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Rated 4.0

I’ve never read a single Iron Man comic. I was a Mad Magazine fan when I was a kid, and rarely got into the comic books, although I loved The Incredible Hulk TV show and the first Superman movie. Apart from a few glimpses of the character in his primitive cartoon show, I never embraced the Iron dude.

After seeing director Jon Favreau’s new movie on the man in the iron suit, I feel like I’ve been missing out on something all these years. This is a great superhero story.

Hats off to Favreau and the film’s producers for casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the billionaire weapons manufacturer who has a proverbial change of heart when his literal heart gets pummeled with shrapnel. Downey Jr.'s sly wit and emotional depth come through, even when he’s inside the suit. This is one of the great superhero performances, alongside Christian Bale in Batman Begins and Christopher Reeve as Superman.

The film takes its sweet, but interesting, time telling the origin story of Iron Man. Stark starts the film as a soulless playboy, using his billions to score supermodels, oblivious to the fact his weapons are routinely ending up in the wrong hands. On a sales call in Afghanistan, Stark is captured by terrorists and forced to build weapons while in captivity. Unbeknownst to his captors, Stark has something else in mind.

A good chunk of the film is spent with Stark building his first, bulky Iron Man suit, which he uses for an escape. When back in the United States, his injured heart being powered by one of his own energy innovations, Stark announces to the world he will no longer produce weapons. Shut in, Howard Hughes style, at his Malibu residence, Stark experiments with another suit prototype, haphazardly flying around his lab and wreaking havoc on his car collection.

The film’s villain is a classic. Jeff Bridges plays Stark’s business associate and mentor, Obadiah Stane. With a shaved head and bushy goatee, Bridges vanishes into the role of a tycoon smiling on the outside, but fully corrupt on the inside. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that Stane’s badness goes well beyond simple greed by film’s end.

Big score getting Bridges for this role because Bridges equals instant credibility and quality. Another nice touch is Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Stark’s assistant and love prospect. This looks like the most fun Paltrow has had in years.

If you are a science lover, you will get a big kick out of this movie. It spends a lot of time on the technicalities behind Stark’s eventual emergence as the Iron Man. Favreau does a great job instilling the movie’s most outlandish scientific scenarios with a sense of reality. You don’t find yourself questioning the viability of the film’s science fiction elements, and they are presented in a fashion that, I think, will stand the test of time.

You know how you’ll go back and look at some science fiction films from years past and laugh at the depiction of futuristic computer technology? (Ridley Scott’s goofy Alien computer is a good example.) I think people will look at this one down the road and remain impressed.

When the movie swings into action, it’s a true winner, with flawless computer generated effects. Iron Man’s visit to an Afghan village, where he reaps revenge on his captors, is a true audience rouser. A final confrontation between Iron Man and a formidable opponent is summer blockbusting at its best.

There are a few slow patches, but they don’t hurt the film too much. No doubt, there will be sequels, and stay through the credits for a hint at movies to come. In a summer that is going to give us Indiana Jones, The Hulk and Batman, Iron Man gets things off to a fast start. Thanks to Downey Jr. and Favreau, it’s also a fine genre entry.