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Iron Man solid

Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of the cast deliver great performances in new super hero film

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The delightful and well-crafted Iron Man, based on the Marvel Comics franchise, is one of the smartest superhero films to come down the pike in some time.

Robert Downey Jr. again reveals why he is one of the best actors of his generation — allowing himself simultaneously to be playful and poignant as he adds enormous depth to the title role.

Unlike so many previous big-screen incarnations of a Marvel icon, Downey has carved out his own interpretation of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and yet he delivers on the established premise of the character — so as not to disappoint Iron Man’s legions of fans.

Of course, we don’t see the actor as Iron Man until about a half-hour into the film, when Tony Stark becomes the supercharged flying agent of destructive power — used for good to vanquish evil.

That process helps deliver a contemporary anti-war message. But thanks to the movie’s packaging as a superhero romp, director Jon Favreau pulls off his pacifist statement in a way that’s bound to be more successful than any number of recent films touching on Mideast warfare or terrorism.

As we first meet Stark, he’s living a flamboyant, arrogant, over-the-top lifestyle. Heir to a jillionaire American arms manufacturing fortune, he also happens to be a genius inventor in his own right. On a trip to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest uber-weapon for U.S. forces, Stark is kidnapped by terrorists presumably modeled after Taliban-style revolutionaries.

After imprisoning Stark in a deep cave, the anti-American terrorist leader tells him he can win his freedom in exchange for developing a powerful rocket for them. Oh, yes, and our hero is also connected to a bomb to discourage any thought of escape while a weird kind of electronic disc implanted in his chest keeps him alive.

Instead of crafting a bomb-bearing missile for his captors, he builds a somewhat crude — yet effective — metal suit, infused with all kinds of powerful weapons and propellants, created to facilitate his escape. He makes quite the explosive departure from deep within their mountain fortress, in just one of many spectacular examples of artful special effects used in this film.

When he returns to America, where he’s hailed as a hero, Stark sets out to change his company’s direction from military procurement to global improvement.

That sets him on a collision course with Obadiah Stane (played by a shaved-headed Jeff Bridges), Stark’s father’s protégé who nurtured the young Tony and helped build the family firm into the world’s most powerful “agent of death.” Almost unrecognizable in the role, Bridges gives a deliciously evil performance and holds his own against Downey’s screen-dominating presence.

The same can be said for Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s loyal and ever-efficient assistant Pepper Potts. She exudes a subtle sensuality — that becomes far less subtle as the movie rolls on — but she also adds some terrific twists of humor, often communicated with only a glance, wink or head toss.

Favreau rates big kudos for his direction, hitting all the right notes of pacing and impact.

But in the end, it all comes down to Downey. It’s pure fun to watch him having a ball with this role. This supremely gifted actor will make several generations of filmgoers very happy. His fit form and edgy humor will appeal to younger audiences; the opportunity to watch an actor of a certain age (he just turned 43) also will make a lot of older moviegoers smile. There’s something nicely reassuring about watching a superhero who isn’t in his teens or early 20s.

Iron Man is simply great escapism. It completely deserves to be the first major blockbuster of the summer.

Iron Man


Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of  sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content

Theaters: Century Olympia, Galaxy Tacoma 6, Galaxy Uptown Theatre, Galaxy Uptown Theatre VIP, Lakewood Cinema 15, Lakewood Towne Center 12, Longston Place 14, Regal Martin Village 16, Yelm Cinemas @ Prairie Park

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