Film Review: Iron Man: A White-Hetero-Male Wet Dream

Last night my boyfriend and I had free tickets to see Iron Man. I was kind of excited to see it since I had heard great reviews, and had friends involved with the CG so I wanted to see their work. It was also wicked hot and we needed some AC. I had high-hopes that it might be politically less offensive then most other blockbuster Hollywood movies since I hadn’t really heard any criticism about the portrayals of minorities etc. Please note: this is a quick response to the film so sorry for the typos and bad grammar.

–Warning! If you plan on seeing this film I may accidentally reveal plot spoilers–

The film had barely started before I started sighing with resignation that the film was falling short. Don’t get me wrong, the effects were great, the acting was decent, especially for Robert Downey… The film is typically from the gaze of white heterosexual privileged men. Not a huge surprise there I guess.

But the degree of which it ignored the major realities of today’s society and any realistic sensitivities of various communities and groups was appalling. To sum up the motivation of the film, as is the motivation in most films (especially super-hero films), the motivation was all about POWER.

Because it is the easiest I will start by criticizing the lack of any characters of alternative sexual orientation. This is not a criteria that all films need a GLBT character, but I am just pointing out that there were none. In fact the whole film is very heterosexist. Much of the power at the beginning of the film, when playboy Tony Stark has yet to have his epiphany about justice, is about money and the way he holds it and his sex over the women in his life.

This brings up the issues of gender relations, i.e. misogynistic behavior and male dominance, in the film. Again nothing really surprising here, although lately there is usually at least one strong female character that has some sense of intelligence. There is a female reporter (I am sure someone out there will criticize me for not remembering her name) who starts off being critical of the yet to repent Tony and seems like she may be his female foil.

Unfortunately she quickly succumbs to his sex appeal and ends up sleeping with him in the next scene. In the morning she awakens and he doesn’t even have the decency to say goodbye to her, instead she is all alone and confused as to where she is in the mansion and what to do until the other woman in the film, the loyal personal assistant to Tony, the lovely Pepper Potts shows up with the underwear-clad reporters clothing all pressed and ready for her to wear. The reporter (still masquerading as a feminist) comments on how Pepper is basically Tony’s bitch. This leads to a subtle pissing contest between the two where Pepper basically calls the journalist a slut and claims territory over Tony, allowing us to know that she has a thing for him.

I will be reminded that again this is all before Tony has his come-to-jesus and turns “good”. But one also has to consider that his capture by the bad-guys in Afghanistan has nothing to do with women and so his stance of treating them with respect kind of has no reason to change afterwards. And it doesn’t really. The incident of his capture starts with him making chauvinistic remarks to the female soldier driving the Hummer before it is ambushed. I think she ends up being the first to leave the Hummer to fire back, and is the first to die. How admirable. Later once Tony has escaped in his ersatz ironman suit, inspired by his co-POW who talks about the importance of family and good, he decides that he wants to stop womanizing and claim his territory.

It should be noted that Pepper and Tony never actually kiss in the film, which some might point at saying that it is not a misogynist film because she is able to keep their relationship professional. The problem with that is that multiple times that they almost kiss it is not Pepper that pulls away from the kiss but rather it is Tony. In fact it rather scars her, and she brings it up later reminding him that he ditches her at the party all alone after he pulls away from her kiss attempt. He sees it as moment where they connected, while she sees it as a moment that she was scorned. I am glad she acknowledges this but in the end she still is treated like property. Both acknowledge that they are all each other has. That is a nice sentiment but it is also very sad. As for our journalist friend she comes back into the plot as the messenger that his company is still evil which sparks his judicious vigilantism.

In the end the fickly nervous Pepper needs Tony to repeatedly tell her to push certain buttons to save them. She isn’t smart enough to know anything to save them on her own, instead she is so dumb that she cant decide to listen to his previous command of “don’t push the button until I am out of the way” and the command of “push it now”. Chronology is apparently confusing for her character… The women in the film have very little power and what little power they do have becomes useless since they are merely sex objects and only assistants to “justice” and can’t do “good” on their own but rather need the men to carry out the “good” they might inspire.

To talk about the portrayal of the American minority groups represented would be a joke considering that there were none, really. I mean we had Terrance Howard’s character, Jim who is a friend of Tony’s. But he never really does anything. He is another pawn in Tony’s at first malevolent dealings and later his benevolent ones. He has military power, but uses it only when Tony says so. And that is it. Pretty much everyone else that is a character in the Los Angeles based USA side of the storyline is white.

