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The New Weapons of the World Encyclopedia
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Iron Man"

This supermovie may be the result of much borrowing from preceding sources but it proves that it's not so much the concept behind the action nor, even, a solid cast, but it's the knowledgeable fun they have with it while transmitting pure enjoyment. You could say we've seen something like this in "The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." You might even see parallels to Batman and the morphing iron hot rods in "Transformers." But the comparison I like best is Spidey, the story of an ordinary young man who becomes a superhero through the agency of an insect bite and who has to train himself in the use of his powers.

Tony Stark, (Robert Downey Jr.) on the other hand, is an adult, and he's a super successful partner in Stark Industries--designers and developers of the most advanced weapons for the U.S. military. As the beneficiary of his dead father's powerhouse company, his inheritance includes and even surpasses dad's genetic code for invention. Tony Stark is a genius who behaves as one, too much confidence, too handsome, too imperious, too much money in the bank, too far ahead of anyone else. And, to boot, he's single. Think the son of Howard Hughes as a model, complete with moustache and goatee.

This he plays up as the world's most prolific playboy. Here's a man whose weaponry isn't just metallic. Just ask the legion of hotties who've had their feet warmed under his sheets. Even a challenging journalist, like Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) isn't able to resist the totality of his charms. Of course, no woman endures in his interest beyond a night and, as Christine learns, she'll awake to be cordially escorted out of the Stark mansion on the top of a Malibu mountain by the only woman he trusts and takes seriously--his enduring girl Friday, secretary, advisor and enabler Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Pepper may not realize the feelings she has for her boss but she's willing to help him do almost anything he sets his very busy mind on.

Reaping the rewards of Stark's advanced knowledge and steady output which has made the business the envy of competitive arms dealers around the world is the slick financial wizard who is his partner, one Obadiah Stane (bald, bearded Jeff Bridges), who's on a somewhat lower level of loyalty than Pepper. Oh, it starts out with warm enough feelings as they maintain their edge with the latest weapon and can crow over its destructive capability to a generally fawning press conference audience. I mean, this latest thing will eliminate a mountain the way carefully placed explosives will take down a large building. No cave is safe anymore.

After the press conference, however, Stark takes a journey to introduce the weapon to a prime customer in Afghanistan and the trip ends with his capture and the biggest challenge he's ever faced. Now, the genius of resoucefulness is about to be tested to the furthest extremes possible and change his values forevermore.

His terrorist captors are violent, ruthless men, the likes of which we know well from the war stories out of the middle east. Their leader (Faran Tahir) knows exactly who Stark is and what he's capable of. The only thing saving Tony's life is their desire for the weapon he's been touting and Stark's willingness to build one for them. To that end they set up a laboratory, provide raw material and the necessary machinery, and watch him work with another captive aiding him, who is also a translator. Both are under constant watch via closed circuit video camera.

Here's where credibility gets dicey, but if you go along with the premise, you go along with him actually building a weaponized, self propelled iron suit under the nose of his captors, and escapes by the skin of his plates and the lift of its rockets. He returns to civilization a different man. No longer does he want to be a "merchant of death." The new direction in which he wants to take his company alarms and displeases businessman Obadiah.

Having proven the potential of his suit, harnessing a power previously unknown and thought impossible, he spends the better part of his time building a new one -- a very slick, perfectly modeled and designed one. The Porsche Cayenne, not the model T. If this is iron it has to be one very rare alloy. As it takes shape, we have a sequence in which he trains himself to control it, echoing the appeal of that Spidy moment when he teaches himself to control the power and swing through Manhattan between skyscapers. But now, there's a new self-made superhero in town.

What's a superhero without a super villain? Stepping into that role is faithless Obadiah, who's answer to Stark's new humanism is a one-upmanship development of a bigger, more powerful and damaging suit on Stark's design. The Iron Monger. Stark finally realizes the extent to which his partner has betrayed him. Before he has a chance to realize the potentials of his new invention for the good of mankind, the more powerful suit is a superior weapon that puts our hero at a terrible disadvantage.

Downey, master of flippancy, leads the cast into this terrain with such aplomb, agility and fantasy-destroying humor you'd think he'd been fitted for it by his DNA. It is certainly a realization of his gifts beyond just about everything he's done before. Even while he's delivering lines as though he's mocking them like a wise-ass cut-up, he's imbuing the movie and his character with a good chunk of charm. Who would'a thunk it? A whole new superhero in town. If he wasn't already a star over whose real-life struggles some of us have all but cried, this role would plant him firmly in that stratospheric status.

Paltrow, an actress with scene-stealing instincts, adds sharp efficiency and sexy luster to the metallic enterprose as Stark's assistant/love interest.

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Director Jon Favreau has turned what might have been just another comic strip formulation into a completely engaging amalgam of storytelling, romance, performance, acrobatics and organically motivated effects. The moviemaking values are as intelligent as they are satisfyingly fantastic, based on unusually well-thought out character and action concepts, peppered with brash sparks of dialogue. All involved have hit a rich vein of entertainment enjoyment.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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Robert Downey Jr. as weapons dealer Tony Stark
Turning his genius into an escape and a new adventure.

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