Sure, Iron Man may have seemed like harmless fun set in a vaguely "real world" setting, pitting Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark against villains so cartoony as to be easy to hate while realistic enough to hit all of our hidden preconceptions about "evil" in a post 9/11 world. But as it turns out, the movie was much more of an advertisement for the US Air Force than you ever suspected.
Outlining the various ways in which both Iron Man's past as a comic and real world facts have been twisted around for political as much as plot purposes, journalist Nick Turse looks at the history of Marvel's most recent box office smash as recruitment film:
The film Iron Man is replete with such reversals, starting with the obvious fact that, in Afghanistan, it is Americans who have imprisoned captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban (as well as untold innocents) in exceedingly grim conditions, not vice-versa. It is they who, like Tony Stark, have been subjected to the Bush administration's signature "harsh interrogation technique." While a few reviewers have offhandedly alluded to the eeriness of this screen choice, Iron Man has suffered no serious criticism for taking the imprisonment practices, and most infamous torture, of the Bush years and superimposing it onto America's favorite evil-doers. Nor have critics generally thought to point out that, while, in the film, the nefarious Obadiah Stane, Stark's right hand man, is a double-dealing arms dealer who is selling high-tech weapons systems to the terrorists in Afghanistan (and trying to kill Stark as well), two decades ago the U.S. government played just that role.To make matters worse, James Rhodes - Tony's right-hand man in the movie and armor-wearing "War Machine" in the comic - has been turned from a four color Marine to a celluloid Air Forceman! But what was behind the support and co-operation that director Jon Favreau (who called Edwards Air Force base, where the production was able to shoot, "the best back lot you could ever have") was given by the UAF?
With the box office numbers still pouring in and the announcement of sequels to come, the arrangement has obviously worked out well for Favreau, Marvel, Paramount — and the U.S. Air Force. Before the movie was released, Master Sergeant Larry Belen, the superintendent of technical support for the Air Force Test Pilot School and one of many airmen who auditioned for a spot in the movie, outlined his motivation to aid the film: "I want people to walk away from this movie with a really good impression of the Air Force, like they got about the Navy seeing Top Gun."Well, Goddamn. You're telling me that the movie about an arms-dealer going and blowing up terrorists and those who arm terrorists before signing up with a spy agency may have some kind of pro-American military agenda...? I never would've expected that...
Air Force captain Christian Hodge, the Defense Department's project officer for Iron Man, may have put it best, however, when he predicted that, once the film appeared, the "Air Force is going to come off looking like rock stars." Maybe the Air Force hasn't hit the Top Gun-style jackpot with Iron Man, but there can be no question that, in an American world in which war-fighting doesn't exactly have the glitz of yesteryear, Iron Man is certainly a military triumph. As Chuck Vinch noted in a review published in the Air Force Times, "The script... will surely have the flyboy brass back at the Pentagon trading high fives — especially the scene in which Iron Man dogfights in the high clouds with two F-22 Raptors."
Torturing Iron Man [Tomdispatch.com] (Thanks, Tom)