Iron Man 2: The CEO as Superhero

05/07/2010 4:00 AM |

Iron Man 2
Directed by Jon Favreau

It’s understandable that, two Mays ago, facing another endless summer of assembly-line action hero blockbusters, so many critics were quick to praise Robert Downey Jr.’s soulful performance in Iron Man, even though it obliged them to overlook the movie’s repugnant War-on-Terror politics. This weekend, in Iron Man 2, Downey returns to theaters as Tony Stark, the billionaire weapons manufacturer with a mechanical heart of gold. But anyone planning to overlook the movie’s ideology this time out is going to need bigger blinders.

Consider the coy on-screen references to at least two upcoming Marvel properties, the off-screen tie-ins to everything from K-Mart coupons to Burger King’s Whiplash Whopper, and the $200 million of Paramount’s money riding on its success. It’s merely stating the obvious to call Iron Man 2 the product of multiple business concerns. Indeed, before the start of the advanced screening I attended, two yahoos in the row behind me were discussing the merits of the Iron Man 2 video game versus the original. More than just the flagship in an armada of synergy, IM2, as we’ll hereafter refer to it, is a two-hour infomercial for the acumen of the American CEO marketed as a superhero sequel.

Having announced to the world in the final scene of the first film, “I am Iron Man,” Stark is called before a Senate arms committee, which demands that he hand over his super-suit technology, lest our enemies develop something similar and crush us. He refuses, insisting that no one is anywhere near the capabilities of his indomitable Stark Industries, including the rival munitions company owned by ruthless dork Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

More significantly, Stark views himself, not the federal government, as the ultimate steward of America’s national security. “I have successfully privatized world peace,” he boasts in IM2‘s opening scene, which takes place at Stark Expo, held on the Stark Fairgrounds. (Actually, it’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park digitally made over and decorated with product placements for, among other things, Oracle, whose CEO, Larry Ellison, has a cameo). Throughout IM2, I kept reminding myself how fortunate we are that this asshole is a fictional character, because dude has an appetite the size of Donald Trump’s for seeing his name embossed.

In pitting this egomaniac against the Beltway (embodied by Garry Shandling doing a half-assed Arlen Specter imitation), IM2 implies that the Pentagon is at odds with its contractors, rather than in bed with them. I don’t want to get all old-school fanboy on this turkey, but back in the day Stan Lee and his crew used to vilify the very same military-industrial complex that IM2 glorifies.(Think of General “Thunderbolt” Ross chasing the Hulk, or of Admiral Stryker hunting down mutants.) Worse, in painting Downey’s captain of industry as a benign autocrat who goes to Washington to speak truth to power, IM2 dabbles in right-wing fantasies so anti-democratic and implausible they might actually satisfy Wall Street and the Tea Party simultaneously. Lord knows, Halliburton will be grateful for the good press.