The James Clayton Column: Babe Ruthless beats Iron Man

James celebrates Whip It, with a journey across the worlds of Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass for good measure...

“I am Iron Man!” Actually, no you’re not. You’re a billionaire war profiteer and disaster capitalist who is going to get his sorry spoiled arse handed to him by a vengeful Russian guy with electro-whip arms and a nickname stolen from a sex tape. Tony Stark: you suck.

I like Robert Downey, Jr. and I loved the first movie but building up to the freshly-released Iron Man sequel I can’t help but hope that ‘our hero’ gets a good pasting. He’s a self-absorbed playboy who only has superpowers thanks to high tech gadgetry. He only really gets by because of a privileged upbringing, the fact he inherited his daddy’s business empire and a fortune earned from the massacre and mutilation of others. Way to hustle, Tony. What a hero.

Because convention likes the all-American superhero to emerge undefeated and because movie studios like making big-money sequels, I expect to see Tony Stark shuffle on into Iron Man 3, the arc reactor in his chest still maintaining vital functions. Even so, if they aren’t going to have him become a tragic victim of a drunken fanboy comic convention stampede, the least they can do is make sure that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash leaves some lasting burns.

I want Iron Man 3 to be the film where Stark sits in a dark room sulking, picking at his scabs and undergoing intense psychotherapy alongside the Incredible Hulk. (The green one feels really low. Two franchise reboots met with antipathy worsened his alienation.)

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During therapy, Iron Man finds God and on his quest for salvation has to remove all the unexploded Stark landmines left in Cambodia before Nick Fury – he looks a little like an eyepatched Sammy L. Jackson – allows him back in the Avengers. Show us amputated children, then you can label it a ‘darker’ sequel.

With my true mentor reduced to playing a babysitter in Hollywood kid flicks (The Spy Next Door? Why, Jackie Chan, why?) and the likes of Tony Stark prompting ethical questions, I think I’m having a crisis of confidence in male action heroes. I’m a pathetic excuse for a man as it is and I need macho role models to inspire me. Instead I’m seeing Police Story turn into Bedtime Story and being told that only dubious industrialists succeed in life.

What’s the point of learning kung fu if it’ll only lead to a dead end job in a crèche? Lacking a suped-up armoured suit as well, I’m doomed to frustrating failure.

Bizarrely enough, the character from recent comic book-based material that has most inspired me to slip into costume and go out and put the world to rights was Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass.

Fact: of all the screen heroes out there the one with the most motivational power is a pre-pubescent girl in a purple wig.

Either the crisis of masculinity runs deeper than first thought or there’s something odd happening within my psyche. Maybe I’m finally getting in touch with my cross-dressing inner child.

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Alternatively, perhaps female cinematic leads are having a fresh burst of life whilst the archetypal macho hero remains stagnant. If so, then hooray. It’s healthier that little girls admire Hit-Girl instead of a Barbie doll.

Outgunned by an eleven-year-old child, the prospect of the Hurl Scouts from Whip It probably has Iron Man feeling ultra-inadequate and rusting beneath tears of shame.

The roller derby girls of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut are tougher than any Marvel hero. What’s more, they’re hardcore, all-action personalities with real human depth. Finally getting to see Whip It, when Ellen Page’s character Bliss (soon to become Babe Ruthless) said, “You‘re my new heroes,” I found myself in complete agreement.

What could be cooler than a high-speed contact sport that incorporates violent feminism, roller skates and homemade costumes? Give the players names like Bloody Holly and Maggie Mayhem and hold matches in disused warehouses and you’ve got something that is edgier and way more exciting than mainstream professional sport.

First impressions may have roller derby down as a sexploitative excuse to get scantily clad women sweating for the titillation of men, but in truth it’s so much more.

It’s high-octane, has raw emotion, unpredictability and far from being misogynist, empowers women. This is a sport of absolute feminine rule and Whip It captures the glory of this underground subculture and builds a strong, intelligent narrative of human interest stories around it. Substance, style and fishnet stockings, plus Drew Barrymore decking anybody who gets in her way. Whip It is brilliant.

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Boxing flicks excepted – because the boxing movie genre is a whole historical entity in itself – the best sports films, in my humble opinion, focus on minority sports. Whip It has instantly joined such cult classics as Nacho Libre and Dodgeball in my personal Hall of Fame and, as a good genre film should, encouraged me to pursue a semi-athletic dream.

I want to be a roller derby star and so am going to find some skates and adopt an alias. Following Jabba the Slut and Princess Slayer, I’m thinking I’ll follow the Star Wars theme and go by the title ‘Boba Threat’.

Unfortunately, I’m excluded from joining Babe Ruthless and Smashley Simpson on the track because biology blessed me with a Y chromosome. Because I don’t have Tony Stark’s riches I can’t afford the necessary operations or bribe the influential people to bend the rules.

Ah, well. As the headmistress in Grease said: “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

I’ve been introduced to a fresh and stimulating sport I can follow and am totally taken with the Hurl Scouts of Austin, Texas. They’re countercultural icons who bear the bruises from both real life and roller derby, but shine regardless. Too weird for conservative Texan tastes and living a difficult existence in the shade of the American Dream, these women fight and survive in spite of everything.

Even if they don’t win (and before Babe Ruthless joins, they’re the league’s whipping girls), the Hurl Scouts are ideal role models because of their tenacity, sisterly spirit and lust for life.

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Those are the true superheroes: the humble and downtrodden that defy conformity and expectation despite the obstacles. That’s truly empowering, and even if I can’t play roller derby because of my gender, it inspires me to be positive and push harder at my ambitions to be the greatest lame lucha libre wrestler in Europe.

“I am Iron Man?” Pah, “I am Boba Threat!”

James’ previous column can be found here.