Posts Tagged 'iron man'

Future Developments in Cinema

How quaint is it, when watching a million dollar special effect zoom across the screen, to consider that Iron Man originated as a vehicle for commentary on the Cold war? First penned in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963), Iron Man’s critique has shifted its focus from militarized politics to static humanism: the new Iron Man condones relentless futurism. I’m writing specifically about Jon Favreau’s recent sequel, and its blatant adoration of popular technology (have we ever been able to use comics as a window to mass social concerns? Certainly the medium addresses them, but comics’ outsider history makes them somewhat less useful than cinema for monitoring these kinds of big opinions).  Favreau is no cultural arbiter, but despite his film’s basic emptiness (and likely because of its generic quality), Iron Man 2 cannot be ignored by the watchful technologist.

The movie’s unique equation of technological prowess with personal might makes it a dangerous piece of propaganda in an already precarious moment in tech history. What can be said when the heroes’  measuring tapes move away from their shorts and towards their keyboards? Exertions of power are repeatedly displayed through egotistic hacking: Tony Stark’s effortless command of his trial, Ivan Vanko’s summoning of the robot army, and Natasha Romanoff’s undoing of said summoning. The usual filmic method of power display is not fully banished as the weaponized iron men mostly just punch each other in the head during the iron-clad melees. While hardly controversial, the interchangeable use of computer prowess with masculine brutality falls in with the general gestalt of Iron Man as a model for the contemporary cyborg.

Technology is everywhere in the film. It’s hard to describe this fetishization as new, when the evidence for its predecessor is shown right on screen before you.  The 1974 Stark Expo (and its (2010?) successor) clearly embodies the real world desire for heedless techno-progress that is currently resurfacing in Shanghai’s actual 2010 World Expo. Technology has always been seen by some as a sign of idealistic progress:

A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace
( Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The Futurist Manifesto).

The  really deadly potential of  Iron Man 2 lies in its confusion of reality with fiction. It’s effusively seductive gadgets are all based on real-world counterparts (see Stark’s effectively super-powered iPhone), and I already mentioned it’s take on the historic World’s Fairs (both cases were engineered by Perception studios, whose effects reels are totally worth watching). The glass touch-phone Stark wields in the trial is fictional, but other characters were outfitted with LG bluetooth headsets “at LG’s request” to connect the actual brand with the magical futurism on display in the film (The Story Behind Iron Man 2’s Transparent  Phone.  Forbes).  By inundating the film with such futuristic technology Favreau has marked the obsessions of our time and failed to learn from the marvelously inane Futurists.

While important, none of this really stands out from Adorno and Horkheimer’s declaration that “real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies” (Dialectic of Enlightenment 126). What is uncomfortably resonant in Iron Man 2 is the protagonist’s continuous progression toward becoming a machine. Easy to look past when faced with the character’s equally relentless wit, is the fact that Stark is wholeheartedly a cyborg, and that once given a mythically robotic heart he upgrades and modifies his body with little distinction between it and his other inventions. When declaring “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one”,  Stark courageously fulfills Donna Haraway’s proclamation of “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” but fails to enact “responsibility in their construction” as the character’s godlike tech abilities provide a scary example for the real-world to follow (A Manifesto for Cyborgs 2270). Every narrative conflict is dealt with through technology and each upgrade (the suits’, the arc reactor’s, the film’s effects and action sequences in relation to its predecessor) mirrors the shameless progress of Modernism.

The scale and success of the film’s production should point to it’s resonance with culture at large, and when our cinematic heroes are pumping themselves full of titanium and holograms, should we expect any less from your run-of-the-mill citizen? Referring to McLuhan’s importance of medium, we can see how the massively digitized properties of blockbuster film-making perfectly suits this type futuristic propaganda. At a time when Apple is lauding the iPad as a “magical and revolutionary” device, the difference between the real world and the fantasy sold in mainstream Sci Fi is growing perilously small. If today’s culture industry still embodies Horkheimer and Adorno’s claim:  “a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part”, then I believe that alongside thoughtless adoration of technology we must be wary of the accompanying attraction to the futuristic as prescribed by – in this case –  Paramount Pictures (Dialectic of Enlightenment 120).

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