Tuesday, May 06, 2008

He sees his children jumping off / At the stations - one by one - / His woman and his best friend / In bed and having fun


Ever the optimists (some would say fools), the staff of popular science elected last month to proclaim upon their cover that the “Real Iron Man” is at hand, looking to powered exoskeleton technology in development for the US Military. While generally requiring external electrical sources or hydraulic pumps, the current designs do indeed bestow superhuman strength upon their occupants. Presumably the plan is to wait until batteries and/or fuel cells play some serious catch-up, and then start rebuilding the infantryman. Better. Faster. Stronger. They may not be able to take flight, but I'll bet that a pair of super-legs will let you jump to new and interesting heights. Indeed, Ironman's comic book creators have declared that even the present prototypes are pretty damn close to their vision (minus all that defying the laws of physics, but that's a given)

The only problem is that it's NOT the real Iron Man. I'm not talking about the junk science that lets Tony Stark fly and generate gigajoules of power with little to no reaction mass*, nothing like that. No, the US military equipping its soldiers with powered armour is pretty much what Iron Man is working against in the movie, and moreover it should be what we work against in real life. The human cost of war for a country like the United States is already low enough without them turning every grunt into the fucking Master Chief. America's Army is proof enough that the US military is interested in the gaming demographic, and you only have to go online to see what gamers like to do in suits of powered armour. Our sins in Iraq and Afghanistan are many, let's not add “teabagging” to the list. While neither the film nor the comic strike me as having any kind of true anti-war message (granted my knowledge of the comics is incomplete and buffs are free, nay encouraged to correct me on this), Iron Man plays at least lip service to the idea that technology can be employed to save lives, rather than end them. Better still, the film pits two exoskeletons against each other, which hammers home a better message: technology is only as evil as the user. In a universe of Science Fiction which is generally cautionary with respect to new, untested technologies, Iron Man stands apart and reveals the true neutrality of science and technology.

*ok, maybe it's zero-point energy and VERY high-energy ion drives/cannons that Iron Man employs, but like I'm going to do the math FOR the researchers who couldn't be fucking bothered.

A funny thing about Iron Man is that it's a superhero movie without a lot of heroism. It's nice, I suppose, to take a break from the Nth million helpless batch of all-American plebeians who need rescuing, but if the movies are to be trusted (and I assume that comic book aficionados will say that they are not to be), there don't seem to be superheroes other than Spider Man, and I will assume Superman that spare a fucking second to HELP PEOPLE. The X-men were too busy beating the stuffing out of Magneto, or perforating generic mercenary soldiers; the Fantastic Four were preoccupied with themselves...or having sex with young, nubile women (I was off gaming while the movie was on, but that's what I remember the human torch doing). The Incredibles are a toss-up, although one assumes that despite all the wanton property damage at the end of the movie that at least one life was saved.

I suspect there's not so much a hidden agenda behind this as much as there is simple satisfaction of audience demand. Saving everyday folk from petty crime is just less cool than watching heroes and villains fighting with evenly-matched powers, and snarky (if cliché) dialog. By this logic, though, it seems that what filmmakers should really be after isn't a series of single-license films (ie. Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man...always “Man”, overlooking the atrocious Catwoman movie), but instead a cluster of crossover dream-teams, with the kind of fan-favourite match-ups that have us Geeky folk peeing ourselves with excitement. The potential downside is making a movie like AVP or AVP:R, but the upside COULD be something like a full-length rendition of The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny (IN 3-FREAKIN'-D!), or perhaps the filmic equivalent of AVP the video game. If what the audience wants to see is epic battle, why waste time regurgitating these single-hero origin stories when the real money and fan service are elsewhere?

Also, would it kill writers and directors to make female heroes who are neither lame (Elektra) or sexploitation (Catwoman)? I heard something about Morena Baccarin as Wonder Woman, why hasn't this happened yet?

PS. I don't actually dislike Iron Man in the slightest. Robert Downey, Jr. in a fucking suit of POWERED ARMOUR can do no wrong!




Daydream Believer said...

The reason that female superheroes are lame and/or sexual to a fault is simple. Money. Much of the demographic that pays to see superhero movies is between the ages of 8 and 28, and male. The younger part of that set is unwilling or unable to relate to a female protagonist, and the older part is similarly affected, although also at the mercy of raging hormones, and therefore much more inclined to see a movie (and therefore buy admission to or rent said movie) that, if a female character is in the forefront, presents her in skimpy or tight costume and engaging in overly sexualized combat. Like so many others, the film industry is firmly attached to its sources of revenue.

Loud said...

You make a very good point here. I recall seeing people use similar arguments to justify the absence of non-oversexualized female heroes in hollywood cinema (I think you'd find it an interesting discussion, it's over here at the xkcd blag: http://blag.xkcd.com/2008/04/10/two-female-leads/)

Personally, I side with the chicken-and-egg camp. Look at the xkcd examples of female heroes: Sarah Connor, The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo, River Tam...these are powerful, beloved female characters! Why couldn't there be a market for movies starring super-women? I don't think it's some deficiency of male moviegoers, I think it's just a lack of initiative on the part of filmmakers.

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