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cinema: Steel yourself for the Iron Man; IRON MAN (12A) ****.

Byline: by Roz Laws

TONY Stark (Robert Downey Jr) really is a man with everything.

He's a hugely wealthy genius and weapons manufacturer who lives in an amazing house and beds beautiful women. He drives fast cars, has his own jet complete with pole-dancing stewardesses and appears on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. His glamorous assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) takes care of his every need.

Even his nickname, The Merchant Of Death, is cool.

Then his life changes forever when, on a marketing trip to Afghanistan, he's blown up - by one of his own missiles.

He's captured by terrorists who force him to build a weapons system.

Instead he starts planning his elaborate escape by designing a suit of arm our. When he gets out, he refines his giant Metal Mickey outfit into something much more sophisticated. It's red titanium alloy, with jet propulsion so he can fly supersonically, missiles up his sleeves and an amazing onboard computer.

There's lots of talk of terabytes and fuselage integrity to do with the clever, though frankly impossible, technology.

Having had his eyes opened in Afghanistan (his weapons kill, shocker!), Stark stops making guns and uses his new superhero status to fight evil.

That's when he comes into conflict with his business partner Obadiah Stane, played by a bald, bearded Jeff Bridges who does his best as the villain of the piece in an underwritten role. Terrence Howard as his best friend doesn't have much to do either, but there's good chemistry with Paltrow.

Downey, at 43, is a charismatic (though occasionally mumbling) hero. But with Harrison Ford reprising Indiana Jones at 65 and Sylvester Stallone boxing to victory at 61, it seems age is no barrier to action superstars.

The real thrills take a while coming, but the last half hour is exciting. It's implausible but entertaining, with some very funny lines.

This Iron Man is certainly good enough to join his Marvel Comics colleagues like Spider-man and The X-Men on the big screen.

Excellent ***** Great viewing **** Worth a look *** Disappointing ** Rubbish *

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SHOWING HIS METAL: Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 4, 2008
Words:353
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