I think there is one generic “Asian” scientist when the evil Obediah of Stark Industries is trying to replicate Tony’s invention, but he just scuttles off without any lines. Seriously… It is a white white white America in the film, which may be the reality of some pockets of this country but I am guessing that based on my experience the world of high-tech gadgetry is filled with many minority inventors and engineers.

As for the portrayal of “good” characters and the “bad” characters, they are for the most part separated into light and dark. The beginning of the film has a plethora of generic Arab/Muslim characters who are typical portrayals of terrorist, albeit muddled, and somehow from all over and with no specific political agenda except terrorize innocent people and try and gain power. They are all dark skinned, swarthy, and one-sided. None of them are dynamic. None of them are to trying to combat the imperialistic occupations of their lands. No, they are just ambiguously evil.

The only good presumably Muslim character is the man he wakes up imprisoned with in the, yes it is a cave, the evil lair where this man, Yinsen, has made some electromagnetic contraption attached to his heart and a car battery to save Tony’s life. This man, compared to all of the other “Arabs” is very light skinned and therefore less threatening. I am not sure why he wants to save Tony. For “good” I guess. He assists Tony to make the techno-armor and succeed in his escape, only to die himself so he can “see his family”. This could have been an interesting relationship since it is more than likely that Yinsen’s family was killed by some of Stark’s own weapons. It is never brought up and Tony never has to make any apologies to him, let alone mention him and his sacrifice ever to anyone in the remainder of the film. He is disposable though, less so because he is light-skinned, but not worth anything but helping our hero survive.

In subsequent scenes when the newly moralized Tony is killing terrorists left and right in his new and improved ironman suit, none of the locals can do anything to assist in their own survival. Ironman is the only one that can stop the evil, and yes darker, “Arabs”. Seriously, I thought I might be thinking too critically about the skin color thing but with each enemy/good Arab that appeared I felt pretty sure it wasn’t a selective memory. “Good Arabs” were lighter than the “bad Arabs”. The “Good Arabs” were woman and children or men with woman and children. Again they couldn’t do anything to protect themselves, they needed a white man in armor to save them (who for the most part, because of his weapons put them in the bad situation to begin with).

I get that these are supposed to be his redemptive moments but it is also pretty demeaning that he is the only one that has control over their futures. In the end the most demeaning thing of all, in my opinion, is that we find out that indeed the “Bad Arabs” were indeed bad, but were also merely pawns in the white man’s world of power plays. It turns out that Tony’s business partner, and basically his surrogate father Obediah, was controlling the bad guys all along. The “Bad Arabs” are even disposable, and not smart enough to come up with their own plans for world domination and power or see through Obediahs.

So in the end everyone with any power or intelligence are the rich white men… So actually the film is fairly accurate, at least in the gaze of the majority. It is just a shame that this is the type of world constantly portrayed in Hollywood cinema, and that these are the negative images that today’s youth are still exposed to and learning from. And for rich white heterosexual men everywhere, don’t worry, you are still on top.

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19 Responses to “Film Review: Iron Man: A White-Hetero-Male Wet Dream”



  • Interesting review. I loved the movie, but I went to see it for what it was: an action film based on a comic book I enjoyed as a kid. I did not look for nor expect it to conform to the need to portray characters of different races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, etc. After all, the movie is called “Iron Man” not “Iron World”. However, you bring up very good points about the need to portray strong characters across the diversity spectrum. Thanks for the perspective.


  • And you haven’t even mentioned that prick Apatow’s shitty movies…

    p.s. If Hummer is capitalized, shouldn’t Jesus be??? And Jesus Be…Come to Papa…and Jesus…JESUS!


  • Well, considering they’re just now, 40 years after the fact, portraying on film the first characters Stan Lee came up with to begin to break out of the mold of 2D comic book mode, I suspect it will be another 20 or so before we get to see Northstar (Marvel’s first openly gay hero). :D


  • i probably should have not capitalized hummer, and Jesus can get a cap j. i would love to see a Northstar movie. Who is his arch nemisis? Society?


  • This movie was based on the comic book Iron Man. I have to agree with Anjuan. I collected and read Iron Man as a kid and the movie is a faithful representation of the comic book.

    Some of the complaints are just ridiculous if you ask me.

    I could write a review about The Joy Luck Club and complain about how all the main characters are all heterosexual Chinese women and no white or black women (or men as main characters) – because the book is based on four fictional mothers and four fictional daughters.

