Analyzing the political undertones of science fiction movies: Study of Iron Man, X-Men and Batman Franchise (A reflective note).

Posted by Mitrajit Biswas
April 13, 2017

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The three movies that had been presented in my presentation were The Iron Man, X-Men and Batman Franchise. Let’s begin with Iron Man which has themes related to the power projection, American dream and Techno Culture. The idea of three Iron Movies has three different themes. The first Iron Man which brought in the concept of how the power projection can happen through an individual. Iron Man which is an invention by the billionaire, playboy, philanthropist and Genius as he likes to call himself the protagonist Tony Stark. A character played by Robert Downey Jr in the series itself. The idea for the movie revolves around a single individual whose father is a weapons contractor and how the legacy is being carried forward. This is taken forward where the process of evolution inside him is happening. The idea is to evolve as a person and find out the better person who has a greater role in the society. The way we look at the movie is how the character of Tony Stark starts to change. A person who does not need to worry about the condition of others or rather seems apathetic. That person transforms and takes on the onus of changing the way the world has its way of looking at things. He makes the Iron Man suit where a whole set of incidents propelling him to look at the world from a different perspective. He goes into the idea of taking of the role of projecting power himself. This is also where the American dream comes up. A powerful idea of the evolution of the individual to create the idea of manifesting a single individual to be the symbol of American dream of breaking barrier is the theme of the second movie. The second movie has pushed the theme of working together with an idea of the techno cultures and American dream of creating the new from the unimaginable. The suit which was being held by Tony Stark is taken by his friend Col. James Rhodes of USA military which portrays the aspiration of American society. An idea which was challenged in the third installment of the Iron Man series. The whole idea of American dream challenged by a terrorist in the garb of another terrorist who is actually the master mind was brought forward in the last movie of the franchise. The idea of techno culture where an Iron Man suit is moving from a single man to his friend in USA army had already happened. Now the ideas was to bring forth the idea of American democracy being challenged and how the techno culture in Iron Man is creating a new world of threats was portrayed. A world where there is a platform of digital terrorism. A form of terrorism wherein you can’t see the terrorist but the face is visible. A world of technology being adapted in the daily lives and with greater risks and threats brings in the end of the Iron Man franchise.

Next comes the X-Men franchise which brings in the perspective of the othering and the subaltern. The choice for the movie franchise had been because it brings in a very powerful message of how the struggle between the major powers as well as the minor factions determines the process of the shaping up of the society. In X-Men there is a power struggle between the humans and the newly formed humans (mutants). This is where the struggle for the power emerges breaking the families, the human societies and many other unified constructs. A process for the othering where the new classes of humans are emerging creating disruption in the society marks the beginning of X-Men franchise. This is where the process of a new world was being formed and the battle between the humans and the mutants start to develop. A strong political movement against the mutants resonates somewhat with the idea of today’s political rhetoric against immigration, Xenophobia. This has strong under connection with the idea of how certain classes of people are othered. This is how the X-Men franchise moves on to the next story where the fight is to change the past. A past that can change their future by rectifying a mistake and a step that is taken in response to the situation created. A step which is extreme and the fight are on to change the socio-economic dynamics of the society. A society which is oblivious to the larger presence of the mutants or may be does not care that much about the mutants in the second movie. The movie which moved on to the next level brings in an understanding that how the past needs to be rectified to mitigate the effects on the future. An idea of time and how it shapes up the destinies of certain people where a certain political movement is taking place for their rights. The idea is to portray the revolution and the fight against government machinery. This is one of the most important aspects for the second part of the movie. This idea is taken forward in the final movie where the battle for the survival of the two factions (mutants) and the humans have reached the final stages. It is in this movie itself where the ideas of Prof. Charles Xavier and Magneto (his friend) who opposes the idea of believing in the good of humanity. This is where the idea is to portray a world of battles of ideas and the unison in forces into two binaries. Either the battle for survival and annihilation as X-Men through the three movies (First Class- Days of Future Past- Apocalypse) managed to bring in the perspectives of the three different perspectives. The first one is the emergence of a new set of people who are not in majority. The second one is the process where the fight by the marginalized is being taken forward. Last part of the movie brings in the idea of the clash of divides.

