A megalomaniacal terrorist unleashes a rash of bombings across the United States. Innocent people die. A nation reels in horror. No, these aren’t the latest headlines – they’re the set-up of the latest Iron Man movie
, already igniting controversy.
For some viewers, that plotline about a terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) cuts too closely to the Boston Marathon bombing allegedly carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers earlier this month. It certainly caused a hush to fall over the crowd at the film’s glitzy Los Angeles premiere at the El Capitan Theatre last week.
The film’s stars addressed the issue at a press conference last week, with Don Cheadle (who plays Col. James Rhodes) stressing that the film was finished well before the bombings earlier this month, and that there is no political agenda.
“The job of this film is to entertain,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
Gwyneth Paltrow (who plays Pepper Potts) brought the controversy even closer to home, talking about the effect of cinematic violence on her own children.
“We do live in an unsafe world,” she said. “That’s the truth, and I’m dealing with this now with my 7-year-old. He’s sort of grappling with the fact that the world is unsafe and there are people who do harmful things. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with presenting that idea. We can’t lie to our children and pretend that the world is perfect.”
To my mind, we also can’t blame filmmakers when something they’ve created accidentally brushes up against a real-world act of violence. As long as we keep making movies with violent scenes, those kinds of unfortunate coincidences will keep happening.
Earlier this year, Gangster Squad debuted with one salient scene missing: a movie-theater shooting that struck some as being overly reminiscent of the tragedy in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last July. That particular example, though, involved a scene that wasn’t entirely integral to telling the Gangster Squad story. To cut the bombing scene in Iron Man 3 would mean scrapping the film and starting over; it’s so central to the plot.
I should add that there’s absolutely no discussion of Iron Man 3 being edited or delayed because of negative associations with the Boston case. In fact, the film already has opened overseas, with a nearly $200 million haul to show for it.
Pain & Gain Also Violent
Besides, there’s also the larger point that there are plenty of instances of violence in films over which we bat nary an eyelash. Take this weekend’s box-office winner, Pain & Gain, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as idiot body-builders who become surprisingly successful kidnappers.
Pain, which I actually liked for its ridiculous humor, is based on a real-life case in the mid-1990s, in which a Florida couple was brutally murdered. It seems disingenuous to cause a stink about IM3‘s entirely unintentional similarity to the Boston Marathon bombing when Pain & Gain exploits a real-life tragedy for entertainment.
And if a movie gives us a moment’s pause for its use of violence, that’s not an inherently bad thing.
As Paltrow put it, “It’s just part of a bigger conversation. I know that after my children saw [Iron Man 3], I had certain conversations with my son about it, and so I think it’s a good, contained place to have a conversation.”