material. But I’m not going to apologize for that, or seek to remedy it, for several reasons:
a) I can’t be bothered,
b) I don’t think it’s necessary, since the comics cannot possibly fundamentally alter the meaning of the films that stem from them, and
c) the vast majority of the audience – target and actual – are, like me, coming to these films without knowledge of the comics.
Having said that, I was told – by Holly B., during Shabcast 9, in which we chat about Iron Man, amongst other things – that Stan Lee’s original goal with Iron Man was to create a hero whom the hippies would hate but also be unable not to love.…