Witty, well-acted ‘Iron Man’ will be hit despite ‘Transformers’-like ending

Unlike the abominable and awful “Transformers,” the new film "Iron Man" does its best to balance mat
Iron Man
Iron Man

The irony of “Iron Man” is that Tony Stark, arms magnate extraordinaire and playboy of the Western world, renounces his bellicose calling and turns into a pacifist.

Double that ironic contradiction when the same reformed Tony Stark builds a Herculean suit of iron to do dubious battle with insurgents in Afghanistan and a nefarious traitor within his own company.

Put down your swords those of you who may be rebelling against the notion that “Iron Man” has the pretensions of a literary classic. This adaptation of a Marvel comic book series may toy with irony, but it’s little more than a playfully mythic recounting of an old-fashioned adventure. Its strength is that unlike the abominable and awful “Transformers,” it does its best to balance mature wit with clanging adventure, thanks in great part to the presence of Robert Downey Jr., who has fun with his role as Stark and the man of iron.

Clumsy moments

Directed by Jon Favreau, who gave us kids of the world the delightful and underappreciated “Zathura,” “Iron Man” is scripted by four writers, who clearly were out to create a literate adventure with contemporary overtones. Their challenge, apparently, was setting a film in the modern-day Middle East without making a controversial political statement.

’Iron Man’

DIRECTED BY Jon Favreau

SCREENPLAY BY Mark Fergus, Hawk Otsby, Art Macum and Matt Holloway, based on the Marvel Comic by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Larry Lieber

STARRING Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Christine Everhart, Shaun Toub and Faran Tahir

RATED PG-13

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

Their solution: Make the villains into Genghis Khan rebels persecuting their own kind, neutralize the American military, and, in the spirit of fairness, make an American industrialist one of the bad guys; in the film’s climax, Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stone will don a rebuilt iron suit to do dubious battle with a hero who is now David to his Goliath.

This, I regret to report, is when “Iron Man” plays down to its audience by cloning “Transformers,” and while it may transfix children, it is pretty unimaginative stuff, clumsily handled by Favreau, who is clearly more comfortable directing scenes featuring clever banter between, for instance, Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays his flame, Pepper Potts. At one juncture, she tells a reporter, “ ‘I do anything Mr. Stark tells me to, even take out the trash.”

Downey has some zingers of his own. My regret is that we don’t hear even more from an actor who is capable of much more. Clearly and understandably, a more literate and sophisticated approach would bore and befuddle children and young teens, the bulk of the movie’s target audience.

Simple and enjoyable

Even if “Iron Man” is not a great, tour-de-force adventure, it is often plenty of fun, as unpretentious and as simple as it is enjoyable. Along with Paltrow, who is charming, it’s fun to see Bridges as the bald, hirsute heavy and Terrence Howard as Stark’s buddy Rhodey, an air force officer who supports his friend.

If the climactic bout between titans is disappointing, there are still a number of delightful action scenes. The best, and often the most humorous, are those in which Downey experiments with his creation, a sleek, streamlined contraption he clamps on and then engages American fighter pilots in a supersonic chase, all the while trading one-liners with his astonished and bemused military friend on the ground.

From there, it’s off to Afghanistan where he takes on warlords.

If the movie cut Downey loose, giving him more theatrical rope and if it did not feel bound to clone “Transformers” in the final scene, “Iron Man” could have and would have been a finer, more uproarious adventure. Still, as is, it’s enough fun to qualify as the movie summer’s first hit.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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