Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Marvel, where I go through the Marvel movies over the next few months.
Iron Man 2 was the first Marvel movie I saw in theatres. It’s also thought of as the worst of the series. Now while I could sit here and defend it, I’m more interested in something else instead. See one of my favourite films last year was Man of Steel, a film that I will one day defend. But as I saw the internet buzz with the ending it occurred to me: Why are the Marvel superheroes allowed to kill but we get so upset when the DC ones do as well? Well, lets find out.
First off, lets just establish how many people the Marvel superheroes end up killing. So spoilers for all the films and all that. Also I’m bound to miss loads, since I’m doing this off the top of my head. Anywho:
In Iron Man the titular character kills a bunch of terrorists in the beginning, blows up a tank and kills his nemesis.
In The Incredible Hulk it’s hard to say just how many people are killed by poxy, but Hulk definitively kills one person, his nemesis.
In Iron Man 2 the titular character only kills one person from memory, Whiplash. The rest are just drones. So this is the film with probably the second smallest body count.
In Thor I don’t recall anyone actually being killed by Thor, except for the Ice Giants. If we count them or not is iffy, but lets say no because they’re aliens.
In Captain America: The First Avengers a whole bunch of Nazis die. Ain’t gonna count them all, but a lot of them do.
In The Avengers while people die in proxy, the Avengers only kill the invading aliens. In fact that pretty much commit genocide to some degree, or at least mass murder on a scale envying most dictators. But, again, aliens. Also New York is practically destroyed with a $160 million clean-up bill.
In Iron Man 3 both Iron Man and War Machine kill a lot of henchmen. With no qualms whatsoever. I mean sure the scene where he kills all but one (cos the last one surrenders) is funny, still a lot of dead people.
In Thor: The Dark World from memory the only people to be killed are Dark Elves so, again, aliens. Fair game.
In Captain America: The Winter Solider so many Nazis By Another Name are killed. Another film with a high death count.
So lets compare that with DC. For the record I’m going solely from their ‘reboot’ of sorts in 2005.
In Batman Begins Bruce blows up a monastery of ninjas and lets Ra al Ghul die, but otherwise not many people are killed.
In The Dark Knight Batman doesn’t kill anyone. At all.
In The Green Lantern Hal Jordan doesn’t kill anyone from what I remember.
In The Dark Knight Rises Batman arguably kills Talia al Ghul and would probably have killed Bane, but that was about it.
In Man of Steel Kal-El kills Zod and the Kryptonians by proxy, as well as causing roughly $750 billion worth of damage and potentially killing about 129,000 people.
So what’s the point of all this? Why am I bringing all this up? Well because it comes down to one fundamental point: While yes, Superman creates more damage and thus the worse situation overall for America, the Avengers are guilty of killing far more people on average then any of the DC superheroes. What’s more, they tend to kill without any guilt of problem whatsoever. So why is it that Superman is the one put on trial and not Iron Man?
First off, we need to acknowledge the cultural context of both of these characters. Superman is the embodiment of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Iron Man is the embodiment of Capitalism, Humanitarianism and the real American Way. Superman is a God amongst men, coming down from the heavens to try and help us onto the path of goodness. Iron Man is a man elevated to the heights of God, rising from the ashes to become a superior man. Superman is who we’d want to be, Iron Man is who we could really be. Both characters are almost wildly different from each other and almost on the opposite ends of the spectrum of heroism. Superman does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, a selfless and noble hero in the classic archetype. Meanwhile Iron Man is very much a superhero for egotistical reasons, doing it because it makes him feel awesome and only because he has the bankroll to get away with it. Superman is the symbol of hope, Iron Man is the symbol of capitalism for good. So why bring all this up?
