IRON MAN 2: The Legacy of Howard Stark

All I can give you is my knowledge. – Howard Stark 2yvnbza.jpg

From the opening, smirking speech Tony delivers at the beginning of Iron Man 2 to old newsreel footage of the impetuous Stark’s very 50s father, “legacy” is a key theme of the film (as mentioned in our inaugural video review). What kind of legacy are we leaving behind? What inheritance did our fathers leave for us? As the man inside Iron Man wrestles with the government, personal relationships, his poisoned body, the sting of Whiplash and the bludgeoning of Justin Hammer, he discovers at a pivotal moment in the film that his late father is “still taking him to school”. However, by Howard’s own proclamation he simply leaves his son with “knowledge”… which seems evident in Tony’s discombobulated life.

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life. – Immanuel Kant

In the first film of the franchise, Tony had an awakening, a life-transforming event that appeared both physical and spiritual. We see, however, that old habits die hard and he’s still burning the candle at both ends, bootstrapping his way along, relying on Tony’s knowledge and moment-by-moment intuition. No one would describe Iron Man as “organized”. We see he’s blessed in many ways because his natural talents DO propel him down life’s race track pretty far, but he’s delusional enough to believe (like many of us) that they will get him across the finish line. Although Tony doesn’t realize it, Whiplash’s fierce introduction on the racetrack in Monaco is a metaphor for the inevitable life-crash he was headed for anyway.
Knowledge without wisdom is a road to nowhere fast, but Tony Stark seems to think “fast” is getting him somewhere. Yet – even though his knowledge intake matches pace with his Id, Tony’s life can’t keep up.

Iron Man’s kingdom brings to mind the historical King Solomon before his older, wiser ecclesiastical lament. The monarch son of Israel’s King David was handed the keys to a kingdom, and even given wisdom by the one true God, but let these resources go to his head much like the fictional Tony. As Stark rebuilt his father’s Expo, King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem; it all looked like legacy building, but personal appetites compromised what could have been triumphant. Stark’s cheerleaders parade like Solomon’s harem, and Tony’s wandering eye keeps delaying his commitment to an obvious helper suitable (Pepper).

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. – Proverbs 24

ironman2Proverbs so perfectly captures Tony Stark’s flaws. The billionaire playboy has filled his rooms with precious and pleasant riches, capitalizing on his impressive knowledge… but the Stark legacy isn’t built on a solid foundation. We see him giving away his art collection and trying to do something with his accumulation as the film begins. His brilliance has certainly “enhanced his might” in red and gold arc-reacting glory, but his war is found wanting because his only counsel has been his own. When he actually stops jabbering for 30 seconds and actually listens to Rhodey, Pepper, and Fury in this sequel… he begins to discover some keys to victory.

…we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. – 1 Corinthians 1

All the knowledge Tony possesses can’t compensate for a lack of wisdom… not to mention a love that extends delegation and trust to others.The sanctifying road in Iron Man 2 teaches him valuable lessons about opening up this closely guarded part of his heart. No man is an island, and he cannot hold it all together by himself.

Stark isn’t the only one who thinks that all we need in life is the capacity to be good jugglers; it’s a hubris common to man. The slow road to The Avengers movie will likely punctuate this further need for being a team, one body with diversity unified by shared meaning and mission. Granted, the Marvel movies may fail to point to our ultimate reliance on our Maker, but the fact that they ultimately point to the need for a shared worldview, ethic, morality… provokes a discussion on how we arrive at what is right and wrong, and if “good” character might actually be an imaging of “godly” character we sense from general revelation.

There is a social concept that knowledge – education – will solve all our problems, and Iron Man 2 subtly demonstrates the folly here. “The More You Know” ads peppered commercial breaks from my childhood to adulthood, but even G.I. Joe knew that knowing was only “half the battle” (if even that). Francis Bacon’s Scientia potentia est gave us “knowledge is power” but we all know from Acton’s Dictum what absolute power can do absolutely (or we at least know that “with great power comes great responsibility”Uncle Ben’s Dictum). Knowledge alone is not our savior, and so Howard Stark’s offering is ultimately lacking.

Still, Iron Man 2 does more than just tangle with the insufficiency of knowledge alone.

The film also tangles with the remedy for the human heart, which we’ll look at in the following post.

  1. kevin

    great post, i see him in the struggle with his mortality, and the redemption he gets when he realizes that his father really loved him.

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