“Iron Man 2” as Post-9/11 Literature

Back when I saw the original “Iron Man,” I called it the first major example of “Post-9/11 Literature,” the first book or movie that was not actively attempting to document our feelings about the fall of the World Trade Center and the War on Terrorism and the War in Iraq and the Quagmire in Afghanistan…but somehow, had managed to capture our feelings and attitudes better than any American film since “Spider-Man.” (And “Spider-Man” was *successful* because of 9/11–a hero saving New York!–but was not a *response* to 9/11)

“Iron Man,” quite simply, was the story of a single guy with limitless resources who flies to the Middle East and Asia and single-handedly destroys vast terrorist networks. No mercy. Shaking off the shackles of bureaucratic meddling. Yes, there have been a hundred books that try to capture the somber or paranoid mood of Post-9/11 America, but they are all too forced. “Iron Man” was effortless, and it made a gazillion dollars.

So what would “Iron Man 2” do, I wondered? The same exact thing? Would it feel like “Spider-Man 2,” a great action flick, but sapped of the same Zeitgeisty feeling of the first film? Excellent film, but no major cultural commentary or relevance?

“Iron Man 2” focuses not upon the terrorists this time around (an interesting turn), but upon the government’s attempts to get its hands on the Iron Man technology. And, while the national furor over government spending is nowhere near as volcanic as it was/is over terrorism, the film has indeed found a subject that resonates in the current climate. Here, we have a guy–Tony Stark–with an amazing technology that he owns and operates, but that he might be forced to give up. And the film does a great job of playing up the fears of both sides of this issue: do we want a single dude with all that power, especially one as volatile as Downey’s character? On the other hand, do we want an entity that can control what we own, that can force us to give up what we create? It’s a classic Patriot Act sort of argument; what civil rights are you willing to give up in order to feel safe?

No, I don’t think “Iron Man 2” was as strong a film as the original, and the overall narrative was sometimes shaky (though the filmmakers did a great job of juggling several different storylines…in the hands of another writer or director, this could have become a “Spider-Man 3” or “Batman and Robin” style mess), but I love the franchise and the actors; everyone seems to “get it,” that this is escapist adventure, sure, but that–in order for us to truly escape–we need to know what we’re escaping from. They know, and the fears of our Real World compose the Villains of the Marvel World.

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