May 8, 2008

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Iron Man (PG-13)
Robert Downey Jr. blows stuff up, flies and just generally frolics in the awesomeness of superherodom in Iron Man, an explodey fun movie thanks in large part to the actory fun had by Downey.

Tony Stark (Downey) enjoys the good life thanks to a successful career as a weapons manufacturer. Mere moments after showing off his latest creation — now with more shock and extra awe — Stark is kidnapped by a multinational band of terrorist types. Despite his belief that he only sells to the good guys, he learns differently when he’s taken to their camp and told to use his lesser missiles and guns to build these warlords a Jericho (his brand new weapon) of their own. Instead he and fellow captive Yinsen (Shaun Toub) first build a power source to serve as an electromagnet to keep shrapnel in Tony’s body from entering his heart and then they work on the machine that might secure their escape.

Once constructed, Stark powers up his iron suit and busts out of the cave full of heavily armed henchmen. Naturally, just enough of the bad guys live to fuel some revenge later in the movie. Stark returns home, bummed out about the good-guy-killing possibilities of his weapons. He announces his plans to have the company take a break from producing instruments of death, much to the chagrin of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his business partner. When Stane appears to be keeping up with his weapon-selling activities, Stark decides to improve on his original iron man suit and create a shiny red-and-gold model (with the ability to fly and with extensive weaponry) that can help him stop the people using his weapons against innocents. Of course, creating an indestructible suit that turns one into an unkillable vengeance-seeker can garner some attention, especially if one is already a devil-may-care, womanizing, wunderkind billionaire. Helping Stark keep it all together — sort of — are his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his military buddy Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and a bunch of chummy robots in his mansion’s underground workshop.

Did I mention Tony Stark has the best house ever? It’s a sleek modern Malibu castle, all glass and rounded rooms. The underground robots aren’t half as amazing as his ocean view.

Tony Stark has a lot of the best things ever — best collection of cars ever, best snarky attitude ever, best weird mustache ever. Downey is perfectly cast as a man who has a collection of fancy cars and supermodel bed buddies but also a kind of conversion that gets him charged up about protecting the world. We believe his sarcasm and his cockiness but we also believe his second-act sincerity and his occasional glints of emotion (it helps that the displays of “feelings” by Stark are only occasional while the sarcasm is delightfully ongoing).

Downey gives real personality to his smarty-pants, smart-mouthed lead; his performance really carries the movie. Beyond this, Iron Man doesn’t need a lot of complexity in its plot or its characters to work. We get our explosions, our learning-to-be-a-superhero scenes, our potential love interest and our Stan Lee cameo, and it’s all presented in a lively story that moves along at a good clip. Iron Man doesn’t reinvent the superhero movie wheel but it does give us a nice entry in the genre and a delightfully action-packed beginning to movie summer. B+

Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content. Directed by Jon Favreau and written by Mark Gergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (from characters by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby), Iron Man is two hours and six minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures