Sunday, May 04, 2008

Iron Man Evokes The Ancient Greek Hero

As the mother of two sons and the wife of a man-child who loves superheroes, my fate was to see Iron Man in the weekend that it came out. We have been marking the days, literally, on our calendar until the exciting debut of this latest Marvel-inspired film. I've seen lots of superhero movies with my bevy of men--Spiderman 1-3, Batman in all its incarnations, Superman, Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, X-men. They were all fun according to this pattern: superhero takes on a villain and saves the city (usually New York).

But Iron Man is different. Iron Man is not just about the evil nature of the villain without, but about the dual nature of the man within. It is about violence and conscience, power and accountability. And Robert Downey, Jr. makes it work with a very nuanced performance.

On the way home I was buzzing about the movie, trying to get the men to think about it on a symbolic level. They didn't really want to. They liked the testosterone of it, the giant metal suits, the pure power that perhaps every man, and some women, dream of.

To me, Tony Stark, the arms dealer who becomes Iron Man, could have been a character written by Sophocles, if Sophocles could be brought to Hollywood and asked to write a screenplay (and I'm sure Sophocles would have a lot to say about Hollywood . . .).
Stark is a flawed man, a man who may have wasted his life in the pursuit of power and pleasure. But he has a moment of redemption, and that moment fuels a new passion. Still, he remains flawed, and the Ancient Greeks would suggest that he must take responsibility for those flaws, no matter how often he himself is a victim, and no matter that he has changed his worldview. He will always be burdened by his past.

I like the fact that a modern-day movie raises some of the questions of the ages: Why does power so often corrupt? Why do people seek to solve problems with ever-escalating violence? Where is the logic in thinking that we can make weapons ever larger, ever more powerful, and can somehow still remain unscathed?

I recommend the movie, both as a fun superhero romp and as a thought-provoking examination of the modern world and its weapons. Jon Favreau, the director, seems to enjoy asking those big questions, and I intend to keep watching his movies to see if he comes closer to an answer.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the insight!

I also have two boys, and often get sucked into watching movies that I would not have chosen on my own. It sounds like this will be one I'll enjoy (I'll be sure not to avoid it).

Julia Buckley said...

I think you'll like it, Ilana--there is violence, but no blood. There are many suspenseful scenes that IMPLY terrible violence, but the people in those cases are always saved.

Jessica Lourey said...

I saw the movie with my son on Saturday, Julia, and I second everything you wrote, only less eloquently. I'm still thinking about the movie because the main character was so layered, and Robert Downey, Jr. did give a fantastically nuanced performance.

Good stuff.

Julia Buckley said...

I have sort of a crush on him now, Jess. Oh to be Pepper Pots (who was nice in her loyalty, but not very layered at all).

Jessica Lourey said...

I have a bigger crush. I actually Googled him after seeing it. A Google-crush. And yeh, Gwyneth Paltrow deserved better, if only even shorter shoes.

Susan Bearman said...

I have three sons, a husband and a step son, plus a couple of girls. Three of the fellows and I also saw "Ironman" opening weekend. As a long-time Robert Downey, Jr. fan, all I could think of was how cool is it that he survived all his drug-related misadventures to play a superhero in his forties? Good for him and good for the rest of us forty-somethings who still hope to save the world. My only complaint — if they updated Ironman, why is Pepper still a 1950s stereotype?

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah, no kidding. They didn't do a lot with Pepper. What a waste of Gwyneth Paltrow.

RDJ is exactly my age, and I keep thinking, how does he look that good DESPITE all the drugs--I've never done drugs in my life and it's not as though my youth has been preserved in Saran Wrap or anything. :)