I was persuaded to see Iron Man 3 this week by an eight-year-old. I knew very little about the whole Iron Man concept, but was dragged along grudgingly.
I was thinking about super heroes and Marvel comics, but as a kid I had singularly missed out on this quintessential slice of boy's own nerdism. So my Iron Man education has been retroactive.
In the film Robert Downey Jr. rather amusingly plays Tony Stark, aptly assisted by Gwyneth Paltrow his love interest. Already this idea engaged me - fortysomethings are the heroes and heroines of this movie. We are not over the hill; we are fighting people who turn into lava and blow up.
The bad guy is rather effectively played by Guy Pearce, the Australian actor who was born in Cambridge, England just a couple of weeks after me. Pearce is the only character I am aware of who successfully escaped from the straightjacket of the Aussie soap opera Neighbors with the exception of Kylie Minogue.
I read a piece in Wired which explained how Iron Man 3 is an empowerment movie for women; to my mind it's an empowement movie for middle aged people. Life is sure to begin at 40, as soon as I have thrown off this nasty cough.
In reality Iron Man is rooted in another era.
In 1963 story plotter Stan Lee had been toying creating a businessman superhero. It's a matter of some relief he wasn't around doing the same sort of thing today or we may have ended up with Trump Man, a portly, obnoxious super hero who does battle with his enemies by unleashing the power of his terrible comb over.
Back in the 1960s Stark was depicted as a character who suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapper in which his captors tried to make him build a weapon of mass destruction (not to mention planting it in the deserts of Iraq).
Instead Stark used the suit to protect the world as Iron Man. Through his corporation Stark Industries he produces weapons to fight crime. Iron Man was apparently a vehicle for Lee to explore Cold War themes.
He explained: "I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, the young readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military ... so I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the Army, he was rich, he was an industrialist. I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him..."
So there's the irony for all those people who love Tony Stark. You were meant to hate him dudes. He represented the arms race, Nikita Khruschev and all that malarky.