The Arms Dealer as a Trope

I’m starting to get kind of annoyed with the tendency of Hollywood to use the “arms dealer” or “weapons manufacturer” as a stock villain character. It’s one thing to introduce a villainous or antiheroic character like Nicholas Cage played in “Lord of War,” who clearly operated outside any kind of legal or ethical boundaries, but my complaint is that I am increasingly seeing characters who are automatically presumed to be evil just because they are involved in the arms trade. This is especially glaring when it comes from military or law enforcement characters whose job depends on access to weapons. In real life, companies like Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and countless small arms manufacturers provide an essential service that people kind of rely on.

The best example I can come up with is “Iron Man.” The whole story is that Tony Stark’s business manufacturers a lot of weapons. And this is bad, because as we find out in this and later movies, these weapons get sold to insurgent groups and other badguys. So instead of imposing some supply-chain discipline or resolving to only sell to reputable governments, Tony decides his company will no longer manufacture any weapons at all…

…and then he spends the next half of the movie building awesome weapons, blowing up tanks, and shooting people in the head.

Am I the only one who has noticed this? Or who finds this trope really obnoxious?

Tony Stark’s an interesting example. He’s more of an “it’s OK if I do it” kinda guy, more than an unethical arms merchant. For a guy that decided he didn’t like death and destruction, he sure causes a lot of it. Interestingly, though he is on the regulation and registration side of the Marvel civil war. Doesn’t he have a line in the trailer something about people like them have to have a controlling authority?

But in the shows I see with this type being used as a villain, the arms deals are the kind that sells to both sides, or are clearly not following ITAR regulations, or selling stolen weapons. They ARE bad guys. They don’t care what harm they cause to the world, as long as they get rich. Whether there are many people like that in the real world, I can’t say.

Stark’s problem was not that he had not resolved to only sell to reputable governments, it was that he had some horrible first-hand experience that that wasn’t working. His weapons were being sold to people he would never do business with, so he cut off the supply.

Yeah, neither he nor anyone in his company ever sold his weapons to that Afghani warlord who captured him… and yet he ended up with them anyway. He can control who he does business with, but he can’t control who they do business with. So the only way to keep his weapons out of the hands of guys like that is to not sell them at all.

He has no problem with weapons per se, as evidenced by all of them that he makes for himself. He has a problem with the wrong people having weapons. And by the end of the first movie, the only person he’s sure isn’t a wrong person is himself.

(my bolding) Sure they did. Specifically, Obadiah Stane sold arms to anyone willing to buy them. Why do you think he had contacts in Afghanistan he could hire to kill Tony?

In the scene where the reporter shows Tony the pictures of Gulmira, he and Stane have this conversation:

Tony: “If we’re double-dealing under the table…Are we?”

Stane: “Tony. Who do you think locked you out? I was the one who filed the injunction against you.”

It was pretty clear to me that Stane was still selling weapons directly to the 10 Rings.

By definition, law-abiding weapons dealers don’t make very interesting villains, so they are going to be under-represented in action movies.

There was the scene in Age of Ultron where the Avengers are trying to figure out who Ultron would go to to obtain some black market vibranium. Stark says that Ulysses Klaw sells it and everyone looks at him.

“What? I went to conventions. I met people. It doesn’t mean I did business with him.”

In The Incredible Hulk (2008), one must note, he actually did authorize giving new weapons to the US military—big Humvee-mounted sonic cannons. So it wasn’t like he was completely cutting off the supply of weapons from his factories, no exceptions, to prevent them from even indirectly getting into the wrong hands.

Arms dealers have been viewed this way since the Post-World War One Era.