Heavy metal

Why the latest hero blockbuster is a must-see

Iron Man has never enjoyed the star power or media exposure of his Marvel Comics pals like Spider-Man or the Hulk, but he's damn durable. Think about it: He has slugged it out for years in the comics and in the occasional animated TV appearance as if waiting for his time to shine. Well, that shining moment has arrived, and get ready to bask in the glare because the film is terrific. It is this year's new state-of-the Iron Man-art in summer blockbuster tech and one of the best superhero movies of the decade.

Director Jon Favreau has every rivet in place; with a fine script, solid production design and a winning cast that delivers the goods and never gets lost in the spectacle.

Leading the way is the inspired choice of Robert Downey Jr. as millionaire playboy-hero Tony Stark. He's the perfect actor to play a man caught between massive talent and harmful appetites. Stark's got a bit of George Clooney, a party hound who never met a sports car or a leggy woman he didn't want and astounding scientific talents equal to building about anything he can imagine. His choice to apply that genius to making weapons has never bothered him before; after all, it's made him rich and his late father patriotically helped win the big war by working on the Manhattan Project.

Then Stark's thoughtless ambivalence is abruptly shattered on a promotional tour in Afghanistan. His military convoy is destroyed with his own arms, and he's abducted by nasty terrorists who want him to build bigger and better killing machines. The assault leaves Stark with a chest full of shrapnel, and a jerry-rigged electromagnetic generator implanted to keep it from reaching his heart. With help from a fellow kidnapped scientist (Shaun Toub), he cooks up a crude suit of armor in a cave laboratory to help expand his world view and to blow the bad guys to kingdom come.

Safely stateside, Stark's a changed man — much to the horror of his brooding bald business partner (Jeff Bridges) — and he announces that Stark Industries will no longer be building weapons. He begins taking a serious second look at his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who might be the right gal to save what's left of his soul.

The rest of the plot pretty much follows the super-hero handbook: the shaky training sequences, learning to fly, the disbelieving friends and the last epic showdown with an overpowered enemy. The real joy of Iron Man is that all these familiar elements are handled with precision and not with ponderous sermonizing and operatic overemoting that has bogged down many other caped crusaders.

And everyone nails their parts. Paltrow makes her girl Friday smart and appealing; Terrence Howard is great as the put-upon sidekick; and Bridges seems to savor being cast against his mellow and magnanimous dude type, playing a venal capitalist rum amok. The key, of course, is Downey, who effortlessly conveys that his newfound sense of responsibility isn't going to stop him from having a good time, and in doing so, Iron Man makes saving the world look like fun again.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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