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The Civil War

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November

Walks you out of an emotional underworld back into the light —Marty Mapes (review...)

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When billionaire/playboy/alcoholic Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin) is impressed with his latest gee-wiz gadgetry, he simply says, “Not bad. Not bad at all.” The same can be said of this movie. It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

You’re So Money

Downey, Jr., has some big, heavy, metallic shoes to fill
Downey, Jr., has some big, heavy, metallic shoes to fill

Perhaps of all the comic book superhero characters none is quite the geek’s delight as much as Tony Stark, particularly in this lavish big screen adaptation. He’s a tech-savvy guy with an enormous brain (he graduated from MIT at age 17) and he knows how to party likeā€¦ well, Robert Downey, Jr., back in his free-wheeling days of not too long ago. In fact, he even slept with an entire year of Maxim cover girls (that’s Tony, not Robert). Well, OK. There is a technicality: there were scheduling conflicts with March, but December rounded out the year with twins.

Tony’s inherited the family business, Stark Industries, and he’s worked under the fatherly auspices of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski) following his dad’s death. As this background information is given to the audience in a perfectly cheesy fashion via an awards ceremony presentation in Las Vegas, it’s clear “Obi” can be thought of as a Steve Jobs type. Bridges sports a magnificently gleaming bald head and goatee and carries himself with the air — and arrogance — of a man who has a whole lotta moolah.

Stark Industries specializes in defense contracts and a hung-over Stark is sent to Afghanistan to make a sales pitch and demonstrate the company’s latest bad boy, the Jericho missile. The splinter-action rocket creates an awesome scene of destruction reminiscent of Atari’s old Missile Command video game.

While Stark is not exactly Bob Hope in the goodwill-generating department, he does manage to get his military escort to lighten up a tad as he jokes around about gang signs and their masculine female driver. All is well until a missile (manufactured by Stark Industries) blows Stark’s life onto a whole new trajectory.

Rocket Man

Unlike Bruce Wayne, Tony isn’t a troubled soul. He’s got the whole world at his fingertips and he enjoys life tremendously. In his case, the catalyst for his journey to superhero status is the need to save his own life. After the explosion, Tony’s taken captive and held for ransom: his captors want him to build a Jericho missile for them in exchange for his life. They’ve been hoarding all sorts of equipment from Stark Industries, so he should certainly have everything he needs.

Instead of building that missile, even under the watchful gaze of his captor’s “cavecam,” Tony fashions a sweet, bullet-proof, hydraulic-powered suit that allows him to pummel his way out of the cave and zoom, up, up and away, into the desert sky.

OK. That part of the storyline is a bit of a stretch. Holed up in a cave with one other prisoner, it’s slightly unreasonable to expect a major technological achievement, no matter the magnitude of Tony’s genius. But, of course, this is a comic book movie and certain things can be easily swept under the rug.

Another dust bunny is the fact that Tony’s Afghan adventure takes him out of circulation for three months and yet he returns home without having lost an ounce. Sure, he had a severe craving for a major hamburger chain, but come on. Christian Bale would’ve gone back down to the bone to convey a sense of time passage. Instead, it’s simply an afterthought to drop the hint that Tony had been away for awhile — after Tony had already returned to the States and snarfed down a burger.

Those quibbles over narrative expediency aside, Iron Man turns into a surprisingly well done movie that sits well with the best of the Marvel movies, particularly Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man flicks.

There is a good, human grounding in the story. Out in the real world, seeing the by-products of his weaponry, Tony undergoes his own transformation. While Peter Parker got bitten by a spider and gained super skills, and Bruce Banner got exposed to some gamma rays that made him go green with rage, Tony’s major alteration is that he gains something akin to a conscience and is stunned to see the weapons he created to protect his own country and its soldiers turned against them.

Heart Light

While Tony plans on shutting down Stark Industries’ major line of business in favor of turning his Iron Man suit into a new form of global policeman, that’s not to say he’s turned into a tree-hugging liberal. Returning to Afghanistan — and a little dustup with the U.S. Air Force — Iron Man is perfectly content to leave one of his Afghan captors in the vengeful hands of those his terrorist group has displaced and oppressed.

As it turns out, a bit of corporate malfeasance is behind the enemy’s acquisition of Stark’s technology and that story thread is an interesting development that, ultimately, turns into a fairly standard CGI-driven climax.

Ah, but while the story sometimes flounders and stretches credibility beyond all reason, it makes up for the high gloss with a nice amount of heart. Not only is Iron Man’s chest light a physical, literal symbol of the inner man’s life-altering experience, but it also becomes a sweetly gentle joke between Tony and his long-time assistant, the perfectly proper Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).

Each admits the other is all they have and their relationship turns into something really interesting to watch, much more interesting than the requisite clash of superpowers between Iron Man and an evil competitor dubbed Iron Monger.

Throw in another interesting relationship, the friendship between Tony and Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard, Ray), and director Jon Favreau, who co-starred with Vince Vaughn in Swingers and makes a cameo here as Tony’s chauffeur, has certainly set the groundwork for what undoubtedly will turn into the next blockbuster trilogy.