Tuesday, May 27, 2008

``Iron Man'' Ignores its Inner Robots

In ``Iron Man,'' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), techno-genius and massively successful head of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, is captured by guerrillas in the Kunbar region of Afghanistan. The guerillas force Stark to make, with material they just happen to possess, a rendition of his latest and most lethal weapon.
Monitoring his work via closed-circuit TV, the rebels discern eventually that Stark is not fabricating a missile. Nevertheless, they give him more time -- just barely enough for him to assemble the prototype Iron Man suit, which provides Stark with armor, ballistic and incendiary firepower. He escapes by walking through hails of bullets, assassinating and blowing up Afghans before the suit -- which was also supposed to give Stark the power of flight -- onto the open desert.
Just then two helicopters fly over, site Stark, and he is rescued.
At a press conference back home Stark announces he will not make weapons any more. In the desert he had seen his firm's legacy, to paraphrase Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who was imprisoned with Stark and who helped him make the suit. (Yinsen is killed in the escape scene.)
Ignoring the fact that Stark Industries' stock price has tanked, Stark works obsessively -- with help from a few robots -- on the perfected robotic Iron Man armor
He flies back to Kunbar and destroys more of the rebels that had imprisoned him, just before they can execute a father in front of his family.
Senior Stark Industries executive Oidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is incensed by Stark's announcement that he will build plowshares from now on. Stane invents his own outfit, which compared to Stark's, is mammoth. The two go at it, and Stark kills Stane, thanks to his superior technological acumen, and the movie ends.
I haven't ruined it for you. I haven't conveyed the special effects, the out sized mise en scene, opulence, sexual tension and Stark's verbal energy. All that makes the film a lot of fun to watch, assuming you aren't distracted by the suspicion that you've seen the essence of this before.
I had already seen a building of a lethal suit -- technology gone terribly wrong -- by Otto Octavius in ``Spider-Man 2.'' Octavius let his anger defeat him, and make him the the villain after a misguided attempt to capture the sun's power. The suit bound him physically and psychologically; he becomes bitter after realizing he is stuck to that monstrosity for the rest of his life.
In ``Spider-Man 3'' there is the gargantuan Sandman. Although the Sandman dwarfs Spider-Man, Spidey defeats him anyway.
``Iron Man'' incorporates the themes of the treachery of technology and the myth of David and Goliath.
But why did Stark attack the rebels? Why did personal revenge trump his declared intention to do his bit to bring peace to the world? No indication that he had thought these questions over.
``Iron Man'' may be interpreted as saying that technology is the Goliath we face, but we can't get to that battle until we settle our personal scores.
But the real, untold story in ``Iron Man'' is the matter of the robots.
The film alludes to ``2001: A Space Odyssey'' by giving the suit, actually a tailored robot, a voice much like that of HAL the talking robot in the 1968 science fiction classic.
Stark's HAL, however, is droll, allowing for light banter. He is never malevolent; he always obeys orders.
In the real world, however, concern has been expressed that humans could develop robots sophisticated enough to discover free will. At that point, they would not settle for being tools, and they would rebel and enslave humanity.
So for the time being, Tony Stark and his helpmates are on good terms. It's possible, however, that he may end up in mortal combat with his creation.
But that sounds like good stuff for a sequel.

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