    And if you haven’t noticed, most of America is still white (though that is decreasing) Note: I’m Asian. Since this movie takes place in Los Angeles, maybe there could be more racial diversity. But that is not the point of the movie – this focus wasn’t really too much on LA (like let’s say, LA Story).

    As for “Arabs” – well, there are two current wars the U.S. is in – Iraq and Afghanistan, and I couldn’t really tell between “good” and “bad” arabs.

    This movie was Iron Man, not Iron Woman. If you want to see a woman as a super-hero, then see a movie about a woman movie hero, like Supergirl, Elecktra, Invisible Girl (of the Fantastic Four), etc…

    It seems like you are reviewing Iron Man through an agenda-ladened glasses…


  • I have an agenda…When I leave my home in the morning, I don’t see white people all around me…There’s subtle racism and sexism happening in movies and media in general…And if it’s in a movie that millions of people are seeing, why not point it out?


  • Excellent review, I dont think is looking it through an agenda-ladened glasses but the glasses of Today, if they are going to update the comic using a Tesla on the garage of Stark, driving an Audi, using an LG phone, I dont think those were in the original comic book. I think just based on the readers of this blog we can see we are not all white, and using just Arabs as bad people is just feeding the misinformation about the middle east.


  • Wow, thank you so much Huggy and Federico, i really couldn’t have said it better myself. i have been getting pretty frustrated lately when i give opinions like this that are critical of mass media only to be accused of being too critical. I get upset that so many people are so easily willing to eat what they are being fed without questioning it. Whether the racism, sexism, homophobia etc, it overt or really subtle it is still an outrage and the fact the people, especially people who have been persecuted for what they look like or who they love, think it is not important to point it out and complain that the representation are inaccurate scares me because it means that people are willing to accept it. I don’t think things can change for the better if people are complacent. i understand how being apathetic is easier, but who said change was easy… Okay off my soapbox. it just gets me upset… i respect everyones right to have a different opinion but i hope you can at least see why these portrayals and lack of portrayals would offend me and others.


  • Good job, Professor.
    I wasn’t planning to see the movie and your review has driven it home for me.
    It really wouldn’t be hard to have a multiethnic cast of extras for the LA scenes, and it also wouldn’t have been too difficult to make the assistant a tad smarter.
    I agree that people tend to eat what is spoon fed to them, which begs the question, why not spoon feed them something better?


  • Interesting perspective. Unfortunately, I think I watched it as most people do–with my brain turned off and stuffing my face with popcorn!


  • You do make some good points. I agree with a lot of them. But the movie is Iron Man. It’s a freakin’ comic book. Watch it to see the purty ‘splosions. Don’t watch it to solidify your opinions on the way things are or should be, be the topic race, gender, sexual orientation, or what-have-you. Anyone who takes anything away from the film besides the enjoyment of purty ‘splosions (and I include Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in that, because without his BANG on performance the movie might have really sucked ass), be it consiously or otherwise, is a simpleton, and nothing anyone does is going to change that fact.


  • I should add that the simpleton in my previous comment is someone who takes away from the film that “this is how you should treat women” or “all Arabs are either evil or pathetic and helpless” or “all rich white men are either evil or narcassists or both”. Learning any morals from the film is just not what the movie is for. Shiney metal suit make things go boom, that’s the only thing you should take away from it. If I want opinion-altering, life-changing epiphanies from a film, I’ll go watch Gandhi again.


  • Deltus, i wish it were that simple. Unfortunately i think that when you are barraged with images of weak woman being used at the will of men, and “arabs” who are all evil they can start to feel true and real to people. I would say that any of us could be “simpletons” easily considering that we accept these images so readily and don’t think they need to change. If they are easy to ignore then why do we need them in the first place? Wouldn’t it be easy to begin with to just have a more diverse cast of characters or at least extras? I get that it is supposed to just be a movie but it also is trying on some level to make a political statement about arms dealers and the role of weaponry distribution in the so called “war on terrorism”. Therefore they are asking us to try and give some validity to their political views represented in the film. If we are supposed to sympathize with Tony Stark’s character then we have to claim within ourselves that we have the means to change the world that we in some part have helped to make less than perfect. I just think we can enjoy a movie but acknowledge it’s shortcomings out loud so the people making them know that we want to see entertaining movies that represent us all a bit better and don’t perpetuate negative images that could make woman doormats or muslim americans feel like everyone thinks they are terrorists.


