Between Batman and Iron Man, a lot of cultural commentary focused on the presentation of wealthy people (invariably straight, white men) as independent arbiters of justice. They use their fabulous wealth to obtain technological advantages over people they perceive to be the ‘enemy’ and then confront this enemy outside the legal framework. Following this analysis, it is argued that audiences never get an insight into how the same social, cultural, and economic processes which has privileged the heroes (to the point where they can afford crime-bashing gadgets) simultaneously disadvantaged the people now getting bashed, beaten, and bruised by the heroes.
Watching the Iron Man trilogy as a group, it’s not entirely clear that this is true. Although the reading is still insightful and thought-provoking, the Iron Man trilogy defies the analysis somewhat. In the first film, the playboy billionaire at the centre of the film, Tony Stark, comes to realise that his industry is the reason why America’s enemies are getting more powerful. He wants his company to shift from weapons manufacturing to energy production in order to address global economic issues.
What we see instead is the internalisation and individualisation of military technology. It’s this theme — the trials and tribulations of the transhuman world — that stitches the trilogy together.