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May 2, 2008

‘Iron Man’ a blockbuster with a brain

HOLLYWOOD — Much of the allure of “Iron Man” comes from the fact that we are indeed talking about a man — a real man who has lived a life and made mistakes and experienced regret — not some scrawny, teenage boy who received his superhero powers through a bite from a radioactive spider.

No offense to Spidey, the other Marvel Comics hero who’s already provided billion-dollar summer blockbuster fodder. But there’s just something more relatable about Tony Stark, even though he’s a playboy industrialist of staggering wealth and arrogance.

And in the hands of Robert Downey Jr., he’s absolutely riveting. Downey may have seemed an unlikely casting choice at first, but it’s difficult to imagine any other actor in the role; he’s so quick-witted and he makes such inspired decisions with dialogue that, at times, might have seemed corny otherwise. Throughout his eclectic career — from “Less Than Zero” and “Chaplin” to “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and “Zodiac” — he’s always been capable of both great charisma and vulnerability, and both are beautifully on display in this, the biggest movie of his life. “Iron Man” is a blast, too — the perfect start to the summer with its shiny mix of visual effects, elaborate set pieces and plenty of humor within its intelligent script.

This is also the biggest movie of director Jon Favreau’s life following “Made,” “Elf” and “Zathura,” and he juggles all the complicated, expensive toys deftly. The visual effects come courtesy of the venerable Industrial Light & Magic, with Matthew Libatique (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Inside Man”) providing the crisp cinematography

Stuff gets blown up real good, to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and, appropriately, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but beneath the requisite spectacle is an issue-laden storyline with heart to go along with its brains. Tony’s weakened heart has always been his Achilles heel, but it’s also what gets him out of trouble and inspires his rebirth.

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