OK, I have finally seen Iron Man, and while there was certainly lots of cool comic book geekery and a pretty, if superficial message about greedy corporate merchants of death, I'm tempted to suggest that the movie should be subtitled "A white American hero's adventures in the land of swarthy threatening people."
There are a lot of swarthy threatening people in this movie. They seem to be living in caves somewhere in Afghanistan, and have international connections that allow them to obtain weapons from the afore mentioned greedy corporate merchants of death (specifically, our wastrel hero's business partner at Stark Industries, the biggest and sexiest purveyor of weapons of almost mass destruction around). I guess that means that they are Taliban fighters, or maybe Al-Queda, even though they seem to be a gang who use ten rings as a symbol, and there's some throwaway lines about them being nasty swarthy people from all over the world, not just from Muslim countries. Hey, maybe they're some of the warlords, who were well known for terrorising the people... oops, no I forgot, the remaining warlords are good guys now that they're in Karzai's government.
Basically, the point I'm trying to make here is that the situation in Afghanistan, the real country, is very complex, and pretending it's as simple as frightened villagers, swarthy frightening terrorists and noble heroic American soldiers really does a massive disservice to a tragic situation.
Anyway, whoever they are, the villains kidnap our soon-to-be great white hero Tony Stark who is in Afghanistan showing off his latest weapon of not quite mass destruction to the American army, who he wants to sell it to. And here's where the movie really annoyed me.
Because here is where we meet Yinsin, a character who apparently was East Asian in the comic books but who is portrayed as Central Asian and Muslim in the movie. In this relatively short sequence, we learn that Yinsin really has no plotline of his own. He is Tony Stark's fellow prisoner so that he can save Tony's life, help Tony communicate with his kidnappers, assist Tony in his escape (note to some extent it is Yinsin's method of preserving Tony's life that gives Tony the idea for the super-powered suit), and then nobly and courageously sacrifices his life for Tony, surviving just long enough to assuage Tony's fleeting moments of guilt by assuring Tony that he always knew the escape attempt would end in his death, and he was willing to do that, because Tony is a great man and all Yinsin wants to do is rejoin his family in Paradise.
Now I may be wrong, but doesn't Yinsin seem an awful lot like the Muslim cousin of the Magical Negro?
And I know that this movie has been praised for its stand against the arms trade, but I found myself thinking that for a movie that purports to be about how war is evil, it was very convenient for the conscience of the Western audience that it was only the nasty men hiding out in those caves who used weapons against helpless civilian villagers, and not, as has been the case far too often, the Western forces currently in Afghanistan.
So, yeah, the action sequences were cool and there's nothing like watching two CGI
Transformers fighting it out in the streets of LA, and the noble sacrifice of Yinsin made it possible for Robert Downey Jr. to skillfully portray Tony Stark's character development into a post-modern superhero with flaws and a suspect past as well as a conscience and a desire to do right (permit me, though, to express some doubts as to whether working with a shadowy organ of the American government that calls itself Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division is going to do the world as a whole all that much good).
But despite the frothy geeky goodness, it left a bad taste in my mouth.