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Reel Time
‘Iron Man’ forged on new superhero assembly line
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Photo courtesy of INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC
Iron Monger (left) does battle with his nemesis, Iron Man (right) in “Iron Man.”
With Hollywood increasingly turning to yesteryear’s comic books for this summer’s blockbusters, it’s refreshing to see that “Iron Man” didn’t end up being a formulaic cookie-cutter cliché geared toward teenage audiences like so many of its antecedents.

“Iron Man” thankfully comes off of a completely different assembly line.

Directed by Jon Favreau, Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment’s “Iron Man” boasts a cast of Hollywood heavies that at first glance don’t seem to meet the parameters for this high-octane, science fiction action romp.

Then again, who could do a better job at portraying the wealthy industrialist playboy Tony Stark than Robert Downey Jr.?

An actor haunted by his own personal demons, Downey instinctively emphasizes the character’s self-destructive, self-depricating nature as he walks Stark through an unsettling epiphany.

Gwyneth Paltrow immerses herself in her role as Stark’s compliant yet self-confident assistant Pepper Potts. The tacit attraction and resulting tension between these two is just enough to titillate without being mawkish.

Jeff Bridges portrays Obadiah Stane, the absolute antithesis of one of his best-loved roles, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski. Where Lebowski is a burned-out, unemployed slacker, Stane is a smooth-talking, ruthless, double-dealing top executive lacking any moral compass. Bald and bearded, Bridges slithers perfectly into this snake’s skin.

Based on the Marvel comic book hero created in the early 1960s by writer-editor Stan Lee, writer Larry Lieber and artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby, the movie opens with Stark being taken prisoner by a group of insurgents in modern Afghanistan. The extremists have accumulated a cache of weapons manufactured by Stark Industries; now, they want Stark to build them a new kind of missile.

Being a resourceful inventor, Stark manages to build a suit of armor that allows him to escape captivity. Upon his return to America, he vows to take Stark Industries in a new direction, halting all its weapons manufacturing ... a move that clearly displeases Stane. While the public thinks Stark is recuperating, he begins work on developing and refining an advanced suit of armor that will give him superhuman strength.

A number of things make “Iron Man” more entertaining than other superhero adaptations. The screenplay delivers intelligent, engaging dialog – not just comic book bubble blurbs. The film incorporates 21st century social issues (terrorism, corporate greed) without becoming preachy. While it ultimately depends on computer-generated graphics to animate the action sequences, the movie doesn’t force those sequences on the audience as the centerpiece. True to Stark’s character, there’s a thread of political incorrectness that overly prudent directors might have pruned from the script.

“Iron Man” is far from perfect. There are plenty of holes in the story as gaping as the one left in Stark’s chest after he’s hit by shrapnel from one of his own bombs. Occasionally, the moviemakers rely on their audience members to fill in the gaps, assuming that everyone is intimately familiar with the tale from reading the comic book.

Imperfections aside, “Iron Man” is a lively thrill ride with plenty of action for the younger set, and enough depth of story to keep adults from losing interest.
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