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ISSUE 121 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/9/2008

'Iron Man' delivers

By David Henke
Staff Writer
and April Wright
Executive Editor

Friday, May 9, 2008

If you're a comic book aficionado, the last few years have been like the second coming for you. It seems like every comic book franchise has made a resurgence via Hollywood. Since Batman underwent a grown-up makeover, everyone from Ghost Rider to Superman has tried to get in on the action, with mixed results. On one hand, you have the dismal failure that was "Daredevil," which was replete with a Ben Affleck / Jennifer Garner fight sequence on a teeter-totter in a children's playground.

But sometimes, the formula is just right. Look at "Batman Begins," or, as of last weekend, "Iron Man." You can't help but like "Iron Man;" it's got a lot of great fight sequences, cool gadgetry and more general panache than you know what to do with.

"Iron Man" is a classic comic book franchise grounded in the Cold-War psyche of the 1960s and 1970s. Originally envisioned by Stan Lee, Iron Man was Tony Stark, a weapons designer from the United States who was wounded and captured by foreign forces. After being forced to design a weapon for the enemy, Stark becomes an anti-communist hero, taking out foes of capitalism across the globe.

The new installment has been updated a bitinstead of battling the Red Menace, Stark is first pitted against a group of Islamic militants in Afghanistan. While demonstrating the capability of a new missile he designed, Stark's U.S. military convoy is raided, and he is captured. But in a twist designed to reflect the moral ambiguities of international arms sales and U.S. military intervention, Stark's own corporationand the weaponry he designedbecomes his greatest enemy.

After seeing the damage his own weapons have caused to Afghani civilians, Stark announces Stark Enterprises will no longer produce weapons. Chasing an obsessive desire to destroy the weapons he once created, Stark creates a supersuit capable of stopping terrorist forces in their tracks.

A superhero movie that gets characterization right is about as rare as a sober Ole on Lutefest weekend, but that's exactly what Robert Downey Jr., who plays the titular role, does. Even though he's the head of a massive weapons manufacturer with an abrasive and conceited personality, his pointed humor and playboy lifestyle belie his character. And let's face it; a part of every one of us is enamored with the A-list lifestyle Stark leads.

But it's when things go south for Stark that the movie really gets good. Seeing him thrown into an identity crisis after being kidnapped by terrorists brings the character to a level with which we can all identify. His rapport with his assistant, Pepper Potts (played by the plucky Gwyneth Paltrow), provides the emotional coreand the romantic tensionof "Iron Man." The romance in the film is believable because Paltrow and Downey play it perfectly. Both characters interact as people in the real world do; their coy self-consciousness eventually fades into affection and concern. This wouldn't be a fair review if all we did was gush about the movie, because as fun as it is to watch, "Iron Man" does have its drawbacks. To begin, the criticism of the U.S. arms industry, while interesting, is way too transparent. You might as well take a big 2x4, write "U.S. weapons manufacturers are bad" and hit yourself over the head with it three or four times. The movie might not be going for highbrow intellectualism, but making the audience work a little harder wouldn't hurt either.

If we had to pick on one more aspect of the film, it's the cleanliness of the whole thing. Stark is always a tycoon, always lucky and in the end, the whole experience wraps up into a neat little parcel. But then again, this is a superhero film, not a realistic portrayal of vigilantism.

It's tough to fault "Iron Man" too much; the movie is another installment in the comic book-turned-movie franchise, and while it doesn't offer an entirely fresh look at the superhero genre, it's fast-paced and downright charming. Judging from the financial success of the film, we aren't the only people who enjoyed it immensely. So go on, indulge your inner nerd. "Iron Man" is mature enough to impress the snobbish without being too high-brow. All in all, it makes for an afternoon or evening of solid entertainment.





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