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Some Ramblings - Iron Man
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Iron Man

At the core of all the super hero movies is the fight for the right. The eternal struggle between good and evil, the constant warring of the just and the unjust, have been the fodder of comic book super heroes since ages. What the rest of the ordinary folk only hope to, in terms of meting out the right treatment to the unruly elements of the society, served as the starting point to these social vigilantes. A dam being blown up by the villain to flood the city down river and bring about destruction? No problem, Superman can fly faster than the speeding bullet and save the city just in time. A train losing track, literally, and speeding fast into an urban sprawl? No worry, Spiderman can sling his web and bring the fast moving vehicle to a grinding halt. The cops looking for an extra hand to try stopping a megalomaniacal man from taking over the city? The solution is readily available, just turn on the Bat signal and focus it towards the sky, and the Dark Knight would catch the hint from anywhere within the city and come to rescue. Ubiquity and omnipower - the ability to be everywhere and absolute power - the two qualities that keep the world from running over, are what that separate the regular from the super. But that is about the modus operandi, what about their motivation? What would cause the super heroes to side with the society and take up its cause? With Superman, it was pretty much destiny. He was born strong, and blessed with all the amazing qualities, without his asking. In effect, his fate was pretty sealed to doing good. But with the more human ones of the lot - Batman and Spiderman, it was social obligaton. To dig even deeper, the trigger was revenge. To right a wrong, even if it meant side-stepping the laws of the land, was what that drove them both. It is a natural instinct to pay injustice back in the same coin. While revenge remains the main motivation for many a super hero, here comes a new one, Iron Man, who comes from a completely different place. His driving force - self-loathing.

A billionnaire arms dealer, who sells his weapons on the open market to the highest bidder paying scant regard on whom they eventually end up being used, suddenly getting a conscience-attack by witnessing the mayhem caused by his business practices first hand, serves as a strong springboard for turning his back on the greenbacks, and turn around his whole perspective on life. This is an unusual twist in the legend of the super heroes. Doing good, either because of an obligation or as a means of redirecting personal anger and frustration has been the common motif till date. Reformation, on account of repenting one's own follies and flaws, is a first of its kind. And it is particularly relevant to the current social dynamics, when wars are being waged to push personal agendas, and when war-profiteering is considered as a legitimate trade practice. The master stroke of "Iron Man" is setting the story, not in the usual fantasy land of super heroes, but siting it right in the current day and age, acknowledging the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and drawing the geo-politics right into the framework of the story.

With calls of the American company, Halliburton, accused of taking advantage of the current war scenario, by means of overpricing and winning rebuilding contracts without any opposition or oversight, with cries of private American security company, Blackwater, transgressing the laws of the land in Iraq, by remaining unaccountable to its actions under the heading of providing security to the American contractors working in Iraq - with these calls and cries getting louder and higher with each passing day, it is difficult to discount the context of "Iron Man" as just another super hero movie's, and pass it off as pure popcorn fun. If social justice is what a super hero fights for, then what better background for him than the current social setting, and what better commentary on it than the current day excesses and injustices.

Two things really sparkle in "Iron Man" - adherence to realism (not reality, which is also tackled, but realism) and casting. The general tendency to overuse technology, to what the makers think is for enhanced effect, which eventually ends up assaulting the senses, has been curbed at lot and held under tight reins, to give it a strong sense of realism, that obeys the basic laws of physics. The special effects are so seamless and integral, that it never feels that the movie has to be enjoyed on two levels - the basic story elements that remain firmly on the ground, and the fantasy elements that defy the natural rules - which is most often not the case with garden variety super hero movies (case in point, the dizzying special effects of "Transformers" that were more disorienting than they were dazzling). Second, the casting. The movie would not have worked without Robert Downey, Jr. (just in the same way as it is very hard imagining a movie like "Meet the Parents" without Robert De Niro, for the vast amount of stereotypical baggage he brings to the role). Downey espouses the cause of the reformed war mongerer, driving it almost into the realms of passive-aggressive pacifism, merely with his diction and his muted sense of humor. It is interesting how in the past few years, there is a growing sense of realism in the super hero movies - from Batman to James Bond - and a drive to root them in reality and identify their humanity. After the initial rise of the machines (computers), where the emphasis was more on the effects, the control has been wrested back by the character elements, where it is a lot more engaging knowing the "why"s behind his actions than the actual "how"s of his execution. Here is a worthy addition to the roster of noble men, "Iron Man", who, although arriving on an alternate route to the path of the nobility, nevertheless, found his true inner calling.

More Ramblings on films
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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