Iron Phantasm

There’s a ghost of an Iron Man 3 analysis haunting the danker corridors of my mind. And it isn’t some sort of giggly Casper poppycock, either- it’s a more vengeful type of revenant, gnashing its ectoplasmic teeth as it storms through midnight soaked halls, baleful red eyes charging stale, dead air with mourning and menace. This specter is of a peculiar breed in that it never had a pre-haunting existence. A spark flashed in my mind, elegant and rhapsodic, but never so much as heated the fuse between brain and pen. It’s strange- I found myself Tuesday afternoon hastily scribbling notes, racing against my Tollway login’s octogenarian alacrity to record the thought flurries that were scuttling towards forgetting. One of them said, “What sort of ghost has never been?” I had been meditating on the climax of my novel-in-progress during my lunch break, feeling the weight of an impossibly lonely gestalt of digitally simulated humanity when that phrase beamed out of the void. I posed the question to myself as a sort of metaphysical aside but quickly began to hear the story’s protagonist asking the question. What sort of ghost doesn’t return and simply begins? I pictured shimmering, gossamer strands of sadness like a digital widow’s veil and fell in love with the phrase. What’s so blasted peculiar is how it assumed this bizarre polyvalence two days later as that would-be review self-destructed during the movie it was at least putatively about in this Jorge Luis Borges-esque moment of fiction intruding upon reality. It’s as though I needed some reverse engineered objective correlative to pair with the phrase I had written before I could really mean it.

During this same time that phrase was born and stole my heart I was already planning my analysis of Iron Man 3, conceptually linking things I already knew were going to be (and, as far as I knew, had to be) in the film with bits from anthropology and Marxist literary theory. Lo and behold I found myself beginning to unpack a movie I hadn’t even seen yet. It was gelling magnificently in my mind, coalescing into this exposition of the eccentric orbits of first commodity fetishism and then totemism in Tony Stark’s life. This would inform the viewer’s understanding of Tony Stark as paragon of consumer America, viciously targeted by the Mandarin, the apotheosis of anti-American enmity who channels the antagonistic iconography of a dozen cultures into a focused beam of insurgence. The Mandarin binds together these disparate cultural artifacts into a contemptuous counter-commodity fetishism and exploits them to subvert and demolish the degenerate corporate imperialism of the 21st Century West. Here I was, expecting The Stark Knight Rises, a drama filthy with desperation and despair, borderline sadistic in its depiction of a man stripped of everything we would think to call a life by a villain so unswervingly pure in his ideology he destabilizes our facile “We’re the good guys” assumptions and breeds an uncomfortable moral ambiguity that makes you wonder if maybe the hero and the public aren’t actually on the same side after all, wherein the hero is granted a resurrection of sorts and returns to deliver a concentrated dose of the wrath of God and liquidate the enemy in a poetically gratifying and visually stunning way.

And then I actually saw Iron Man 3, and watched my analysis shrivel up like a torched draft card.

This was not the movie I had counted on seeing at all. It wasn’t that all my expectations were shattered so much as the film detoured around every one of them by a kind of knight’s move. I was undone! I was also bereaved for a spell. The wake began the moment the house lights lit and continued into our living room as I lamented the ghost of an exposition never to be. My grief postponed my response to the film itself, shot my feelings through with a hazy dream sense of dislocation. The film I had planned to exegete so thoroughly doesn’t exist anywhere. The review I was so excited to midwife miscarried long before the end credits began to scroll. It was like that sickeningly eternal moment of realization that the splinter embedded so incorrigibly within your palm will require the wound being torn open wider and deeper in order to extricate it.

The following afternoon the awareness lapped over me like a transfusion: my malaise stemmed from the essay I had hoped to write, not the movie I had just seen. Why was I so disappointed? I suppose it’s because this “review” had a fixed purpose that never had any intention of explaining anything within the movie itself. A reviewer won’t be disappointed about the alternative reviews she could have written if her focus is genuinely centered upon the object (film, book, painting) in front of her. No, I was an opportunist, preying on this thing under the pretense of review. My interests lay elsewhere, and the shock of the film’s surprises detonated the scaffolding of pretense and brought the whole thing down in grandiose, summer blockbuster fashion. Yes, I know- how fitting.

Two conclusions grab me by the tie and point their bony, reproachful fingers at me:

1) If you’re planning your exegesis in advance, rest assured you’re engaged in nothing but eisegesis. Whatever your eisegesis is might be interesting, but it sure as halibut ain’t an exposition of anything but your own weird self.

2) I’m an American moviegoer, which means I’m born into a matrix of inherited bad taste. “It isn’t what I expected” too often forms the basis for disapproval amongst Hollywood’s torpid clientele, as though that was a universally recognized,  a priori mark against a film. What does that phrase actually convey, though? Apart from any supporting commentary it’s simply gristle, so value-free it can neither approve or reprove. It takes the moral courage of a paramecium to stake one’s verdict principally on this criteria. Shouldn’t our interest immediately be piqued when someone describes a movie this way? Isn’t there great potential for refreshment in this? I testify to you that much of Iron Man 3‘s awesomeness is a function of its defiance of nearly every one of my expectations [1]. For my Philistine presumptions to be challenged and shaken up this way is a good thing and not a detriment at all.

Thanks for reading. Good night, and God bless.

[1] Aside from the Iron Legion: that sequence is almost precisely as B.A. as I had envisioned it in my saliva-splattered geeky dreams.

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