Downey a marvel as ‘Iron Man’
Downey a marvel as ‘Iron Man’

I’ve always liked Robert Downey Jr., even when personal exploits such as drug use and run-ins with the law threatened to kill not only his career but the actor himself. Downey has since turned his life around and has slowly and quietly been rebuilding his acting resume.

Consider the resurrection complete as Downey almost single-handedly hoists the summer’s first tent-pole release above the fray in the rousing super-hero actioner, “Iron Man.”

Iron Man is a lesser-known hero from the Marvel universe of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk. Seeing how my geek-fueled, comic-book phase trended more towards the Batman, Superman group at D.C. comics, I went into this movie almost completely unfamiliar with the character.

Downey plays Tony Stark, a billionaire, industrialist playboy who also just so happens to be a technological genius. But he is no brooding Bruce Wayne, as he’s got women, cars, a mansion, and a healthy ego to match.

He is the president of Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer that boasts some fat government contracts; but shortly after demonstrating his latest weapon in the mountains of Afghanistan, Stark’s convoy comes under attack and he is kidnaped by a group of terrorists.

They demand he build them a new weapon, but he instead constructs a powerful suit made of iron and proceeds to escape, kicking a lot of terrorist butt along the way.

Stark returns to the United States as a changed man and decides that Stark Industries needs to get out of the business of war. This doesn’t go over too well with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the senior partner of the company who founded it with Stark’s long-dead father.

And then there is the little matter of the iron suit, which Stark feels might be worthy of a few upgrades. He retreats to his lab, filled with enough technological gizmos to make Bill Gates weep with jealousy and begins to perfect the suit, which is nearly indestructible, armed with an array of weaponry and, oh yea, can fly.

The playboy lifestyle allows Stark to be aloof and distant to the point where he can really only claim to have two friends: military liaison Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and his personal assistant Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is a cross between Batman’s Alfred and James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny

Iron Man was originally conceived during the Cold War, but he is the perfect hero for today’s morally conflicting War on Terror.

“Iron Man” stands proudly in the upper echelon of superhero movies. Director Jon Favreau infuses the film with plenty of action, humor, and pathos, while not allowing the massive special effects or heavyweight cast to throw the whole thing off the rails. In spite of all the bangs and booms, it is the story that is the heart of this movie.

This is the first movie from Marvel Studios. The company now has complete control of its characters’ leaps to the big screen, so purists will be pleased to know that movie Iron Man doesn’t betray the comic book, Iron Man.

But when all is said and done, the biggest chunk of credit for “Iron Man’s” success should go to Downey. With his rapid-fire delivery and self-assured charm, he is everything you would imagine a billionaire industrialist genius to be. But even more important, Downey has the acting chops to make soul searching by such an apparently shallow character seem believable.

“Iron Man” is reminiscent of the first “Spider-Man” movie in that it packs a lot of fun and thrills into a heartfelt origin story. But also like the first “Spider-Man,” you are given the impression that there are even greater things to come.

I hope that form holds true because where “Iron Man” is a slam-bam thrill ride, it may just be an appetizer for “Iron Man 2.” That’s what you get for setting the bar so high, guys.

“Iron Man” is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.

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