June 16, 2008

Iron Man review

Posted in film, gender stereotypes, sexism at 2:30 pm by LB

I just saw Iron Man today and I wanted to write a mini-review while it was still fresh. Semi-spoilers below.

The Tony Stark character is reprehensible. My stomach was on fire after the 1st 15 minutes; I asked my partner “I sure hope his superhero actions redeem him.” By that, I meant does he see the jerk of a human being that he was? The answer is yes and no.

The beginning sets up the kind of person that Stark is. He a sexist womanizer. He sees every woman as a sexual conquest. He doesn’t know their names and doesn’t care. He treats professional women as nothing serious–only as sex objects.

His views on military weapons comes out when an attractive female reporter questions him about his company’s support of the war industry. His responses were unapologetically pro-weapons and throughout he propositions her to have sex. She continues to stand her ground, ignoring his sexism and asking the tough questions. She’s well spoken and savvy. We find out she’s Brown educated. Then we find her going to bed with him.

The movie is about his change of heart regarding the effect that weapons have on international relations. His creation–Iron Man–is to rectify his participation in the war machine. Which was great: I love the weapons critique aspect of the story. (See this review for good commentary on the “good vs. bad” weapons users and the “us vs. them” dichotomy that I felt in the film but didn’t know quite what I made of it.) I think the movie as a whole is pretty good, with some predictability and far-fetched aspects (i.e. why would the Afghan militia men put Stark, a weapons designer, in a room with tons of weaponry supplies unattended?)

But he never rectifies his sexist approach to women. One line would have done. My partner even thought of the perfect spot in the script for it as well–when his assistant talks about “who” Tony Stark is–he could have said something about that not being him anymore, with a nod to his dehumanizing treatment of women. There was a space for it. But alas.

I also was annoyed that the script called for the reporter “caving into” his charm like every other woman we see in the film. It was completely unnecessary. The way he was speaking to her in the interview demonstrated quite well his (lack of) character; her going to bed with him only damages hers. In questioning him, she was smart and articulate. She persisted drilling him despite his attempts to seduce her. And later, she is instrumental in instigating Iron Man’s humanitarian works. Her giving in served more to diminish her as a strong female character than to add to the audience’s understanding of his sexist character.

Now as my partner rightly points out, she chooses to sleep with him. Which, of course is true. But that she ‘chooses’ to give into his manipulative, conniving, seductive ways doesn’t speak very highly for her. There, she–an educated, professional woman–becomes “just like” every other women. Which makes women look like easily duped swooners. The problem here is that it didn’t need to be written that way. The writer didn’t need to “choose” to write that in. It does not serve the story; it only serves to weaken the smart savvy female reporter.

Their sleeping together also made space for the also-irritating catty girl-on-girl convo between Stark’s assistant Pepper and the female reporter “the morning after” (when he, of course, vanishes). It poses the conventionally “hot” (long hair, lots of makeup, pretty) sexual-conquest (slut?) reporter vs. the pretty-but-conventionally dressed and made up (and thus, non-sexual) professional, assistant. They have a short convo where Pepper dryly states that the reporter’s clothes have been washed, a cab is ready etc. like a laundry list, possibly rubbing it into the reporter that this is standard procedure. The reporter takes a jab at Pepper, criticizing that after all these years, she still just does Stark’s dirty work. Not quite the virgin/whore dichotomy, but clearly along those lines. It’s the sexpot vs. the subservient neutral/neuter female. And it’s equally annoying.

(An aside: Even though the women (meaning Pepper and the reporter) were somewhat “accessories,” they were absolutely necessary to Iron Man’s success. Stark also directly says that he is nothing without Pepper. So I don’t think the film necessarily positions the 2 female characters as incidental.)

Punk ass blog had this great article about what makes a movie misogynist. I wouldn’t say that this movie is any more sexist than society is, and makes all the same generalizations about women that sexist society does too. But what disappoints me, and prompts me to write this “review,” is that there was the potential to be good vis a vis women: easy! just add one line and cut one scene and I’d be pretty happy.

But what is unfortunate is that the writer/director didn’t seem to think that Stark’s misogyny needed to be accounted for. And that this is generally the attitude of Hollywood (hell, culture) as a whole.



  1. professor what if said,

    Thanks for a great review. I particularly like your point about the “catty girl-on-girl convo.”
    I don’t know if Stark’s sexism could have been redeemed/explained in one line, but it would have been a start.
    Moroever, I found his ‘redeemed’ anti-weapon transformation a bit hypocritical. You become anti-weapon by turning yourself into a living weapon? I posted about that here: http://professorwhatif.wordpress.com/2008/05/25/

  2. Great review, I’ve never thought of the movie from that perspective before. I guess the essence of the Iron Man character was that he only changed in his view of the world and how he is affecting it, but in that change he didnt change his character whether it be the charm and wittiness or the cockiness and sexist attitude.

    If you ever interested in the more geeky side of Iron Man come drop by my blog, I am a fan of Iron Man and an Engineer at the same time hehe.

  3. Torri said,

    It actualy took me the second viewing to get that Pepper was refering to the reporter when she mentioned ‘trash’ ugh.
    That said I had prepared myself going in, knowing Tony Stark is known for being a jerk-ass character and I did enjoy the movie as it was better then I was expecting.
    I somewhat optimistically hope that the next Iron-man movie will deal with Tony’s misogyny as well as his alchoholism… one can always hope.

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