May 1, 2010

The Iron Man Interface: Technology, Politics, and Stark Industries on Film

Occasionally, I like to sit back, relax, and just geek out about an upcoming movie. This summer that movie is Iron Man 2. Oh, yes, that unabashedly populist popcorn franchise about a smarmy superhero who’s part Hugh(e)s Howard and Hefner. In anticipation of the May 7th U.S. release date (damn you, Europe!), I’d like to propose a series of articles similar to my series on Inglourious Basterds. Whereas the IB posts traced the singular theme of film and theatricality throughout the movie, these IM posts will be a little more unwieldy. The Iron Man character historically plays fast and loose with technology, race relations, and politics. I mean, at some points in the character’s history, Tony Stark works for the U.S. government. He’s more political than Captain America and even occasionally more divisive than that reliable bastion of crazy, Batman. The Iron Man mythos is an interesting and complex one to untangle.

What I’d like to investigate in these articles is not the complete Iron Man legacy, comics, toys, and cartoons included. I’m just going to stick to the feature film(s). Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008) navigates the political landscape cautiously, presenting the viewer with a pro-war protagonist weapons manufacturer in a post-9/11 present day. The film opens in Afghanistan. American troops are killed. It’s heavy stuff. In addition to the navigation of global politics and the idea of the American superhero, I want to expand this idea and focus in on the role of technology integral to Tony Stark’s/Iron Man’s success. Specifically, I’ll be looking at what I call the Iron Man Interface, the specially designed heads-up displays (HUDs), user interfaces (UIs) and holographic tech Stark employs to give him the edge against his enemies. How do these UIs give meaning to Stark as a man? How do they differentiate Iron Man from other superheroes and Iron Man from other superhero films? And most importantly, what is the connection between these technologies and the implied American militaristic, nationalist, and cultural dominance in the film? In essence, I’m concerned with the central investigation of film studies—how do images create meaning?

Because of the wide-ranging nature of the investigation, I want to organize these entries as clearly as possible. I think the best way to approach it is chronologically, taking the film apart bit by bit. I will be utilizing outside sources a lot, especially in my analysis of the UIs. I found some really informative interviews with the IM visual effects supervisor and some incredibly frustrating cultural analyses about the jingoist and imperialistic hegemony of the film’s politics. Don’t worry, those are definitely getting refuted as their claims are quite ridiculous.

So, get excited, America!! Iron Man week starts now. 

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