Well because Superman is meant to be the ideal of humanity. He is meant to be the ultimate symbol of good and hope. He is meant to be what we strive towards. So seeing him commit the very human flaw of murdering someone, even for a good reason, doesn’t connect with us very well. We feel cheated in a way. Superman shouldn’t kill, he’s fundamentally better than that. He has tremendous power and has the ability to get around doing that. But Tony Stark? Well Tony Stark is like us, a human. He is full of human flaws and disadvantages. He is very limited when it comes to his power, meaning he has to use deadly force. Bullets don’t bounce off him when he has no armour, ergo he has to go in for the kill. He is a human, trying to do the human thing of survival. Superman is an alien who can shrug off anything humans attempt to throw at him. He has no need to worry about his survival. He is stronger than that, so he shouldn’t resort to killing. That is the standard argument at any rate, one I can’t really find a fault in. But enough about whether it’s okay for Superman to kill, lets focus on why we’re here: Should Iron Man be hated for killing just as many people?
See what I find really interesting is the subliminal message the Marvel films are sending out to their audience, a demographic that is primarily that of children. They are showing that it’s totally okay for you to kill your enemies for the greater good. Now one could argue that all good children’s fiction does this, but I disagree. Maybe it was growing up in the nineties, where they forbid the concept of death being a thing on children’s TV, but more often than not the characters would have to do something that didn’t involve killing the baddies (if only for merchandising reasons). Likewise take the great Doctor Who. The Doctor (arguably) doesn’t kill anyone, at least not the same way that Tony Stark does. He shows that you don’t have to kill your enemies. Or, more importantly, the mooks that are just working for the bad guy. But the Marvel heroes present the notion that it’s perfectly fine to kill people for being in your way. That shooting them or blowing them up is an okay thing to do. Is this a bad thing? Maybe. Should it be brought up more? Definitely. If we’re criticizing Superman killing people then Iron Man needs to be brought to trial for killing more in cold blood.
Now of course we come to a discussion on the ethics of killing which, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep brief. Mostly due to how Iron Man is not all that different to those he fights. Obadiah Stane kills S.H.I.E.L.D agents, Whiplash kills race car drivers and the Mandarinâ€™s men and women kill the president’s security force. But Iron Man likewise kills terrorists, henchmen and Extremis soldiers. All the groups are arguably just doing their job and thinking that what they’re doing is the ‘right’ thing to do (race car drivers non-withstanding). All the groups have motives that they believe is ‘good’. So why is it when Iron Man kills a henchman we cheer but when a henchman kills someone we boo?
Well standard story-telling tropes aside, the primary reason simply comes down to motive. Iron Man never throws the first punch, but instead reacts to those who are already hurting others. The terrorists, henchmen and Extremis soldiers know they’re hurting others, but continue to do what they’re doing anyway. Meanwhile the agents and security force aren’t hurting others, ergo they’re more of the good guys. So when Iron Man blows up a tank or shoots a henchman, it’s arguably good because these people deserved it. They started it, making it justifiable to attack them back. If they didn’t want a fight they shouldn’t have picked on others. Again, fine justification…
â€¦ Except the exact same situation applies to Superman’s film. The Kryptonians started it, Superman is just finishing it. The Kryptonians are arguably trying to do the good thing for their species, even if it’s at the cost of ours. Superman killing them is not really different to Iron Man killing the Extremis soldiers. So if you’re fine with Iron Man killing people then at the very least you have to admit that Superman killing is on the same moral level. Iron Man and Superman are morally the same in that regard. But, as mentioned before, Superman is placed higher and thus falls further. So it’s understandable why people think that way.
So should we be cheering on Iron Man and Captain America as they kill a load of people? Eh it’s a grey area in my book, one that’s a bit hard to justify either way. We could condone it, but at the same time we could condemn it. The ethics of it are iffy to say the least, since at the end of the day the people being killed are people who just believe in the wrong cause (or at least wrong when compared to the audience’s beliefs). But this is only a brief look at a conversation that could go on for much, much longer.
So there you have it. My look at the ethics of Iron Man and not the lackluster film in any real detail. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.