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Strength of ‘Iron Man’ lies in its star

POSTED: July 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/Marvel Entertainment

Robert Downey Jr. stars as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in "Iron Man," a film based on a Marvel Comics character.

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And we're out of the summer gate at a Marvel-ous pace!

"Iron Man," based on Stan Lee's Marvel Comics character, posted around $200 million worldwide in its opening weekend. This is well below the opening haul by "Spiderman 3" last year, but it far surpassed everyone's expectations.

Still, "Iron Man" is a fairly typical blockbuster that benefited from being the first big release of the season. There are explosions and effects aplenty, the story is ludicrous and predictable, but the whole thing is rescued by a star who is once again hitting his stride.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a super-wealthy weapons inventor. With his equally brilliant father now dead, Stark runs the family business with Dad's old partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Stark and Stane live by Reagan era values, constantly spouting a peace through warfare philosophy sugar-coated with patriotic rhetoric.

The turning point comes when Stark is taken hostage by Islamic terrorists who use Stark Industries weapons against Americans. Stark escapes the bad guys by building an iron-armored, robotic weapons suit. Stark then makes it his mission to stop the proliferation of weapons.

The suit is cool and the fight scenes are visually spectacular. If that's all you're looking for, you will be satisfied. But there are enormous problems with this movie.

First, Stark is a spoiled brat. Other than his intelligence, this guy is a male Paris Hilton. His ego is bigger than his bank account, and he's a degenerate womanizer. The only woman to whom he shows any respect is his personal assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). After his epiphany, his intentions become more noble, but he's pretty much the same jerk he was before.

Which is why Downey is more valuable to this movie than any of the effects. Without one of the most winning actors on the planet, there is no reason to care about the character.

Downey has once again resurrected his life and career from his addictions. While he has certainly done more impressive acting in other roles, he has never stolen the show as forcefully as he does in "Iron Man."

Paltrow looks great, Bridges looks goofy, and they also do well with their limited roles.

The other problem with "Iron Man" is the politics. On the surface, Stark turns into a peace monger. Then he proceeds to kill scores of people. I would have been happier to just watch the hero shoot 'em up sans social commentary.

The movie is noticeably clean when it comes to profanity and sexual content, but this is a PG-13 movie with some intense, realistic violence, especially the scene in which Stark is taken hostage. He is riding along with soldiers on patrol, and they are ambushed by terrorists with IEDs and automatic machine guns. The scene would fit in the most graphic of war films.

While I mention this as a family warning, it's also one of the movie's strong points. Yes, there are any number of digital effects at work, but they are blended seamlessly into realistic settings. The effects are used more effectively than in most comic book movies.

"Iron Man" is solid summer fare, but it's likely to be eclipsed by the more promising productions coming soon. Still, it's a better start to summer than "Spiderman 3" was, and it should whet your appetite nicely for the main courses of "Narnia" and "Indy Jones."

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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