The last part of my presentation had been on the trilogy of Batman by Christopher Nolan. There had been a very different treatment as the character itself is one of the pop cultural icons with a lot of political elements to it. The idea of Nolan’s Batman series starts with Batman Begins. There are a whole lot of elements in the movie and the building up of the prelude to introduce the character. Bruce Wayne who is a billionaire much like Tony Stark (Iron Man) with that being the only similarity as the other factors is completely different. A grim beginning to a young life as his parents were murdered in front of him which brought in him a defining change. A change which he took upon himself to think beyond himself which has similarities with Iron Man character development to that point. Thereforth a young boy who is now alone only under the butler Alfred Pennyworth. A boy who does not need to worry about money but lacks the emotional warmth of his parents. A murder by a petty criminal Joe Chill due to economic down turn in those times had far reaching consequences. The first movie in itself presents a political undertone with overtly economic message. An idea where the socio-economic context of USA is said to be failing. That is being presented in the first movie where an association known as “League of Shadows” under the tutelage of whom Bruce Wayne turns into Batman. The group believes in a philosophy that if a city or a civilization reaches a pinnacle it is better for the city to be annihilated. The whole idea brings forth the idea of rise and fall of civilizations. The next movie brings in the theme where the nemesis of Batman “Joker” brings in the concept of Anarchy. One who does not stop at anything or cannot be understood by reason as the movie puts out. How human emotions can be manipulated and society can be disrupted so easily has been portrayed through the character “Joker”. The last movie which builds on the first two movies takes forward in the final movie which shows the system of civilizations can be brought to a halt with the force of terrorism, divide and intimidation. A political scenario where system can fail and everybody tries to fend for themselves. This is how the culmination of the movie franchise happens which brings forth the circle of Batman as the lone warrior fending for the society and the city that he has been brought up in. Also in the course of movies he has been exposed to the philosophy of the extreme as well the introspection in the oriental world. Though it may seem clichéd but that is how the idea of the political systems evolving in USA as the main focus had been brought in the movies. There is an evolution of the political dystopia and the risk of the civilizations that can come crashing down in future.

Therefore the idea of the movies which have been presented here brings forth the dominant ideas of political systems, civilization and dystopia that is very much plausible. It is the ideas that have been presented in the three movies which have treated different scenarios very differently. Even the way of looking at the possible scenarios of the future and how power projection is going to shape up has been well defined through Iron Man. The idea of private security contractors and the privatization of world peace has been brought in the movies of Iron Man to initiate new thought process. The idea of Iron Man is resonated in the movies of Batman which have been portrayed in certain similar themes however with the treatment of the movies done in a very different way. The idea of Iron Man and its villains are less gruesome than Batman where the treatment of the characters and scenarios are more gruesome and dark. The effect of the treatment of the world problems and the way it has been presented in Iron Man and Batman also shows the way that the companies Marvel and DC treat their characters. The political scenarios revolves around USA which is assumed to be a representative of the world problems. Idea of producing characters and the treatment of the problems in Batman and Iron Man has two different aspects. One represents a rotting society and failing economic liberalism. Whereas Iron Man represents the glorifying of American dream and the possibilities of achieving the greater effects as an individual. The lone warriors who are portraying their roles and power projection can also be looked at from the perspective of Vigilantism. A tendency to portray superheroes as Vigilantes is always debatable though it may be the seeming term. Working beyond the law and trying to create a system where the law and society has failed to reach. An idea of the world and its possible scenarios with the upcoming problems has been shown. The ideas of how a world may shape up when a political system fails and the role of one man in the process of taking it on. X-Men on the other hand looks at very same kind of problems of hatred, violence and as well scenarios that may challenge the status quo or understanding of the current society through a collective. The idea of X-Men is to portray a group of minorities with special abilities and their fight against the dominant discourse. Ideas of being weird such as being homosexual or cross dressing can be used as an analogy for the theme of X-Men movies. The idea of showing a select group of people and how they use their abilities in the scenario of fighting for the protection their nearest identifiable kith and kin with humans a lesser form of the mutants has a powerful meaning and can be interpreted in many ways. These kind of political undertones have been brought forward in the movies that have been presented.


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