The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Iron Man vs. The War on Terror: The Way it Should Be!

Written by: Ron Bricker

Image I'm going to lay it all out for you – internet trolls are ruining comic book films. "How so?" you ask. Take Superman Returns. Here we have a stunning portrait of the Man of Steel stripped down to his bare emotional core, all the while saving airplanes and throwing entire planets into space. But what do the message boards say? "Not enough action…to much love story…blah blah blah". Or what about Ang Lee's superb Hulk? Lee draws upon the drama in his characters' life and makes him more than just a giant smashing mess. These are character studies with special effects, and there is absolutely no reason that the character should ever be outweighed by the visuals. There is no denying the power of the internet these days, and studios hear this kind of talk about "not enough action" and it affects any subsequent installments. More explosions will be included, more comic book cliches, more villains. Or, worse yet, a complete and unnecessary re-start of a franchise (see The Incredible Hulk).


This Iron Man script by Smallville writer/creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar with revisions by David Hayter (X-Men, X2, and the upcoming Watchmen) is the kind of comic book film that these trolls would hate at the box office. Why? There is no featured "villain", for one. Sure, there are bad guys and epic battles and plenty of global espionage, but no Mandarin to be found. And don't worry about the inclusion of War Machine, the character in the movie is a completely different beast than in the comics, so it's obviously in poor taste. 

Sarcasm aside, this script is almost exactly what a character like Iron Man should be facing. The script opens on a weapons facility hidden somewhere in North Korea, and we soon discover that it is Tony Stark's weapons that are being manufactured there – but without his knowing. What unravels is a tale of global and corporate espionage, tying into the current War on Terror and some social commentary on WMD's. THIS is what Iron Man needs to be dealing with, and not some super villain with a theme. We are introduced to Tony's old college friends, Bethany (a love interest and federal agent) and James Rhodes, who was once an engineer much like Tony, but is now Tony's father's head of security. Slowly, we learn that Tony's father is involved in a deep running scheme to make America the true super power of the world, a plan that involves deep seeded corruption, assassinating the President, and an invasion upon American soil. Pretty intense for a comic book film huh? If done right, this script could have been a vessel for great political and social commentary while seeing Iron Man beat the crap out of the bad guys. Instead what we'll probably receive in the upcoming film is popcorn movie garbage.

Throughout the story, we see multiple sides of our main character, from his fun loving playboy persona, to his child-like guilt for the death of his mother, the son that wants to live up to his fathers name, and the self sacrificing superhero. And of course, let us not forget that glimpse into what is perhaps Tony Stark's most famous character trait; his alcoholism. As this film would have essentially been an origin story, his addiction is only hinted at, with things like a built-in compartment in Tony's armor to keep his flask in – which is actually quite funny. Really, this film succeeds in many areas: the writers provide us with plenty of super heroics and realistic global warfare but are able to keep Tony in character as the humorous optimist.

Obviously, this script is not perfect, and there are dramatic elements that fall flat and thus affect other areas of the story. The main problem here is the dynamic between certain characters. As the film begins, Tony is obviously distant from his CEO father, who runs Stark Industries with an iron fist, and puts his work before everything. The writers attempt to tie in the relationship of Tony and his father to the entire plot line, which instead of ending up with that "coming full circle" feeling, it instead feels a bit cliche. That being said, I'll ruin this much for you: Howard Stark, Tony's father, is War Machine in this film. SURPRISE! It's honestly not a big deal that they changed this story aspect from the source material, because it is a film and films need to work as a movie and not as a direct interpretation of the source material. What is cliche here is that after his apparent death, Howard returns to fight his son in the heart of the Stark Ironworks factory as War Machine. Instead of being climactic, this fight feels more like it is trying to tie up a loose end that doesn't necessarily need to be tied. The previous 30 or so pages to this scene had been full of bad-ass-ery terrorist butt kicking action, and I'm not sure the film can top that with a one on one battle.

And of course, no comic book film would be complete without a setup for a future movie. Iron Man's cliffhanger works because it is setup as a continuation of the movies overall arc. There are remnants of his father's evil plan that are scattered in countries throughout the world, and no one to take care of them but our hero.

It's easy to see why the studio is going in a different direction with the real film. This version makes America the bad guys, run by a corporate Hitler with people planted throughout the government, as high as the Vice President. Another aspect of this script, that is wonderful in every way, that could have provided further motivation for Tony's future alcoholism as well as his super heroics: Bethany, the leading lady and the love interest for Tony, is murdered at the end by Howard Stark, as revenge for Tony's mother, which Howard believes to be Tony's fault. It's unfortunate both that studios are rarely ballsy enough to make this kind of film, and that the average movie goer (let alone comic book fans) would find this a "bore" to watch because it is thoughtful, conscious action rather than mindless.

While this script is nowhere near perfect – there is still too much exposition for my taste, and there could be a bit more in the way of dialogue work, the script I'm reviewing is only the second draft. I don't know if this version was shit canned immediately or if there is a further draft available, but this certainly could have been a comic book film on par with something like Batman Begins, only with social commentary laced throughout. What we'll get instead will be, I'm sure, enjoyable enough for a brainless summer blockbuster, but I'm expecting that enjoyment to come from the superb choice in casting, rather than the storytelling. I guess we'll only know for sure on May 2nd, as Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau is set to kick off 2008's summer season.