Tony Stark has been the heart of moral controversy in the MCU. Tony began the series as a weapons manufacturer and dealer, selling weapons that ended up in the hands of terrorists. He then went on to build his Iron Man suit, an army of Iron Man drones, and created Ultron (which backfired big time). The entire plot of Civil War revolves around Tony coming to the realization that the Avengers need checks and balances, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the Avengers that need it; it’s mostly Tony that is behind some of the most problematic tech in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In Spider-Man: Far from Home, all of the above seemed to pale in comparison to E.D.I.T.H. (an acronym for Even Dead, I’m The Hero). E.D.I.T.H is a pair of sunglasses that controls the Stark satellite network, which gives the person wielding said glasses access to killer drones and everyone’s personal information (including text messages and Google searches). This made Tony a one-man NSA; big brother without any semblance of a check on such power. On top of that, he chose to grant a teenager unlimited access to it.
Can you imagine giving a seventeen year old this kind of power in the real world? It’s bad enough when “capable” adults have access to drone strikes, and we see the immediate consequences when Peter doesn’t know how to stop a drone strike on a classmate in Far From Home. It’s played for comedy, but what in the world was Tony thinking creating this kind of power and not putting a check on it? Fury, Happy Hogan, Ant-Man; there has to be someone with access to a kill-switch to stop something terrible happening like, maybe… Peter turning over the system under coercion or duress? But no, even from beyond the grave, we see Tony’s arrogance shine through. Maybe Cap’s insistence on no checks and balances got to him, but I doubt it.
Ironically, we’ve already seen similar tech in superhero cinema before; The Dark Knight shows a similar machine with less deadly capabilities. The machine uses sonar to image all of Gotham City using the populace’s cell phones. Batman plans to use it to locate the Joker. Lucius Fox believes it to be too much power for one man, calling it “beautiful, dangerous, and unethical”. When he threatens to resign, Batman lets him know that the machine can be shut down when Lucius types in his name.
TDK’s director Christopher Nolan recognized the moral weight of such a device, and we’ve only come further in our understanding of why and how such machines are so dangerous. Information is power, and as we become more reliant on our technology, there’s more information available for companies to access. Fox was right in his assessment, Batman created contingencies for his objections, and Batman understood that there was a line he was crossing by using the machine in the first place. Far From Home, though a comedic film, doesn’t really grasp the moral issues behind E.D.I.T.H., and never grapples with the implications of its full capabilities.
It’s almost frightening how casual Marvel is when it comes to a spy-drone machine. Far From Home was the biggest film at the box office, and could be said to normalize this kind of technology. While it shows the danger of it falling into the wrong hands, very little is explored regarding the potential for real corruption (as opposed to silly mix-ups that almost kill classmates)? What about the implication that it’s the “good guys” that have this kind of tech? Will Marvel ever come to the realization that E.D.I.T.H. isn’t a good thing, and should be destroyed?
Even dead, Tony Stark is a maniac. I know that acronym wouldn’t be as catchy, but E.D.I.T.H. is basically an all-in-one US military/government without the benefit of (theoretical) checks and separation of powers. Who would think that’s a good thing outside of a maniac? At least The Dark Knight had the decency to acknowledge the moral quandary of sacrificing freedom for safety, and chose to destroy their machine when the Joker was defeated. Marvel doesn’t even seem to consider the ethical implications, a strong turn from earlier films. Maybe it’s because Far From Home is pretty comedic and fun, but there’s nothing forcing them to put such a device in their entertaining movie. If you’re going to use a drone/spy machine, address the problems with it outside of “it’s too much power for a teenager”, because that’s the biggest “duh” in the world.
Except in the MCU apparently…
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