The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Hephaestos For The 21st Century
Iron Man has always been with us

Robert Downey, Jr. at his forge beneath the mountains of Afghanistan...

Hephaestos, the blacksmith for the Olympians--and the single one of the Immortals who
has an actual real world job--as interpreted by Rubens.

I will leave aside the story arc of the comic book Iron Man, of which I know little, and address the film as the film.

We went the other night to The Byrd Theatre to see Iron Man on the big screen with the Dolby sound. In our customary way, a visit to the Byrd is to see something because we can--it's just about at our doorstep--and if we've at least hear about the flick, give a view--for a buck ninety-nine you can't go far too wrong. These films tend to arrive at the Byrd as they've been released to DVD or gone to cable, but we don't care. Amie doesn't have an office water cooler to chat around and we at the office have one, but we're just usually to busy to have such discussions.

What I'm saying is, the peer pressure to see a film that's new isn't that great.

I did not know Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are in this production. And straight outta the Fan District, Leslie Bibb! (Bibb plays an annoying Vanity Fair reporter, and why is it that in films journalists always end up in bed with their subjects?)

Terrence Howard conveys the proper bristling military attaché who is all efficiency and expertise; in what has come to be associated as The Cuba Gooding, Jr. role.

And that John Favreau directed it; and that he appears in the first minutes dressed like Oddjob, then vanishes. This cast worth millions proves, as a friend told me, that so few films are being made and most of them are so bad, that working actors of a certain marquee variety--who want to work--can be had for these summer no-brainers.

Much is made of this gloomy gus interpretation of Bat Man and the dead Heath Ledger. I've not seen the film -- it's not yet come to the Byrd. But rather than a psychologically damaged vigilante in a bat suit who is battling enemies who are just two or three degrees removed from his own dementia, here in Iron Man we have someone who, like Bat Man, likes great toys and knows how to make them. A great deal of time is spent in the film showing the diligence of experimentation, of making and building -- ingenuity.

Bruce Wayne has his Robin, but Tony Stark has Pepper Potts, and both Amie and I think we want one of her. She keeps him on track. Like Aphrodite and Aries, they cannot live together, nor can they live apart. They are each other's everything. Stark is like Hephaestos, the black smith--I'd have to see it again, but at times, Stark seems to limp like the lame god. The Stark character blurs the lines of that ancient paradigm--both Hephaestos and Aries, the god of War. Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, takes on the characteristics of Zeus, the father ,who must be defeated so that Stark as Iron Man can be born.

Like every cereal box hero, he fits Joseph Campbell's paradigms -- even to the extent that when we first see Stark he is being transported through a wasteland. As befits the resume, he is wounded--and basically dies--but here, cheats death through an intercessor who keeps him alive and alters Stark's motivations, then sacrifices himself in the process. Yinsen is the psychopomp of this story.

Stark literally and figuratively has a change of heart. He goes from cock of the walk industrialist, to vulnerable super hero. He is a hero for our time, really; he turns himself into a kind of proto Terminator.

There is something else, though. Hephaestos built a bronze robot named Talos/Talus -- the original Iron Man. Or, more appropriate, the Bronze Man. Here, I'll let tell the tale:

"TALOS was a giant, bronze automoton or living statue forged by the divine smith Hephaistos. Zeus presented him to his lover Europa, as her personal protector, after delivering her to the island of Krete. Others imagined him as a bronze bull or the last of the bronze race of men.

Talos was given the task of patrolling the island, circling it three times in a day, and driving pirates from the shore with volleys of rocks or a fiery death-embrace. He was eventually destroyed by Poeas or the Dioskouroi twins with the aid of the magic of the witch Medea, when he tried to prevent the Argonauts from the landing on the island."

What is most interesting to us is the idea of Talos firing volleys of rocks--our Iron Man equips himself with missiles--and the "fiery death embrace." Well.

Robert Downey, Jr. owns this role, the casting is perfect.

Pepper Potts is sort of Aphrodite (here, the "Aphrodite of Cyprus" is shown) --though she is not married to Stark, as the goddess was to Hephaestos, but like their Olympian predecessors, they are attracted while also pulled apart like the magnet that keeps the shrapnel from cutting into Stark's heart. In this still, though I'm sure unintentional, she seems to have a halo, or, a glowing stephane, the tiara as worn by the ancient goddesses.

Well, you can have your Batman and Joker. The exuberance of Iron Man is more enjoyable. And a new franchise, to boot; and Robert Downey, Jr. will be in more movies. And Gwyneth, too.

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