The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an ever expanding many tentacled media goliath. It has spawned dozens of theatrical films and TV shows and at this point it’s getting hard to keep track of it all. So stay with me as I try to explain the backstory of Marvel’s War Machine, a direct-to-Netflix feature film released earlier this month.
War Machine is Iron Man’s (aka Tony Stark’s) sidekick. He has appeared in Iron Man (2008) and its sequels. His real name is James “Rhodey” Rhodes and he’s a decorated military officer who works for Iron Man and eventually wears a similar intelligent super suit of armor except decorated with darker colors.
War Machine was portrayed by Terrence Howard in Iron Man and Don Cheadle in the two sequels. For this film, Marvel obviously had to recast War Machine with a bigger movie star. They chose Brad Pitt, a puzzling choice given that the character is traditionally portrayed as African-American. Though Brad Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, he is not traditionally considered to be African-American, and I found the “jive” accent he spoke in throughout the movie to be in poor taste.
Other than that, Marvel’s War Machine is a pretty solid movie. The plot follows James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine as he tries to win the prolonged war in Afghanistan, featured prominently in Iron Man (2008). The movie hews closer to reality than any other Marvel production to date, with the movie turning from tragedy to farce as the war seems to consume James “Rhodey” Rhodes entirely, turning him into a conspiracy-addled whackjob by the end.
Marvel’s War Machine portrays the conflict in Afghanistan as a hopeless morass of inconclusive skirmishes and surprise guerrilla attacks. Given that all of the recent Marvel movies have been for dumb kiddies, this maturity and political sophistication surprised me.
I suppose I should have expected something more adult from War Machine given that Marvel has produced TV shows for Netflix that are much grittier and darker than its dumbo kiddie films, and this movie was released exclusively to Netflix as well. As children aren’t allowed on Netflix, Marvel has been forced to adapt and evolve in order to succeed in the Netflix ecosystem. That’s all for the best in my book.
TL;DR – This portrayal of the conflict in Afghanistan stars Brad Pitt as James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, the former sidekick to Iron Man trying to win back America’s honor by defeating the Taliban once and for all.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“A film that veers wildly from war movie to character drama to comic book caper to satire to a blended gray of nothing.” – Nur Faizah, PopMatters
“Brad Pitt is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“An assured, nervy black satire on America’s involvement in Afghanistan and on one particular soldier, commander of U.S. forces James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
“Really I expected more from Mr. Brad Pitts after all these years. Color me disappointed. Marvel’s War Machine is a real turkey, I’ll have you know.” – Topik Hidayet, Hindustan Times
“It appears to focus on a massive subject, only to reveal a much more understated approach; James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes may think he’s fixated on the glories of the battlefield, but he’s actually War Machine, a comic book sidekick trying to break out on his own.” – Vaughn Babigan, indieWIRE
“A muddled satire about the war in Afghanistan awkwardly forced to camouflage its lead character behind an alter ego and an offensive accent.” – Brian Lowry, CNN
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