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Iron Man 2: The good, the bad & the ugly side of genius

The tin man needed a heart. Remember that.

 It is the day after I saw Iron Man 2, with my mother and wife, as I type these words. Sometimes it takes that long for complex concepts to gel in my head. Iron Man 2’s portrayal of Tony Stark is one of those complexities, for Stark is a complex hero. I invite you to spend a few hundred words with me whilst we geek out over the good, hold the movie-makers accountable for the bad, and ruminate on the ugly—for that is when Tony Stark shines the brightest in this movie.

 The Good

It’s a summer blockbuster. Explosions? Check. Hotties? Check. Killer robots, electric whips, crazy villains building crazy things? Chickity-check. Yet, it is a summer block buster with both a heart, and a mind. The heart we will examine later, as for the mind; it’s a thinking movie. I don’t entirely mean the science—which is still comic book science. This is a thinking movie in terms of the choices made by its characters. I found few moments of “I’m the good guy; I must hit you now!” and no moments of “Oh, save me, I’m the love-interest female!” Every choice, every plot turn (few twists) has a rationale. Some I may have disagreed with, but none were out of context. Plus, explosions and hotties.

 These actors seem to care about their comic book characters. I couldn’t find a phoned in role, even Mickey Rourke’s Russian villain who was built like an extra from Oz—the prison Oz—did his best work at a computer keyboard, not ranting or cracking skulls. Look at the list: Rourke, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson (what, I give something away, there? C’mon.) and Gwyneth Paltrow all give solid, engaging performances. I’m not often taken by Paltrow. She either fades into the back ground or annoys me a little. I truly think Pepper Pots may be her best role.

 Marvel is exciting me with their “big picture” concept. This slow introduction of the Avengers (movie) Initiative could have been campy and whore-ish. So far it’s not. Just the idea of spending film to add little touches which are actually beginning to bring the interactive Marvel Universe concept to the movies is spine-tingling. Heroes not in a vacuum. Contracts which span movies. It’s an investment in their future which brings me more hope than Marvel seems to have in their comics. The little teases have, so far, been small enough to keep me wanting more. I hope they can keep it up until they release the “Super-secret boy band,” as Tony calls them in this movie.

 The Bad

Cheadle cheapens the role, but may have been cheated. Seriously? Don Cheadle as Rhodey in the War Machine suit. Cheadle is a great actor, but not for this role. He lacks the charisma and chemistry that the better Rhodes, Terrance Howard brought to the role. Yet Howard, so said contract renegotiations cost him the role, was excited about Cheadle’s chance, “I want him to do better than me. That’s what I really want to see. I think he can…Don is good by me, anything he does.” He told Scifiwire. I wish that were so, Terrence. To be fair, Cheadle didn’t have much of an opportunity to build the relationship in the movie that Howard had in the first one. There were no craps tables or booze-flights in this one. Still, I wasn’t feeling it until maybe the end. Maybe not even then.

Cutting technology still has ghosts in its machines. We’re in the middle of the movie. It’s just a whisker past the main character-crisis moment. We’re justifiably sad. Insert plot device which, once Tony understands it and builds something, ushers in a mostly unscathed victory. If this were a comic it might have netted a three issue mini-series in which there would have been a bit more time to struggle. This movie lacked a full measure of plot-related struggle and that tempered the full value of its victory. Thus, I must remind myself that it was intended to be a blockbuster summer comic movie—which it succeeds at–and not Ulysses.

 The Ugly

Like if a Rock Band Movie began in the middle.
That was how Iron Man 2 felt. We begin on a very high, an arrogantly high note. Tony has declared to the world that he is Iron Man. He has single-handedly ushered in an era of peace, and marketed the heck out of it. He has dancing girls. Those of us who know Tony Stark can see where this is going to go. Things crash and burn, as they should, and usually do for Tony. Why? Because Tony Stark is a train-wreck of a man. He knows his mind and has focused it like a laser beam. His heart, however, rules him and runs rampant.

There are many “broken” builders. In terms of the pathology of invention, the movie’s portrayal Tony Stark is not off the mark for the lives of the brilliantly creative who, as noted by the Psychiatric Times, are twice as likely to experience depression or alcoholism. They are driven, capricious, zealotus and childish people. A 2002 Stanford study, discovered that these traits define the ability to embrace an “emotional broadband” which is shared by artists, inventors, and manic-depressive sufferers is “an edge” that the creative have over the rest of us. It is also one which they lack control over. My favorite part of Iron Man 2 were the scenes when Tony is drunk or despondent in the suit. Many comic book pages have been spent putting fine detail on Tony’s drunken, depressed, unshaven face in a gleaming steel helmet. It shows the man as he is; protected from the outside world by his brilliance yet vulnerable to his rampant heart, his “emotional broadband.”  

Innovation is thrill-seeking. Iron Man 2 calls Tony Stark “self destructive” at a point. It also gives a plot-devised rationale for his current bought of self destruction. While this is true to his character in the movie moment, it is also a quality of the ultimate innovator. According to an in-depth abelard.org profile, “…Henry Ford personally held world speed records for a short time with cars that he built, in days when such activities were extremely dangerous.” We see similar from Stark in the movie. Geniuses constantly push the envelope, live on the cutting edge, are depressed by and defiant of their own failure, and if they cannot continue that pursuit in the lab or the shop, then it tends to express itself in their behavior.

Classic Narcissist? Agreed. An excerpt from Tony’s Shield field psychiatric evaluation is worthy of comparison. He is a self-involved egotist, another symptom of his heart issues, as pinnacles of capitalist progress often stand alone. “Henry Ford is the child that burns down the barn in all innocence, wondering what all the fuss is about when taken to task,” much like Tony Stark. “He had an ability to convince himself that whatever Henry wants, Henry should have…He simply had very little close social awareness, while demonstrating an incredible talent for showmanship and self promotion, allied with a total blindness to other individuals.”

You rise higher, you fall farther. We return to the concept of the “emotional broadband,” the rampant heart that Tony Stark—and Robert Downey, Jr.—portrays in Iron Man 2. There is a direct connection between the power of your genius, and the instability of your heart. As the Psychiatric Times determined, “the more eminent the creator, the higher is the expected rate and intensity of the psychopathological symptoms” and the “higher the level of creativity displayed” the higher likelihood that they will have issues. Finally, the highest “magnitude and domain of creative achievement” will net the most rampant heart. In the beginning of Iron Man 2 we are entertained by the success of the most creative man, who built the most powerful creation on the planet. If anything, his fall in the movie is lesser than the professionals believe he would have had.

When we began this journey into the heart and mind of Tony Stark, I asked you to remember that in The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man needed a heart. Tony Stark is not the Tin Man. He is the Iron Man. The Iron Man needs no heart, but only within the armor can Tony Stark focus his rampant heart like he focuses his laser mind in the work shop. It is not the armor which makes Tony Stark a hero, it is the focused power of his rampant heart within which truly powers the Iron Man.


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