  • Thanks for the review. There are quite a few studies on how children perceive themselves through the media (Asian kids don’t even expect to see themselves on television; black kids expect to see black characters as drug dealers, etc.) so media representations are important and it’s awesome to see somebody questioning the status quo. Rachel makes a good point: it’s not that hard to get a diverse group of extras in Los Angeles, therefore it’s a CHOICE that someone made to represent their worldview in this way, and I think it’s only fair to question WHY that choice was made and what the ramifications of that choice are going to be.


  • Grace – I do agree with your statement on “There are quite a few studies on how children perceive themselves through the media (Asian kids don’t even expect to see themselves on television; black kids expect to see black characters as drug dealers, etc.) so media representations are important and it’s awesome to see somebody questioning the status quo.”

    I remember the first time flipping through the now dead Asian American magazine, TransPacific, and seeing Asian Americans in the ads and thinking how odd.

    That aside, I think one’s expectations for an adaptation of a comic book of a fictional white male playboy billionaire into a movie should reflect the comic book. And that is what Iron Man the movie did.

    I remember seeing Spider-Man, the movie, and I was thinking, “Wow, that was just like the comic book.” Reading one review, I recall the reviewer expecting to see the pop-up dialogue boxes in the movie since it was so true to the comic book. J.K. Simmons got J. Jonah Jameson EXACTLY right.


  • I guess you must have also blown a fuse when the Daredevil movie made Kingpin a black man. Just because the comic book did it a certain way doesn’t mean that has to continue in that fashion. You enjoyed it as a kid, let the future version enjoy it with a different perspective.

    It’s like those retards at those cosplay events saying “Pffft, you’re too short to play Ironman, everyone knows Ironman was 6 feet tall.”

    And if that’s your rational as to why these types of criticisms are unwarranted, why bother changing anything and giving minorities a chance in movies? Hell, Hollywood even replaces white people where they don’t belong in movies that are based on true stories. You expect them to do it for fictional stories?

    Why not just scrub out minorities from all fictional movies and shows then?


  • Hey Guys,

    I’m a Film maker living in England and here is my opinion…It’s no secret that Hollywood and Media in general is a big propoganda machine. I’m not going over the top by saying this. The entire world media is used to push public opinion in the direction of the government’s agenda, be it in the USA, China, the UK, Iran whatever…

    10 years ago we were all watching movies about the Japanese getting their asses kicked by Nicholas Cage and Sean Penn…Now we have to endure the “Middle East” Phase…look at the poor Russians and Germans, Spielberg won’t leave them alone!

    As a loose Muslim I don’t think we should shun away any anti-middle east media…Films like Iron Man and 300 are extremely insulting, but that’s what the masses want, right?

    As a film maker I think that the Middle Eastern community should work harder to change the face of the Muslim/Middle Easterner in terms of the media…

    We need to produce media and images that show the western public what we have to offer culturally…There’s more to the middle east than terrorism and war.

    We have poetry, legend, music, art…There is a wealth of culture in the region…We just need to expose it…

    Look at the film “Persepolis”. It’s absolutely fantastic, and it sums up the world in general.

    P.S. I think we are taking the media to personally anyway, when I watched Thin Red Line, I didn’t think any less of the Japanese. Then again, that film is based on the past, and these films are based on the now.

    What did irritate me was the way the American army were portrayed as being entirely righteous…There was no suggestion any “bad” U.S. soldiers, and it’s tiring to see them constantly portrayed as angels…the film “Three Kings” touched on this, but barely.

    Having travelled as a cameraman to Afghanistan and Iraq I saw what was really happening out there, and to tell you the truth, the forces in Afghanistan we’re having the time of their life…there was booze, partying and a range of Far Eastern Prostitutes, I found it quite disgusting that the news was portraying them as heroes, down trodden by the Taliban…

    But more importantly, just remember, we must not shout down negative media, these furthers the negative images of muslims.

    Instead, provide different angles for the Muslims, shine a different light on the Middle Eastern man or woman.

    Peace Out!

    Ameer


  • Iron man had everything it needed. It did not NEED a diverse cast, as it was about a comic book hero.

    Not all movies must teach. Iron Man was meant to entertain.


  • I like that people think that racist, sexist, films are okay as long as they are entertaining. And if the film is about a comic book character then it is really okay, because they are fictional, and although they represent realities and fantasies in our lives allowing “us” to relate to them, we cannot expect the reality to extend beyond updates to the story and production design like cell phones and the disney concert hall. Bigotry is okay if it is in movies and tv as long as it is part of a fictional story, and again, more importantly, if it is entertaining.

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