What Alyssa Rosenberg Gets Wrong About Iron Man 3 (Spoilers)
I just read Alyssa Rosenberg’s write-up on Iron Man 3. I like most of what Rosenberg writes, even when I deeply disagree with her. For more insightful commentary on entertainment and culture I think she’s invaluable. But I often feel she regards certain creative artifacts with a seriousness they don’t actually deserve or require.
Most of what I take issue with is her insinuation that Iron Man 3 is a sharp critique of post 9/11 U.S. militarism. Claims like, “Iron Man‘s extensive critique of the war on terror…takes a different and more radical tack, suggesting that the threat of violence by terrorist actors may be real, but the War on Terror is an invention that both terrorists and terrorized participate in,” and “Who those enemies actually are is the movie’s great joke, and the subject of its major critique of the War on Terror,” are never actually backed up, despite Rosenberg’s penchant for close readings and extensive use of quotes.
On the one hand yes, by making the apparent source of terrorist bombings turn out to be a joke the movie does suggest that the United States in real life dubiously chases after theatricality rather than more real threats. But on the other hand, the movie in no way depicts any negative consequences for this misprioritization.
Rosenberg might see the Iron Man suit as a symbol of drone technology (and who around here doesn’t know how much I love to fear monger about drones?) but whereas drones in real life have horrible unintended consequences, the suits in Iron Man 3 never accidentally kill anyone. Not just because they have human operators who are there to make moment to moment judgments, but because the suit itself has magical technology where its software is able to distinguish bad people from good people—the suit is literally the ideal signature strike incarnate.
To actually be a critique, Iron Man 3 would need to stake out a position on any one of the innumerable political questions it giggles at, something the movie clearly has no interest in doing. The movie is going to make a billion dollars, and the main takeaway isn’t going to be, “Hmmm, that was some interesting food for thought!” but rather “Did you see Iron Man used all his suits to blow up everything in that shipyard!?”
The Iron Patriot’s name might be intent upon ridiculing fantasies about American military might and precision, but at the end of the day Iron Patriot is still cool, Don Cheadle who play him is still cool, and hundreds of thousands of little boys are going to want Iron Patriot action figures by week’s end. That’s not a critique—that’s a full-throated endorsement.