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Elementally Flawed 'Iron Man' Not Striking Sparks

It's May, and the season of summer movies is upon us, and this year the march of the would-be blockbusters begins with the debut of Marvel Studios' much-ballyhooed Iron Man.

Wait, "Iron Man"? This is the name for a superhero? Shouldn't the handle for a fighter for truth and justice be something sleek and modern, like "Titanium Man"? Or even "Uranium Al"? Isn't "Iron Man" a little old-school for today's computer-generated movie franchise world?

Don't tell that to the folks at super-profitable Marvel Studios. So here comes Iron Man, following gamely in the footsteps of Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and Daredevil.

Robert Downey Jr. gives an engaging performance as billionaire playboy Tony Stark, a second-generation inventor and armaments manufacturer. He's the kind of guy who divides his time between womanizing and accepting accolades for being a visionary genius and American patriot.

Iron Man also offers some slick verbal sparring between Stark and his loyal assistant Pepper Potts — yes, that really is her name. (She's played by Gwyneth Paltrow.)

But though its hero is named after an element, this movie is an alloy, a combination of disconnected components. Two different writing teams worked on separate but equal versions of the script, and that "One from Column A, one from Column B" approach just doesn't work.

There are simply too many Tony Starks. Besides the glib playboy, there's the dour captive of jihadists, the obsessed inventor, the angry Human Rights Watch monitor on steroids, the unbeatable superhero.

With all these Tonys piling up, Iron Man gets so overloaded that it threatens to become The Man Who Fell to Earth — heavily.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.

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